The week’s main news was that the Budget put additional support into home ownership – yet again – by continuing Help to Buy beyond 2021 and extending it to shared ownership – while doing very little for genuinely affordable social rented homes.
Despite the supposed ‘end of austerity’ the budget for social housing remains pitifully low – as it has been since George Osborne slashed it by more than 60% in his first Budget eight years ago. Of course some changes are welcome if plainly not enough: for example, an extra £500m for the infrastructure fund might unlock some schemes, the go-ahead to the lifting of the HRA cap will enable more councils to build more new homes (but only at traditional council rents if they can also attract subsidy or use cheap land), and some extra cash might mitigate some aspects of the ferocious benefits squeeze.
Jules Birch as always has done an excellent summary and assessment of the Budget fine print which I recommend for anyone interested in a little more detail.
It seems that the less social housing we have the more people want to talk about it. This is probably a good thing – and keeping the idea of social housing in the public eye was one of the purposes of the SHOUT campaign for social housing during the most miserable days of Cameron Osborne and Clegg.
This year we have had the debate around the government’s rather pathetic and thin Green Paper – (Red Brick comment here) – followed by Labour’s more impressive and thought out version ‘Housing for the many’ (Red Brick comment here).
But a much wider debate about the future of social housing has been going on through a number of policy reviews and Commissions, which have broadly said that social housing is a good thing and there should be more of it. These include the Local Government Association’s Housing Commission – final report ‘Building our homes, communities and future’; IPPR’s London Housing Commission – final report ‘Building a new deal for London’; and the Chartered Institute of Housing’s ‘Rethinking Social Housing‘ project and final report. And we currently have Shelter’s Social Housing Commission, which is due to report shortly.
In the last month, two more Commissions have been launched which will continue the debate – by the Smith Institute and by the Labour Party, where affordable housing will be a big feature of its Planning Commission.
The Smith Institute (founded in memory of John Smith, former Leader of the Labour Party, not some ancient economist) has launched its independent Affordable Housing Commission, chaired by Lord Richard Best, who has a very long track record of supporting social housing, funded by the Nationwide Foundation. The aim of the Commission is to examine the affordability crisis and to propose workable solutions whilst building a consensus for change. Background and how to make submissions can be found on the dedicated website.
Labour’s Planning Commission is led by Andrew Gwynne, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Roberta Blackman-Woods, Shadow Minister for Planning, and involves a large number of stakeholders. They have issued a call for evidence (responses to firstname.lastname@example.org by 25th April 2019). Its brief includes looking at the range of planning issues that will impact on housing supply, including the process of plan making, planning gain and capturing uplift in land values, improving land supply, and the related building control system.
Both of the new Commissions will have a significant influence over the future debate and should help to keep the pressure building. But next up, it’s Shelter.