There has been a lot of talk over the last few months about the Coalition’s plans for social housing. Much has been written, and most of it has been wrong, as illustrated by Dominic Curran’s piece on Lib Dem Voice yesterday. This piece is intended to explain what we are actually doing, rather than what the Labour party, and their friends in the media want you to think we’re doing.
Firstly, we will be increasing social housing supply by more each year than Labour achieved in thirteen years added together. That’s because Labour sold off almost as many houses as they built (over half a million homes sold, as you asked). Their total net increase in social housing stock was less than 20,000 – and waiting lists rose by 800,000. So in times when you need to do more with less, this government will be building more affordable housing units this year than in any year under Labour, and in the plans announced in the CSR we will be adding more each year than they did altogether! And it is less than half the cost to the public purse that Labour achieved.
Cheaper and greener, too. Liberal Democrats also take sustainability seriously, which is why I was delighted to sign the order than will ensure that all those new homes will be required to be built to an energy efficiency standard that is 25% higher than at present. And there is money in there for a bigger programme to bring more empty homes back into use, to reform the Housing Revenue Account system and abolish the ‘tenants tax’, to restart the gypsy site building programme, and to bolster the mortgage protection scheme.
And let’s get social housing tenure changes straight. The policies we are introducing will NOT result in people being thrown out of their council houses. Nor will they end lifetime tenure (incidentally introduced by Mrs T, not Karl Marx). What we ARE doing is introducing a new tenure, to sit alongside the other forms of tenure that are already in place. This new tenure will be an option for social landlords to use for new tenancies only and will not affect existing ones in any way. Local Authorities will be free to choose themselves whether to introduce this new tenure in their local area. This new tenure will provide a fairer subsidy model, allow RSLs to raise money which will increase the government’s stock of affordable housing – and help thousands more households get suitable and affordable homes they would otherwise have been denied. Of course ploughing money back into social housing construction also brings jobs too.
With the new funding model for social housing the coalition has found a way to deliver new affordable houses at less than half the cost Labour did. And it’s not just about the numbers of new houses we’re building. There are over 400,000 social homes that are defined as under-occupied (more than one bedroom surplus), and 150,000 that are over-crowded. Permitting social landlords if they choose to put in place tenancies that more easily facilitate home-swapping for people wanting to downsize, or needing to move to larger accommodation will eventually bring a better match between supply and demand.
Housing is a complex issue, and there are plenty of problems that need solving. The plans we have put in place will deliver a better programme of social housing than Labour ever did. What it won’t do is end the housing problem overnight. It will take time to increase the supply in the housing stock, and to ensure that we are using the homes we do have more effectively. I recognise this is a serious problem. That’s why I’ve worked so hard over the past few months to ensure that we have a coherent, effective and serious package of social housing reforms. At a time when we are adding £400 million to our credit card EVERY DAY Liberal Democrats in government will still be spending billions on getting on with the job of tackling the housing problem in this country that has become the hidden legacy of the Labour years.