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Social Housing

Volume 787: debated on Tuesday 21 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their target for the number of additional social homes to be built by 2022.

My Lords, in reminding the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, affordable housing is the Government’s priority. That is why the Prime Minister announced a further £2 billion of funding for affordable housing, increasing the affordable homes programme budget to over £9 billion to March 2021. The programme will deliver a wide range of affordable housing, including social rent homes. Funding for social rent will be focused in areas with acute affordability pressure. The programme is flexible and the precise number of homes and tenure types will depend on the bids received. This allows providers to have the flexibility and agility to respond to local needs and markets, building the right homes in the right places.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. On 9 November, the Government published figures which showed that in 2016-17, only 5,380 homes for social rent were completed, amounting to just 2.5% of the total number of 217,350 new homes. That figure includes new builds and conversions. Is the Minister as disturbed as I am by those figures, given the huge length of waiting lists for social homes for rent, and what plans do the Government have to free up local authorities to get building again?

My Lords, last year—2016-17—was the best year for housebuilding for a decade. Having said that, I accept there is a significant challenge in relation to social housing. Much of that £2 billion will, as I indicated, be committed to that, and that will begin to tackle the problem. However, I agree with what the noble Lord is saying. There is a challenge there, and we are hoping to meet it—and, of course, we have a Budget tomorrow.

Can my noble friend tell the House what the Government are doing to support housing associations to deliver new affordable houses?

I agree with the thrust of my noble friend’s question; as I say, there is a challenge to be met. In the last week, I think, housing associations have been taken off the public balance sheet—an issue which we have debated in this House—which has taken £70 billion off the public balance sheet and will undoubtedly help. The £2 billion will also be of assistance, as will the fact that there is now certainty in renting in that sector.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the Government’s commitment to raising standards in education rings hollow when so many families with small children live in temporary accommodation? I refer to my own experience as chair of education in Lancashire. These children cannot settle and have the good early years education or the family life and security that they need to achieve the Government’s objective, which they keep repeating, to improve educational standards.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for restating once more that noble aim. First, I would point out to her that we have delivered more affordable housing in the last seven years than was delivered in the last seven years of the previous Labour Government. However, I accept what she says about the interrelated nature of these problems and agree that tackling housing also helps with education, well-being and health.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the big mistake in housing policy over the last 20 years has been our reliance on a handful of major-volume housebuilders which have let us down at every turn? They have let us down on quantity, by hoarding their land; on quality, in relation to the standards of design and production; and on the affordable homes that they said they would build but which they have reneged on along the way. Can we take it from the Government that the corner is now being turned and there will be a greater reliance on the other suppliers of housing in this country—the housing associations, the local authorities and the smaller housebuilders, which have so much to offer?

My Lords, the noble Lord comes with unparalleled experience in this area. I take the point about the need for diversity of supply, particularly looking to smaller suppliers, self-build and modern methods of construction, which we looked at yesterday. I also accept a point implicit in his question, which was also raised yesterday by my noble friend Lord Forsyth—the fact that there is land banking. We need to take account of that, and we committed to do so in the housing White Paper.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register—as a councillor and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. We will have to wait until tomorrow to see what the Chancellor says about housing, but does the noble Lord not agree that, to get to their housing targets and deal with the pressing need that we have heard about, the public sector has to be both encouraged and allowed to build around 100,000 homes a year for social rent rather than any other unaffordable models?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that I agree with his general point that over successive Governments the social rented sector has been somewhat neglected, and we are certainly looking to make up some of the shortfall. As I said, we have had a record year—the best for a decade—but that does not make us complacent. There is an awfully long way to go, but we have a great battery of policies and, as the noble Lord rightly says, we await tomorrow’s Budget.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that affordable housing is 30% more expensive than social housing for rent? The fact that there has been such a shortfall in the building of social rented housing—the worst since World War II—will impact directly on the 65,000 families who will be homeless this Christmas. Can he give them an assurance that developers’ loopholes will be closed tomorrow in the Budget?

My Lords, I hear what the noble Baroness says. I do not know what is in the Budget, so am unable even to slip up and say what will be in it. She is right that social rent is set at about 60% of market rent, whereas affordable rent is set at 80%. Of course, there is a conundrum in switching from one heading to another, as it means that there will be less affordable housing if more social housing is built. As noble Lords have rightly said, we await tomorrow’s Budget.