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Budget Statement: Social Housing

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 21 December 2017


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of social homes that will be built as a consequence of the Budget Statement.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Shipley, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, this Government’s priorities are to boost housing supply and to build more affordable homes, supporting the different needs of a wide range of people. This is why we have recently announced £2 billion of additional funding for social rent in our flexible affordable homes programme, increasing the budget to over £9 billion, and a £1 billion lift to the housing revenue account borrowing cap in areas of high-affordability pressure. This allows providers to have the flexibility and agility to respond to local needs and markets, building the right homes in the right places. The precise number of homes and tenure types will depend on the bids received.

As this Government promised an increase in social housing in both the 2015 and the 2016 Budgets, but built less social housing last year than at any time since the Second World War—indeed, it has fallen by 50% in the last three years—why on earth should we believe them this time and this year, when every social home not built last year means another family homeless this Christmas? Why not lift the cap on all local authorities and allow council house building to begin again?

My Lords, first, the noble Baroness is right that this is a significant challenge. The reason that she and noble Lords should accept that this measure is genuine is the £2 billion uplift in the Budget. In the new year, we will announce proposals for how that will be spent, and what measure of it will be on social housing. The noble Baroness should also bear in mind that, although there is great pressure on social housing in areas of high affordability, we are able to build more affordable houses with a certain amount of money than social houses—so it is a question of getting the balance right. That is why we are focusing this measure on areas of high affordability rather than applying it across the country as a whole, as she suggested.

My Lords, as welcome as extra social houses are, will my noble friend and the Government ensure that we build attractive homes? Just because homes are affordable does not mean they have to be ugly. We should pay as much care and attention to the surroundings and well-being of those in social homes as we do to those in the private sector.

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. As she will have appreciated, there is support from around the House for that very valid point. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, led a debate on this very issue of design and the importance of the environment. The department is going through a process of appointing somebody who will take this very much on board. It is a subject very close to my heart. It is very important in terms of well-being and our environment that we do just as my noble friend suggested.

My Lords, the targets the Government have set will not be met unless more land is made available. Could the Minister say what the Government intend to do about making available public land in particular? A number of government departments are sitting on large amounts of brownfield land which could be made available for housing. Could it be made available at a price that housing associations and local authorities are likely to be able to afford so that they can build the social housing that is needed?

The noble Baroness is right, and I will write to her about the detail of this. However, there is a £45 million budget at the land release fund; we have had bids in relation to that and we will announce the progress of those bids early in the new year. I will write to the noble Baroness with details of the progress on that and will make the letter available in the Library.

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the first thing to do is to reduce the number of vacant dwellings, and, secondly, to increase the supply of social housing, particularly by local authorities and housing associations? Will the Government try to emulate the achievements of Prime Minister Macmillan in his day?

My Lords, on the first point the noble Lord made about empty properties, the Government have indeed been tackling that issue: in the last Budget we increased the powers for local authorities to charge more council tax for empty properties, which is an important move in that direction. However, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of targets, and particularly about the record of Macmillan in the 1960s. As I say, the Government’s target would take us back to what seem like the halcyon days of 1970, when we were building far more houses than we are now.

Can my noble friend advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that social houses, when built, are energy efficient?

My Lords, obviously there are building regulations that have to be complied with, which have been tightened in the past to ensure that they are greener—that is important. We have strict, ambitious and appropriate climate change goals following the COP 21 climate change conference in Paris some two years ago, which are very much part of the Government’s thinking—and again, I think that they have cross-party support from around the House, which is not always the case in other countries in Europe.

My Lords, on the related topic of affordable housing, will the Minister explain to the House how the Government propose to tackle—as I understand they do—the frankly disreputable practice of a lot of developers of adding onerous ground rent conditions to ostensibly freehold properties, and other practices which are not in the interests of people attempting to secure housing?

I thank the noble Baroness very much for raising that issue, not least because there is a Written Ministerial Statement on that subject today—so we are taking that forward. The noble Baroness will appreciate that we have been consulting on this; it has perhaps got lost in today’s news but it is certainly the subject of a Written Ministerial Statement, which will be available, and I encourage Peers across the House to look at that. We are taking it forward.

My Lords, I undertook a review of adult mental health in this country, which showed that too many people were stuck in mental health hospitals and that the single biggest issue was lack of housing. Can the Minister please let us know how the Government are aligning their policies on housing with their policies on mental health, and what they are doing to ensure that appropriate housing is available for people with mental health problems?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important question about helping those who have mental health issues, and he is right that many of them are inappropriately housed. The recent announcement we made, I think by Written Statement at the end of October, does things in relation to supporting housing grant that makes the position of people with mental health problems in supported housing much easier. We hope that that should lead to an uplift in the number of people in supported housing, as it is much more appropriate that they are housed there.