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Social Housing

Volume 812: debated on Monday 24 May 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to increase the number of social housing homes for rent.

My Lords, I remind the House of my register of interests and beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

We have confirmed £12 billion over the next five years, which will be the largest investment in affordable housing in a decade. This includes our new £11.5 billion affordable homes programme; around half of its delivery will be for social and affordable rent. We expect our new programme to deliver around 32,000 social rent homes, double the number of the current programme.

I thank the Minister for his reply. House prices have been rising steadily because of demand-side subsidies by the Government for owner-occupation, yet the National Housing Federation estimates that almost 4 million people need the security of a home for social rent because they cannot afford to buy. I ask the Minister whether he thinks that the Government have got their priorities right.

My Lords, of course I think that we have got our priorities right. We are focusing on building homes of all types and tenures. That includes affordable and social rent and, importantly, giving people the opportunity to buy and own their own home.

My Lords, will the Minister also recognise that what is aggravating the lengthening waiting lists and undermining any future social housing target is a net loss of existing social housing stock, due to sales on the open market by certain social landlords; demolitions masquerading as regeneration, resulting in a net loss of social housing; and developers wriggling out of their commitment to social housing quotas? What are the Minister and the Government going to do about those factors?

My Lords, I have set out our programme, which is designed to increase the amount of social rented homes. I also point out that, over the last decade, the number of social homes has remained broadly static at around 4 million households.

Does the Minister accept that, if house prices rose by 2.1% in April—the highest monthly increase since 2004—making homes more affordable is simply not working? Those 4 million who are waiting for homes deserve a better answer. If this Government are all about levelling up, why are all the subsidies currently pushing up house prices? Would levelling up not be more achievable and better value if a greater subsidy were redirected into social housing?

It is not all about demand-side subsidies. We have pointed out that the Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing and are investing over £12 billion in the affordable housing programme over the next six years, which is the largest investment in affordable housing in a decade.

My Lords, we all agree that more social homes should be built and I welcome my noble friend’s statement, but does he agree that, for every one family housed in a newly built home, roughly eight are housed in the relet of existing stock? In addition to building more new homes, will my noble friend promote home ownership schemes for existing social tenants who want to move out and buy, thus freeing up a home for those in housing need?

I agree with my noble friend that social mobility and social housing are critical, and that social housing can and should be a springboard into home ownership. We will look at promoting many of the schemes that he outlines, including our offer for shared ownership.

I declare my interest as a trustee of the Nationwide Foundation. The Affordable Housing Commission found that 72% of social landlords are concerned that the Government’s planning reforms could lead to fewer social rented homes. Given that social housing is one of the best ways of reducing poverty, will the Minister agree that any proposed planning reform should ensure that social rented accommodation is not only protected but its availability increased?

My Lords, I do not accept that characterisation of our planning reforms. They look to simplify the developer contribution through a new infrastructure levy that I am sure will capture the land value uplift so that that can be put into social and affordable housing.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. Can the Minister explain why, when asked about social housing, he often refers to affordable housing? They are not the same thing. We need a greater percentage of government spend on social rented homes to address the chronic shortage of homes for people on low incomes. Many of the affordable homes he talks about are just not affordable for these people.

My Lords, I was very clear in my original reply that this programme will deliver approximately double the number of social rented homes, but there are also ways to provide subsidised housing that gives a discount on the market price, which is the definition of affordable rent.

Following on from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, by centrally imposing an assumption that around 50% of the programme will be used for home-ownership schemes, the Government are preventing local authorities and social housing providers delivering what is most needed: social housing for rent, including accessible and adaptable homes. Will the Minister consider the case for expanding the social rent element of the programme to reflect the ability of families to pay their rent, especially those with disabled members, who are much more likely to live in relative income poverty than those without?

My Lords, I have already explained that the current programme looks to deliver far more socially rented homes. That definition of affordability takes into account relative county earnings so that these homes are genuinely affordable.

My Lords, echoing the words of the noble Lord, Lord Young, does the Minister agree that family housing has been in short supply in major new developments, where the building of smaller units has meant that families are continuously in need of proper housing? Will he therefore ensure that all future developments take this on board? Will the Minister also ensure that units for people with disabilities are made to the highest possible standard? My own experience on visiting these is that often, they are not.

My Lords, I accept that this should not always be about a drive for volume and that we need quality, decent-sized family housing and to ensure that we have the homes we need for people with particular disabilities.

Are the Government considering setting aside a portion of the affordable homes programme funding announced by the Chancellor in March 2020 specifically for more social housing? My interest is declared in the register.

My Lords, we have set out a distinct part of the programme to deliver more social rented housing. We are looking to deliver some 32,000 units over the course of the programme.

Has the Minister considered the Affordable Housing Commission’s proposal for a fund to enable private landlords who want to exit the market to sell to housing associations or councils, which can carry out the necessary upgrading and re-let the property at affordable social rents, thereby achieving a much-needed increase in social renting and saving public funds spent on unsatisfactory temporary accommodation, while rescuing private landlords who want to sell up?

My Lords, the Affordable Housing Commission’s September report proposed a fund to support social housing landlords to acquire both existing private sector stock and new-build stock from private developers. Through the affordable homes programme, we already allow social housing providers to use grants to acquire from developers market-sale properties that are above their existing planning requirements.

My Lords, the Minister’s initial Answer was a masterpiece in obfuscation—he referred to affordable housing, but the Question quite clearly relates to social housing. The Minister has also referred twice to 32,000 additional social housing units. May I draw his attention to the relative success of the Conservative Governments in the early 1950s, when they built more than 200,000 social housing units? They did so because they gave a leading role—the powers and the finance—to local authorities. What we need is a thoroughgoing council housing programme to get the number of social houses that we require.

My Lords, in the last 10 years we have built more affordable homes than in the previous 10. We have seen around 148,000 homes built specifically for social rent in the last decade, and through this programme we are proposing to build more. The real revolution that has occurred is in the number of council homes: councils have built 29,993—nearly 30,000—affordable homes in the last decade, up from a paltry 2,994 over the previous 13 years. That is a record to be proud of.