Another Tory housing gimmick

Cameron’s housing announcement is his latest attempt to wear Mrs Thatcher’s clothes.

Cameron’s housing announcement is his latest attempt to wear Mrs Thatcher’s clothes

Tory conferences have often kicked off with a prime ministerial housing announcement. This year is no exception. David Cameron has indicated that around 100,000 new ‘starter’ homes will be provided to first-time-buyers aged under 40 years with a discount of 20 per cent on the market price.

Achieving this target is contingent on the Tories being in government come next May of course, so it’s jam tomorrow as so often with such pre-conference announcements.

As he did at the party conference in 2011, when he quadrupled the average discount to £75,000 for the right of tenants to buy their council homes, Cameron’s housing announcement in Birmingham over the weekend is his latest attempt to wear Mrs Thatcher’s clothes as the champion of the ‘property owning democracy’.

It’s worth considering the outcome of Cameron’s ‘rejuvenated’ Right to Buy, which has resulted in the sale of 8,500 social homes with a maximum of 6,400 replacements apparently appearing at some indeterminate future date. This is far from the one-for-one replacement promised by Cameron in 2011 and leaves a shortfall of at least 2,000 social homes.

So responses to this latest housing gimmick should be accompanied with a huge pinch of salt.

The location of the ‘starter’ homes (i.e. very small) just announced will be brownfield sites, mainly in cities and towns, so leaving the Tory countryside free from shouldering its fair share of accommodating the UK’s housing needs, which run at 250,000 extra homes annually for the foreseeable future.

The 20 per cent discount, which will still mean the average price for these homes will be five times the average wage, will be achieved through cheaper brownfield land, by setting aside both the zero-carbon homes standard and developers’ obligations to provide social homes under section 106 planning requirements.

So much for the greenest government in history. And the 5m people on social housing waiting lists will just have to continue to wait.

This announcement is the latest in a series from a government attempting to fill the void where a Housing Strategy should be.

Chart (1) shows the scale of the housing problem with a thirty year downwards trend in the annual number of homes completed. In the last four years, barely half of the required annual number have been provided, storing-up problems for a growing population almost 5m higher in England since Mrs. Thatcher came to power.

chart 1 - homes completed_page_001

Yet we are building far fewer homes for this larger population, which also has a faster rate of household formation due to aging and the growth in single person living. In fact, in 1978, more social homes were built than total homes in 2013 by the private and social sectors combined.

The solution, which is ideologically alien to today’s Tory Party, but not to that of Macmillan, Douglas-Hume, Heath or Major, is to build more social homes, and especially more council homes, as SHOUT has advocated, using public subsidy for bricks and mortar investment rather than lining the pockets of private landlords.

But perhaps that 1 in 4 Tory MPs are private landlords explains the reticence.

Kevin Gulliver is director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research but writes in a personal capacity

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