The truth behind Osborne’s house building boast

Almost all new housebuilding is expected from the private sector


Chancellor George Osborne claimed in his Autumn Statement this afternoon that he would be supporting the biggest house building programme since the 1970s.

Amid U-turns galore – on Tax Credits and the overall Welfare Cap, with the often illusory tax take projections of the Office of Budget Responsibility enabling deficit reduction targets to be rescued – Osborne announced £6.9bn for housing by the end of the parliament.


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However, Osborne’s house building boast is contradicted by the chart above, which shows how much ground needs to be made-up to approach the level of house building of the 1970s.

House building then was more than double of today’s, and comprised about 50 per cent social house building by local councils and housing associations.

This will not happen now, with almost all new house building expected from the private sector, with the exception of the so-called ‘affordable rent’ programme and some shared ownership to be delivered by housing associations.

Controversially, five nameless housing associations agreed to pilot the extended Right to Buy from midnight tonight – much earlier than planned – and must have pre-arranged this with Treasury spin doctors. This will not sit well with local councils which will have to sell council homes to cover the cost.

The consensus from housing experts is that much of the housing spending revealed has already announced, but that there will be extra cash for private house builders to provide more homes for sale linked to relaxing planning regulations.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors expressed their scepticism on Osborne’s 400,000 new homes announcement and the balance of the investment:

“A push for home ownership should not come at the expense of affordable homes for rent….home ownership can only go so far and even shared ownership may prove too expensive for some. George Osborne is essentially subsidising one sector of the housing market over all others, in an area that already benefits from significant government spending.”

There was no extra funding for social housing by councils or housing associations, which SHOUT, the save social housing campaign group, has proved to be the most cost-effective way to meet the nation’s housing needs.

Coupled with cuts in Housing Benefit, and £12bn of welfare cuts to come, the announced housing policies will push poorer households over a financial precipice, with the ‘lucky’ ones housed by the worst of the private rented sector. They will do nothing to confront a growing housing crisis across the country.

As usual, Osborne snarled his ‘all in this together’ mantra. His face told the truth but not his words.

Kevin Gulliver is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward and a director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research. He writes in a personal capacity

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