Government’s Housing Bill will shift spending from bricks to benefits

The Bill is likely to bring about a reduction in the numbers of homes for genuinely affordable rent


It has been clear for some time that this government is set on eroding social housing as both a concept and a reality.

The concept has been under attack since the early days of the Coalition, with social housing residents portrayed as ‘shirkers’ and welfare cuts, like the Bedroom Tax, specifically aimed at them.

In place of social housing will be a range of ‘affordable’ housing and low-cost home ownership as prime minister David Cameron seeks to reverse the decline in home ownership over the last ten years.

What will be left in a decade’s time is likely to resemble the American welfare housing model, with residents those with little choice in the wider housing market.

The Local Government Association(LGA) has warned that 88,000 council homes will be lost in England from the current council stock of 1.7m, already only half of that managed by local councils twenty years ago. The Right to Buy will account for two thirds of this loss.

The sale of council homes to cover subsidies for the voluntary Right to Buy in the housing association sector will make-up the other lost third.

The total social housing stock, including housing association homes, now stands at just over 4m – a loss of 1.5m homes since 1979 while the population has climbed by more than 10m people.

Those in housing need will have little choice but to seek accommodation in the private rented sector, often with unscrupulous landlords and with little security of tenure. This will also probably push up the housing benefit bill since private rents are much higher than those charged in social housing.

The LGA brands the government’s housing strategy, the latest stages of which are laid out in the Housing and Planning Bill, currently being debated by the House of Lords, as ‘bricks to benefits’.

SHOUT, the save social housing campaign, has called consistently for a housing strategy that is the exact opposite of the government’s, with more capital investment in social housing and less in housing benefit, so increasing affordable housing supply while decreasing the poverty trap.

In a briefing about the Housing and Planning Bill, SHOUT argues that:

  • The Bill is likely to bring about a reduction in the numbers of homes for genuinely affordable rent, when evidently far more are needed.
  • While greater levels of house-building in all tenures is needed, out of the 200,000+ new homes a year required, at least 100,000 should be homes for genuinely affordable rent.
  • Developing new housing on this scale will create a hugely valuable national asset, which will generate economic and social returns indefinitely.
  • Without building 100,000 social homes each year the government’s overall target of 200,000 annually is unlikely to be met and the government’s cuts to the welfare budget will be stymied by a rising housing benefit bill.

In addition, local councils’ right to require housing developers to include some affordable rented housing in new developments will cease if the Bill becomes law; further reducing the number of affordable homes provided.

David Cameron’s announcement to spend £140m demolishing the country’s worst tower blocks, with the promise of council estate regeneration, will, in practice, further reduce the council stock further since low-rise replacements are unlikely to be for social rent.

Alongside, welfare reform means those who need help with their rents face new benefit caps, while social tenants earning more than £30,000 (or £40,000 in London) will be hit by ‘pay-to-stay’ rent increases or be required to vacate their social homes.

Combined, these policies will further erode social housing in terms of numbers of available homes and see to evolve into a tenure of last resort for those with little choice.

Kevin Gulliver is director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, is former chair of the Centre for Community Research, and part of the SHOUT save social housing campaign. He writes in a personal capacity. 

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