As the bill reaches a key stage in the Lords, campaigners reiterate that it's an attack on genuinely affordable housing
The Housing and Planning Bill continues its progress through the House of Lords today. Peers will discuss proposed changes including:
- Giving social housing tenants the right to buy their homes at a discount, forcing local authorities to sell off high value housing stock as it becomes vacant
- The starter homes initiative – this aims to help young first-time buyers (under 40) to become home owners by giving them a 20 per cent discount of the market price
- The ‘pay to stay’ policy, under which social housing tenants earning above a certain threshold will have to pay rent at the full market rate if they want to stay in their homes
All these policies are controversial, and critics warn that they could further erode the social housing sector and exacerbate the housing crisis. Here’s why:
- The Local Government Association (dominated by Conservative-led authorities) has warned that the extension of right-to-buy will cost councils £6bn over the next four years, as well as further depleting the social housing stock. As Labour AM Tom Copley has pointed out, had councils been able to replace the stock that was sold off under Right to Buy we would not have a council housing waiting list of 800,000 in London. According to analysis published by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) today, homes lived in by older people, in particular those who have a sickness or disability, are almost three times more likely to be sold off under the new right-to-buy plans. This is because one-in-five older people currently lives in a bungalow, and bungalows are likely to make up 25 per cent of high value property sales, due to their higher cost and more frequent vacancies. The JRF says that this could result in the loss of 15,300 local authority-owned bungalows in the next five years. The extra land needed, and the higher cost of building new one storey homes means that it will be more difficult for local authorities to replace these homes; thus the policy will have a disproportionate effect on elderly people.
- The Tories’ strange solution to the lack of affordable housing has been to make it their key policy to help those who already earn more than £50,000. That’s the figure the charity Shelter came up with when researching who will actually be able to afford one of these ‘affordable’ starter homes. For people on the new living wage of £9 an hour, to be introduced in 2020, these homes will only be affordable in just 2 per cent of councils. Shelter predicts that even for families earning average wages, starter homes will be unaffordable in over half (58 per cent) of local authorities across the country in 2020. The starter homes policy will replace other forms of affordable housing like Shared Ownership and Social Rent, and will only provide a boost to high earners, meaning people who genuinely cannot afford any housing are still overlooked.
- ‘Pay to stay’ requires social tenants who earn over £30,000, or £40,000 in London, to pay market rent if they want to stay. In theory, it makes sense to target better-off tenants to free up social housing for those who earn less, but as Kevin Gulliver, the director of the Human City Institute, points out, all this really amounts to is an attempt to rebrand social housing as ‘affordable housing’. There are objections to the threshold – £30,000 is almost £10,000 below average household income, and the fact that it is uniform outside London ignores variations in housing markets and the government’s supposed commitment to localism. Council tenants have described the policy as penalising them for working, and say that years of paying escalating rents to housing associations have left them with nothing.
Ultimately, the answer to the UK’s sustained housing crisis can only come from building more houses. SHOUT, the campaign for social housing, issued a statement before the Housing Bill reached the Lords identifying this as its fundamental flaw:
We agree with Greg Clark (his Second Reading speech) that “for many years now, we have not built enough homes in this country. That is true of successive governments and has been true for many decades” and welcome him saying that “our purpose and intent in this Bill is to increase the number of homes.”
“However, we do not believe that the measures in the Bill will achieve this intent, and indeed they are likely to bring about a reduction in the numbers of homes for genuinely affordable rent, when we evidently need more of them.”
This bill could be the end of the road for social housing.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot ForwardLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.