Will Theresa May’s concern for the ‘just about managing’ extend to housing policy?

Labour's Redfern Review finds that young people need more help to buy


The last week has been an important one for housing.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has published the latest figures on house-building in England. The anticipated Labour Redfern Review on the state of play for home ownership has been released. And the National Housing Federation, representing housing associations in England, has launched its latest strategy to increase affordable and flexible housing supply.

The DCLG figures show that just under 164,000 homes were built in 2015/16, which is up on the 140,000 the year before. But these figures reveal that the Government is already behind its target of 200,000 annually for five years up to 2019/20 – 1m in all – by 96,000 homes. This points to at least 232,000 being required for each of the next three years if the Government is to meet its own target.

Some sleight of hand with this target also seems underway. The Government has developed its preferred measure of new housing supply in what it terms ‘net additional dwellings’, bringing the figure for 2015/16 up to 190,000 additional homes.

Most of the rise in net housing supply came from converting office buildings, storage units and agricultural buildings into new homes. Clearly, it is proper to count these as additional new homes but there is some definite moving of the goalposts by the Government. And the 2015/16 ‘net additional dwellings’ figure does not compare well with the highpoint under the last Labour Government of 224,000 in 2007/08.

This new measurement also disguises the trend of annual increases in new house-building actually slowing following two years of stronger growth.

The Redfern Review, set in motion by Labour Shadow Housing Minister John Healey, places the decline of home ownership – from 71 per cent in England in 2003 to 64 per cent last year – within the context of a squeeze on the incomes of young people as well as a shortfall in housing supply.

The review calls for Help to Buy to be targeted more exclusively at first time buyers, who are mainly young, and for the Government’s Starter Homes initiative to be aimed at a limited range of sites. It recommends that the first-time buyer discount of 20 per cent be retained on re-sale of Starter Homes to create a permanently more affordable supply of housing.

It also proposes that certain elements of ‘pre-distribution’ measures are enacted, including boosting wages, job security and savings programmes among the young.

The review equally addresses renting for young people and recommends that all social homes sold under the Right to Buy should be replaced on a like-for-like basis. Conditions of security and affordability conditions for young tenants in the private rented sector should also be improved to provide space for saving for a deposit.

The NHF plants its flag on similar territory putting forward a ‘buy as you go’ offer to enable social tenants, especially the young, to build-up equity from their rent payments. The approach calls for more flexible funding from the DCLG to enable housing associations to build homes tailored for their local communities, including social and affordable rent, with the option for tenants to access home ownership obliquely.

Much depends upon the Autumn Statement on 23 November. This will be the test of whether the May-led Government really intends to help those who are ‘just managing’ in the context of national housing policy or whether it will be more of the same.

Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, writing in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @kevingulliver

See also: New homelessness legislation is welcome – but we need social housing to make it work

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