THE slump in council housing over recent decades has had “devastating consequences” for both the taxpayer and low earners, a new report published by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a centre-right think tank, says.
The report, A Social Housing Strategy, calls on the Government to “turbo-charge the supply of truly affordable homes” by making councils prioritise homes for social rent, and clamping down on developers who get around the requirement to provide affordable homes.
Echoing concerns voiced by the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker (News, 17 August), the report suggests that the term “affordable housing” is “perhaps intrinsically misleading”, and “appears increasingly disconnected from the needs of lower-income households”. Quoting from several studies, it argues that government investment in bricks and mortar would be a better use of public finances than meeting demand through housing benefit, given the spiralling sums that are being handed to landlords.
Today, ten per cent of total welfare spending goes on housing benefit, where the average award per week is £113.55 (compared to £90.44 in the social rented sector). The CSJ calculates that, if trends continue, the bill will treble to £71 billion by 2050: £34.5 billion will go to private landlords.
Last year, only 5900 homes for social rent were completed, compared with 39,500 in 2011. In 1953, councils completed just under 200,000 new homes.
“The drastic reduction in the supply of new council homes over the decades has had devastating consequences for both the taxpayer and the lowest earners [who] struggle to meet the cost of rent,” the chief executive of the CSJ, Andy Cook, said this week.
“Housing has become one of the most urgent political issues of our time, but, often, the difficulty for the middle classes to get on the property ladder deflects focus from those who struggle to meet the growing cost of rent.”
The report suggests that the housing crisis has “devastated lives”. It points to the thousands of children growing up in temporary accommodation and a rise in rough-sleeping. “The decline in bricks-and-mortar investment in social housing has left thousands of families stuck in the temporary accommodation trap.”
It is believed that council spending on temporary accommodation could have exceeded £1 billion last year.
The report says that it is “highly unlikely that we will see a return to the mass-scale grant-funding of council delivered homes, as was the case in the years following the Second World War”. It focuses on extracting more affordable housing from developers and changing the incentives for local authorities. It calls on the Government to abolish the “inflationary and regressive Help to Buy”, redirecting the money to supporting housing associations with the construction of truly affordable homes. This week, the Chancellor announced that the scheme would be extended for another two years, in addition to an extra £500 million for councils building homes.
The CSJ report welcomes the lifting of the cap on local-authority borrowing for new homes, and urges the Government to ensure that any new wave of council building focuses on homes for social rent.
Developers should be required to make “concrete commitments” rather than “aspirational targets” to meet affordable housing contributions, and they should be allowed to dodge these only in “exceptional circumstances”, it says.
Last month, the Prime Minister acknowledged that social housing had been “pushed to the edge of the political debate”, and announced an extra £2 billion of funding for housing associations (News, 28 September).