Autumn Statement: Osborne's housing proposals leave the poor out in the cold

What is needed is more homes for people to rent

Kate Henderson
Thursday 26 November 2015 12:41 GMT
The controversial extension of 'right to buy' to housing association tenants is set to trigger a 10 per cent fall in public home building
The controversial extension of 'right to buy' to housing association tenants is set to trigger a 10 per cent fall in public home building (Getty)

The Spending Review yesterday was the perfect opportunity for the Chancellor to show that he is serious about tackling the housing crisis.

Let's start with the positives. Housing is, at long last, at the top of the political agenda with the Government recognising that there is a chronic shortage of homes in Britain – our research, published earlier this month, showed that the crisis has reached such a peak that young people, in particular couples, are not even attempting to set up their own home – they simply cannot afford to.

Unexpectedly high investment in housing and infrastructure announced yesterday is to be welcomed. We think it makes sense for Government to pledge increased investment into large-scale sites like Ebbslfleet and other new communities such as Northstowe and Bicester where there is significant potential to not only deliver homes, but sustainable communities. The release of public sector land to build more homes is also a major opportunity.

However, it was what was missing from yesterday's package of housing announcements that we are concerned about.

Firstly, there was nothing around the delivery of genuinely affordable homes for rent. We heard lots about measures which support home ownership with further Government support for Help to Buy and announcements on Starter Homes and Shared Ownership houses, but these measures won't help those most in housing need. Buying a starter home costing £250,000 outside London and £450,000 inside the capital is not an option open to the millions of people in Britain who need genuinely affordable housing and homelessness charity Shelter highlight that Shared Ownership, while a step in the right direction, won't be affordable for half the country. With the Office for Budget Responsibility predicting that house prices will rise by 25 per cent over the next five years the affordability crisis looks set to get worse with home ownership becoming further and further out of reach for many. This makes the need to provided genuinely affordable homes to rent even more compelling.

Secondly, where was Government's narrative about delivering great places for the future? For example, the decision to release enough public sector land to build 160,000 homes is an unprecedented opportunity to create inclusive communities where people want to live, but this will only be achieved if Government consider the case for releasing suitable public sector land at less than market value where this is demonstrably in the public interest. This would open up the prospect of delivering high-quality communities with, for example, a meaningful proportion of decent social and affordable housing and custom or self-build plots. It is still possible to achieve good value for the taxpayer using this mechanism; it is simply that some of the returns to the public purse are generated through the growth of a new community and the wider economic benefits of housing delivery for the nation. There was no mention of this yesterday.

Thirdly, dramatic cuts to council budgets are unlikely to lead to a faster, more efficient planning service. Creating good quality places that allow people to lead healthy and fulfilling lives takes skill, training and time across many parts of local government – and there has been nothing in either the Housing and Planning Bill, or yesterday's statement to give any confidence that this is a priority.

Finally, while big numbers were banded about yesterday, with target of 400,000 "affordable" homes by 2020, there was no mention of quality. Yes, we need to build a large number of homes quickly – but we need to build them right. Houses stand for generations, and the quality of a community has knock on effect to so many other parts of an individual’s life.

So while we welcome the Chancellor’s ambition to increase housing supply, the idea of becoming a homeowner will remain a pipe dream for millions of people and those most in housing need risk being left out in the cold.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in