Affording a home

I take no pleasure from having correctly predicted that every housebuilding promise made by Conservative and Liberal Democrat Housing Ministers since 2010 has been broken. Not one of the promises has come close to fulfilment and no apologies have ever been made.

So far as I was concerned, on an examination of the facts, those promises had as much credibility as claims that Brexit would deliver and extra £350m per week for the NHS and that, post-Brexit, securing advantageous trade deals across the world would be a doddle.

Boris Johnson now finds himself on the wrong end of a prosecution for his persistent repetition of the £350m per week claim.  His case is not helped by the revelation that he had been persistently told by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that his assertion was simply untrue.

So, you will not be surprised that I tend to rely on ONS data to look at historical performance about housing, including housing affordability.

One of the biggest tragedies of the last decade is to have seen young individuals and families squeezed out of the market to buy a home of their own and then be forced to live in insecure privately rented homes with exorbitant rents, which disable them from saving sufficient for a deposit. A large proportion of this generation may be excluded from home ownership for the rest of their lives.

It is interesting to note that the government has not made a new housing promise. Instead, it has set a ‘target’ of delivering 300,000 new homes per year by mid-2020.

Housing charity Shelter has estimated that more than 3 million new social homes (ie 150,000 pa) would need to be built over a 20 year period to address social housing need. However, the government’s target assumes that just 3% (ie 9000 pa) would be social homes built by local authorities. The gap is dramatically obvious.

In March, ONS produced its latest annual report on housing affordability in England and Wales1 .

Amongst other findings, ONS reported that:

  • On average, full-time workers could expect to pay an estimated 7.8 times their annual workplace-based earnings on purchasing a home in England and Wales in 2018.
  • This followed 5 consecutive years of decreasing affordability. [ie the gap between earnings and house prices got bigger each year.]
  • The London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea remained the least affordable local authority in 2018, with average house prices being 44.5 times workplace-based average annual earnings. [You will remember that Grenfell Tower is located there.]
  • There are 77 areas that became less affordable over the last five years -most were in London, the South East and the East of England
  • There was not a single area in England and Wales where affordability improved.
  • Despite all the Ministerial claims about the Help-to-Buy scheme helping young families on to the property ladder, newly-built dwellings were estimated to be significantly less affordable than existing dwellings.

Over the last decade, the construction of new social and affordable rented homes has stagnated. The number of new homes built in this sector has slowed to a trickle of a few thousand a year, while at the same time demand becomes greater and greater.

It is clear that social housing has been left to drift for too long and it appears that there are no coherent long-term strategies to put this right.

So, the House of Commons all-party Housing Communities and Local Government Committee, which I chair, has launched a new inquiry2to investigate the effectiveness of the Government’s current strategies to increase the numbers of social and affordable rented homes.

We will look at the adequacy of funding levels, as well as programmes and incentives for key stakeholders, such as local authorities and housing associations, to stimulate delivery. We will also look at the challenges facing different areas of the country and consider what lessons can be learnt from successful schemes in other countries.

For the next 6 weeks, we are inviting evidence for the inquiry.

If you have evidence or experiences or comments about these issues which you want us to consider, please submit it3 as soon as possible, and by 12th July at the latest.

1 Housing affordability in England and Wales: 2018

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/housing/bulletins/housingaffordabilityinenglandandwales/2018

2 Inquiry into long-term delivery of social and affordable rented housing.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/housing-communities-and-local-government-committee/news/long-term-social-housing-inquiry-launch-17-19/

3 https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/housing-communities-and-local-government-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/social-housing-inquiry-17-19/commons-written-submission-form/

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