Where are we on Housing?


Last month, a joint report from the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation and Shelter (The Housing Report, Edition 2) said the Government is failing to deliver on five out of ten key housing indicators including on housing supply, affordability of the private rented sector and homelessness. This month we have seen further, and more up to date, official statistics on homelessness (“Statutory Homelessness: January to March 2012 and 2011/12, England”) and the supply of affordable housing (“Homes and Communities Agency National Housing Statistics, 2011-12”) which, suggests the picture is worsening.  Overall,

–    While there has been a 6% increase in overall housing supply, there has been a equivalent drop in housing starts;

–     There has been 68% fall in new starts in affordable homes, and 15% fall in the number of affordable homes built;

–     The number of empty homes continues to fall, and if momentum can be maintained this could be an area of real progress for the Government;

–     It remains to be seen whether the Government’s planning reforms will work to deliver more homes, however, the new National Planning Policy Framework has been well received from the housing sector;

–     On evictions, repossessions and arrears, for now the figures are moving in the right direction, however, historically low base rates maybe masking the problem;

–     There has been a 32% increase in homelessness from the period during which the Coalition Government came to power, with increases in the number of people in bed and breakfast accommodation and who are rough sleeping.

–     The number of households living in overcrowded conditions continues to rise, while progress on social sector mobility appears to have stalled.

–     Private sector rents are increasing, well above inflation in some areas such as London,
while, home ownership is still well out of reach for most people; and

–     While, the housing benefit cuts and caps for new tenants may have exerted a marginal downward pressure, the overall welfare bill continues to rise.

On affordable housing, perhaps the most contentious of these issues, the Government points to the transition to the new Affordable Homes Programme which only came on stream last July; though, the Housing Minister had hardly prepared us for ‘things will get worst, before they get better’ scenario. Certainly there is a lot riding on that programme – a subject to which the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee is turning their mind to this summer.

All these statistics and their interpretation by politicians on both sides and commentators from all quarters are contentious. Only this month the shadow housing minister, Jack Dromey accused housing minister Grant Shapps of a “consistent misrepresentation and misused” of official housing and homelessness data, lodging a complaint with the UK Statistics Agency (“Labour attacks ‘Minister for Daybreak’”, The Independent, 11th June 2012) a charge which, according to the Labour Party if proven, will be a breach of the ministerial code.

However Andrew Dilnot (the Agency’s Chief Executive) responds, it may be years before we have the statistics to decide whether Mr Shapps or Mr Dromey is right on the substantive issue. In the meantime, critics will say, regardless, the overall housing policy is not nearly ambitious enough given that 232,000 new households come into existence every year. So if the Government’s plan works, including delivering some 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015, the country will still be faced with a serious housing shortage.

Overall, it is too early to tell whether the Coalition Government’s new approach to housing is working or not.  Certainly in the case of the inter-dependent issues of planning, supply, housing costs and affordability, where there is a significant time lag between developing policy, delivery and the availability of statistical evidence.  So the ‘jury’ will be out for some time, yet. Nonetheless, there are many who want to judge and the statistics do provide much ammunition for the Government’s critics.

This post is based on a Local Government Information Unit member briefing by Mark Upton, Consultant at Public Policy Strategies (www.publicpolicystrategies.co.uk) and Associate at LGiU. For more information about LGiU membership and briefings see www.lgiu.org.uk or contact chris.naylor@lgiu.org.uk.

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