Housing Affordability is a growing concern for public service workers

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2018 National Delegate Conference
22 February 2018
Carried as Amended

Conference recognises that housing is an increasingly significant issue for the workforce in the Eastern Region and nationally, affecting where members can live, what they can access, work life balance and what they can afford.

Government policies have failed to ensure an adequate supply of decent, secure, safe and truly affordable homes that workers and citizens on modest incomes can afford.

Cuts to investment in social rent homes and redirecting investment into the promotion of home-ownership have led to a significant drop in the number of social rented homes built each year. At the same time house price inflation has further restricted access to owner occupation.

In the East of England the following facts show the depth of the housing crisis:

1)The average house price in the region is above the national average at £288,000, this means that the average home costs over ten times the average salary. In Cambridge the average home costs £431,344, which is among the highest in the country;

2)House prices are rising by as much as 10% a year. The region shows the highest annual growth, compared to the South East and London where prices rose by 8.7% and 7.3% respectively;

3)Average rents in the region costs £786 a month;

4)One of the main drivers fuelling housing costs in the region is the rise in the number of people purchasing second homes in areas such as Norfolk, yet a majority of these homes are only occupied for a few weeks a year or used as holiday lets.

The high cost of housing is restricting access to suitable, decent and affordable homes. UNISON evidence shows that a majority of our members struggle to find an affordable home near their places of work. The proportion of their incomes used to meet housing costs is rising, at a time when they face real term cuts to their take home pay. Many spend a lot of money and time commuting to work. This is putting a further financial strain on our members’ household budgets and eroding their living standards.

With housing costs rising, aspiring to own a home remains an impossible dream for many public service workers. As a consequence, more and more workers on modest incomes now face a lifetime of insecure, expensive private lets due to the shortage of social rent homes at genuinely affordable prices. Young people, older single men and women, the vulnerable, and public service workers on low incomes are increasingly finding themselves priced out of the housing market. For a growing number of people the only option is a shared house or house in multiple occupation (HMO) that evidence shows is often unsuitable, poor quality, unsafe and insecure. This trend is fuelling the unhealthy growth in microflats.

Conference is alarmed that:

a)The loss of hundreds of thousands of social rent homes through the Right to Buy will significantly be accelerated by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, if plans to sell off higher value council homes to fund the extension of the Right to Buy to housing associations are enforced;

b)In England the government continues to siphon off capital receipts that could be reinvested to improve council stock;

c)The promotion of the so called “Affordable Rent Model”, under which social rent homes can be converted to misnamed ‘affordable rents’ at up to 80% of market rates is flawed. It results in fewer homes for low income families when demand is rising. It creates a two-tier rent system whereby new tenants and existing tenants living in similar or identical properties, mainly let by housing associations, pay different rents, as properties tend to be converted to market rents when vacancies arise and people take on new tenancies;

d)Government plans to phase out life-time tenancies in council housing and replace them with shorter insecure tenancies of two to five years under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 will lead to housing instability and insecure renting with no hope of a secure and stable home where people can plan for their future;

e)The privatisation of council housing management through schemes such as Large Scale Voluntary Transfers and ALMOs threaten members’ pay, terms and conditions and trade union organisation. The evidence shows that stock transfer often results in higher rents and service charges for tenants and increases public spending on housing benefit, it can also erode the democratic and accountable management of the homes tenants live in as well as their rights to influence decisions made by landlords;

f)The freeze and restrictions on Local Housing Allowance restricts access to the Private Rented Sector. This is creating significant problems for our members living in the Private Rented Sector who rely on the contribution the Local Housing Allowance (housing benefit) makes towards their housing costs, as any increase in rents has to be met from their pay. For our members seeking to find accommodation even in the lower end of the housing market, they can only do so if they can meet the widening gap between the rent charged and the assistance they receive from the Local Housing Allowance;

g)Welfare cuts are deterring some social landlords to invest in homes to house low income families;

h)The affordability crisis is putting a major strain on both public service workers and on service delivery. Some public service workers unable to afford high housing costs are moving to live and work elsewhere. As a consequence, public service employers are witnessing staff shortages and a higher turnover of staff, some are struggling to recruit and retain staff.

Conference calls upon the National Executive Council to work with the Policy Unit, Labour Link and appropriate partner organisations to:

i)Make the case for a fairer housing deal which ensures that that everyone has access to a decent, safe, secure and affordable home;

ii)Continue to work with organisations, housing campaigners and trade unions, to campaign for a restoration of direct investment in public housing. A “new generation of council house building” must be supported by public subsidy that supports the capital financing costs and is delivered through a new Housing Revenue Account (HRA) settlement. This will ensure the development of truly affordable homes at social rents accessible to people in low paid employment;

iii)Campaign for a mass building programme led by councils and housing associations to develop new housing, which meets modern safety, quality, space, energy efficiency and building regulation standards;

iv)Campaign for a review of council housing finance and a new HRA settlement including an examination of borrowing against HRA assets and the removal of restrictions on the use of capital receipts;

v)Campaign for a repeal of measures in the Housing and Planning Act which, if enforced, will further deplete the supply of truly affordable homes, remove secure tenancies, increase rents, and accelerate the privatisation of homes to private landlords and investors;

vi)Campaign to end or halt the Right to Buy across the whole of the UK in line with Scotland and Wales to safeguard the existing social housing stock;

vii)Work with tenants federations to explore possible models, and the workforce issues that are involved, in enabling council housing to be re-established in areas where stock transfer has taken place and tenants are to have the choice to become council tenants again, reporting to a future conference;

viii)Campaign for the pay and conditions of social housing workers to be protected;

ix)Encourage the conversion of higher rent “affordable market rent” properties to “social rent rates” as vacancies arise to ensure that social homes are truly affordable;

x)Undertake qualitative research across the union to find out the implications of housing costs on our members and on public service delivery and use the evidence to campaign for improvements in housing policy;

xi)Ensure that the housing needs of vulnerable groups, including the young, adult single men and women, are taken into account of housing policy and that the future housing needs of elderly people who are currently in the latter years of their working lives and living in the Private Rented Sector are planned for.

Conference calls on the government to:

A)Commit to an annual target of building 100,000 new social rent homes and to provide the necessary public subsidy to enable these homes to be built;

B)Establish a funded programme to invest in existing social homes to bring them up to a decent standard, ensuring that tenants have access to a safe home in good repair; introduce bold and radical measures to improve regulation in the Private Rented Sector around affordability, security, tenants’ rights and standards; and reform welfare benefits, to ensure that the social security system is fairer, makes work pay and supports the most vulnerable.