UNISON responds to government housing plans

Plans to increase the country’s housing stock are welcome, but do nothing to tackle the problems for those on low incomes

UNISON has welcomed the government’s plans to boost supply and tackle the acute shortage of housing that the nation faces, but is concerned that the plans focus on home ownership at the expense of low-rent social homes that most people on average incomes need.

The country’s shortage of housing has pushed up prices to unsustainable levels, and the Housing and Planning Bill sets out an ambitious programme that would allow the government to achieve its manifesto commitment of delivering a million homes by 2020. 

However, the union is concerned that measures contained in the Bill, including plans to deliver 200,000 starter homes for first-time buyers under the age of 40 to be sold with a 20% discount will make matters worse by further reducing the number of social homes.

Current plans include:

  • relaxing planning rules to favour the development of starter homes;
  • extending the right to buy to housing association tenants; and
  • forcing councils to sell off high-value properties to fund the policy.

Homeownership remains unaffordable for many, and even those on modest incomes will still struggle to afford a starter home with a 20% discount. According to a study by Shelter, starter homes – which will cost up to £450,000 in London and up to £250,000 outside – will be unaffordable for families earning average wages in 58% of local authority areas by 2020.

The study also shows that families on the national living wage would be able to afford a starter home in only 2% of council areas in England.

UNISON assistant policy officer Sylvia Jones said: “The government has pledged to deliver a million homes by 2020. However, most of the homes will be starter homes or ‘affordable’ homes for sale or shared-ownership, which only those on higher incomes can afford.

“The government’s reforms will result in fewer social homes available for renting, leading to increased overcrowding, poverty and homelessness, which is already on the rise – and they will force ordinary people on low incomes into insecure, short-term, costly private lets.”

“Since 2010 the government’s affordable housing programme has failed to increase the social rent sector provision, which has created a reliance on the private rented sector. This has resulted in limited housing choice and higher rents.

“The proposals pose a sustained attack on social housing, which is in dramatic decline and represents a poor housing deal for young people and those on low incomes. Social housing provides a vital part of the affordable housing offer in the UK to households on low to middle incomes and this wider role needs to be retained.

“What is needed to tackle the housing crisis is a significant increase of all types of housing, particularly low-rent social housing, at prices that people can afford. This would widen the housing options of people, lower the housing benefit bill and the costs of housing for everyone, in particular young private renters, who are most affected by the housing crisis.”