UNISON says Spring Statement housing proposals don’t go far enough

The union welcomes government’s proposals, but is concerned that no further funds are being made available for genuinely affordable homes

UNISON has welcomed the proposals contained in this week’s Spring Statement to increase housing supply, but warns that they do not go far enough to address the scale of the housing crisis.

The key proposals are aimed at boosting housing supply to ensure that the government meets its target of 300,000 new homes by the mid 2020s.

They include:

  • £717m from the Housing Infrastructure Fund to deliver 37,000 homes in West London, Cheshire, Didcot and Cambridge;
  • plans to use £3bn to re-establish the Affordable Homes Guarantee Scheme.

That scheme – introduced by the coalition government but abolished in 2015 – will help support private housing developers and housing associations to deliver 30,000 so-called ‘affordable homes’.

However, no extra funds were announced for local authority house building to ensure that low-cost homes are built to house the 1.1 million households on social housing waiting lists.

Housing experts estimate that the UK needs to build at least 100,000 new social rent homes – at below market rates – per year.

With the number of new social rent homes in decline – in 2017/18, councils completed 1,870 compared with 27,300 completed by housing associations – the government’s announcement falls far short of what is needed to address the scale of the housing crisis.

The government’s broad definition of ‘affordable housing’ has been stretched to include both low-cost homes and so-called ‘affordable homes’, which are let at up to 80% of market rates.

This means that there is no guarantee that the new homes built will be genuinely affordable to those on low incomes.

UNISON believes that the priority should be to substantially increase the social housing stock delivered by councils and housing associations, helping ensure that there are affordable, decent homes for all.

The Office of Budget Responsibility forecasts that £21.2bn will be spent on housing benefit in 2018/19 – money that could be spent on increasing the supply of new social homes.

An increase in stock would also reduce the cost of housing overall for local authorities, housing associations and citizens. It would improve the availability, accessibility and affordability of housing, lower the housing benefit bill and help turn the tide against rising housing inequality, poverty and homelessness.

UNISON assistant policy officer Sylvia Jones said: “The Spring Statement made no mention of council housing. Yet, over 30 years ago, when there was a mass house building programme, councils built more than 100,000 homes per year in the 1970s.

“UNISON believes that councils and housing associations have a vital role to play in contributing at high capacity to the government’s housing supply targets, but they can only do so if they are supported with more funding and greater financial flexibilities.

“This would ensure that they return to their traditional social purpose of building genuinely affordable, high-quality homes for people on low to middle incomes.”