Lord Shipley: There is a vital need to build more homes for social rent
The Conservative Government may have supported the Liberal Democrat commitment to build 300 thousand new homes a year, but unless they also support our demand for an ambitious delivery of social housing, they will fail to reach that figure, says Lord Shipley.
The Liberal Democrats have been clear for some time now that there is a vital need to build more homes for social rent and the Conservative Government must give a stronger lead to get them built.
As the contest for the next Prime Minister provides a new form of self-intersted navel-gazing for the Tory party, their failure to provide that essential leadership means rising exclusion from decent housing for millions of people who cannot afford to own their own home.
The problems of our inadequate housing supply are well known. We have built around 2 million too few homes over the last 20 years. The result is high prices with one in five households dependent on the private rented sector where high rents have been pushing up the housing benefit bill. How much better it would be if we could reduce the housing benefit bill by investing in the construction of more social housing.
The facts are stark. Only a few thousand social homes are built each year yet the waiting list for social homes stands at over a million. Homelessness continues to rise with an estimated 123,000 families having no place to call home and being forced to live in temporary accommodation. Rough sleeping has risen steeply and results from benefit cuts, inadequate levels of supported housing and a lack of social homes for people to move into. A divided society just gets more divided.
Yet this Tory Government continues to believe that promoting and subsidising owner occupation is the right priority. The evidence suggests that this is not the case. Help to Buy has proved a success for some first time buyers but a very expensive public policy which has fuelled the profits of large builders. Those on low pay have no prospect of becoming home owners anyway and they aspire to a social home that at current building rates they will never get.
We cannot go on like this. Charities such as Shelter have shown how the social homes we need can be built with the right policy leadership by the Government.
At the heart of the problem lies low pay. Surely someone on the living wage should be able to afford to live reasonably close to where they work. For too many, that is not possible. Low pay must rise and that would help the affordability of rented homes.
The Conservatives are encouraging a divided society between those who can afford to buy (often with the help of family or through inherited wealth) and those cannot and never will. We should not forget that unjustified financial inequalities can breed discontent. Twenty years of failures by successive governments to recognise that cohesive communities need a bigger supply of social housing have led us to our current crisis.
Whilst the Government has recognised we have a housing crisis it does not seem to understand the root causes or the solutions. Young people and others on average to low incomes have been progressively priced out of decent housing as a result. The Liberal Democrats demand better.
The Conservative Government may have supported the Liberal Democrat commitment to build 300 thousand new homes a year, but unless they also support our demand for an ambitious delivery of social housing, they will fail to reach that figure. By ignoring this crucial part of the solution to the housing crisis, the Tories are demonstrating their disdain to all those affected by it."
Lord Shipley is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.