Government must advance social housing to prevent yet another Grenfell disaster
The social housing white paper provides a unique opportunity to implement a fundamental shift in the treatment of social housing tenants and fully address the full scale of the building safety crisis.
The government must use the Queen’s Speech to advance its ambitious and highly anticipated social housing white paper, which was published last November. The white paper provides the unique opportunity to implement a fundamental shift in the treatment of social housing tenants. We also need a boost to the provision of social rented property.
The 2018 green paper proposed a strengthened regulator as well as proposals for league tables for social housing providers, though these plans were eventually dropped. Instead, the white paper included a raft of tenant satisfaction measures against which landlords will be assessed. Proposed changes in the white paper include strengthening the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman and making sure landlords are more accountable to their tenants through a proactive consumer regulation system.
We are building far too few social rented homes that those on average incomes cannot afford to buy or rent
The white paper also sets out a seven-point plan to improve protections for social housing tenants.
The Grenfell tragedy which resulted in the ongoing inquiry has slowly shed light on how tenants at Grenfell and also the country wide, were and are failed by their landlord and it has been determined that the 72 people who tragically lost their lives in the fire will be remembered for the changes that come as a result of the tragedy.
In the aftermath of a number of tragedies, most notably the Grenfell Tower fire and also last week’s New Providence Wharf fire, the journey to justice has been torturously slow and Ministers must progress the social housing white paper to show people they are committed to preventing yet another disaster. Families of Grenfell survivors have now been waiting almost four years for this commitment to be fulfilled.
Last week, more people have lost their homes in another terrifying fire. The government should treat this as an emergency. The New Providence Wharf fire has been another tragedy and similar tragedies will continue to happen unless the cladding crisis is dealt with properly and swiftly.
Last week’s fire has shown that we have still failed to fully address the full scale of the building safety crisis. The government has intervened with exceptional funding, but we have still failed to address the fundamental problems.
Government is spending £5 billion to fund the replacement of all unsafe cladding in the highest risk buildings and are making the biggest improvements to building safety in a generation. It is also essential that building owners take swift action to remediate defective cladding. Workers are on site in 95% of buildings identified as having ACM cladding at the beginning of 2020 and work should be completed in the coming months. However, it is estimated that £15 billion will be required and could take 5 years to complete all the defects identified.
We have to address the problem of a lack of affordable housing. Currently we are building far too few social rented homes with a result that those on average incomes cannot afford to buy or rent. Those on low incomes are forced to claim Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. Effectively, we subsidise the cost of renting through welfare. However, if we had affordable rents or prices for buying a home this would be unnecessary.
We therefore need to be building 100,000 new social rented properties each year. On moving in, tenants should be provided with a guaranteed price at which they buy their home when they can afford to so do under a revamp of Right to Buy. All proceeds of sales should then be invested in new housing. This will then lead to a renewed property owning democracy as part of our levelling up agenda.
The Queen’s Speech on 11th May provides the government with the ideal opportunity to progress the social housing white paper and people are expecting nothing less. The new Parliamentary session gives the opportunity to create the environment whereby we can rebuild communities and provide renewed opportunity for home ownership.
Bob Blackman is the Conservative MP for Harrow East.