'Warm words and little action' - Government’s 'covert attempt' to row back from building the 300,000 homes a year this country needs
We have built around two million too few homes across the country resulting in high prices, high rents, many fewer social homes and serious difficulties for younger people wanting to buy their own home, says Lord Shipley.
The housing crisis we currently face is depriving countless people across the country a home of their own, or in many cases a roof over their head at all.
It was several years ago that the Liberal Democrats adopted the policy of building 300,000 new homes a year.
Over that time, we have built around two million too few homes across the country resulting in high prices, high rents, many fewer social homes and serious difficulties for younger people wanting to buy their own home.
The Government has emphasised that it wants to commit to our figure but there is little evidence of the action planning necessary to deliver that number of homes. Policy announcements have been long on aspiration but limited on how delivery will actually be achieved. In short, warm words and little action.
Worryingly, what was originally a clear ‘commitment’ from the Government to 300,000 new homes a year, subsequently became a ‘target’ shortly afterwards and more recently, at the time of the Budget, was referred to as an ‘ambition’. This sort of change will pass many without notice, but it represents the Conservative Government’s covert attempt to row back from building the homes this country needs.
One in five households are now in the private rented sector, in which conditions can be very poor and tenure can be insecure. It is due to this insecurity that there is the need to build around 50,000 social homes for rent a year. These social homes for rent will offer a secure tenancy and be genuinely affordable for people on average to low incomes who will never be able to buy their own home.
Inevitably, the Liberal Democrats are also calling for a balanced approach to solving our housing crisis - one that builds the homes people need with the right mix of tenures in those places where demand is unfulfilled. Owner occupation will always be the preference of most people, but the priority of a government must be to ensure all its citizens have a safe and secure place to call home.
The decision in the Budget to abolish the cap on local government borrowing for housing was most welcome but it will probably only build about another 10,000 homes a year. The Government must have an ambitious plan of delivering the number of homes this country needs.
Crucially, the Conservatives must also stop describing homes as ‘affordable’ when they are nothing of the sort for very large numbers of people. It is nothing short of an insult to all those suffering from the impact of rising prices and rents in recent years.
The case for building 300,000 new homes a year is well established, but it must also be underpinned by our values. Liberal Democrats strongly believe that everyone in work on the living wage should be able to afford to live reasonably close to where they work, no-one should be forced to spend more than a third of their income on housing costs, and no-one should be forced to sleep rough or depend on temporary accommodation when they cannot find a permanent place to call home.
Every citizen has a right to a good education, a decent job and a secure home. Those rights form the basis of a healthy society in which opportunity and wealth can be shared by everyone. Unfortunately, it remains an unfulfilled aspiration for far too many people.
And as we now know, the total number of new homes built in the last year has not increased whilst the number of homeless people continues to rise.
The Liberal Democrats are clear a fair society is one in which everyone has the means to get by and the chance to get on. As a rich country, we simply cannot tolerate the current levels of social and financial exclusion.
Lord Shipley is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.
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