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Social Housing - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:34 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Thornhill Baroness Thornhill Liberal Democrat 12:34 pm, 31st January 2019

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my declaration of interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. From these Benches I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, to the House. I am sure that her authentic voice will ring through for years to come. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for this opportunity to contribute in a very small way to this really important debate.

I am in no doubt that the Government are committed to increasing the delivery of new homes—the legislation and consultations over the last four years have been quite prolific—but my questions are as follows. Are the Government committed mainly to increasing home ownership as the core plank of their housing policy, or do they recognise that the country needs a strong social rented sector? If it is the latter, is that actually being left to local authorities to provide only if they choose to do so? How are the Government working to overcome the well-documented affordability crisis?

A quick calculation shows that the majority of government housing money is spent on schemes to promote home ownership, including shared ownership, starter homes and Help to Buy, to name but a few. The amount of money spent on housing benefit is also rising as the private sector as a provider is expanding, while the amount spent on social housing has significantly decreased. I acknowledge that the lifting of the borrowing cap in October was helpful, but I do not believe that local government alone can transform the social rented sector without considerable subsidy and a real plan of action. I fear that we are being set up to fail despite our best endeavours and some excellent innovative schemes, such is the scale of the task nationally.

My own authority has been fortunate in receiving grant in the last round of funding, which will help us to build 55 socially rented homes. That is small beer, though; we were averaging 200 a year before the damaging viability clause mentioned by the right reverend Prelate was introduced. To make those 55 homes viable we have had to gift the land, borrow £6.7 million and contribute £2 million, and we have received £3.3 million in grants. That level of borrowing and contribution is beyond many district councils and small housing companies.

Many councils are reluctant to build for social rent when properties can be lost to them via right to buy within three years. Will the Government consider allowing councils to set their own right-to-buy policies for their area, or at least allowing councils keep 100% of right-to-buy receipts? In future assessments of housing need, will the Government specify for all local authorities the need for social housing and set clear objectives for the number of social homes that they wish to see built?