INDUSTRY reaction to Rishi Sunak MP’s Budget yesterday declared it a start – but the job is far from done; more emphasis on social housing is essential if the Chancellor’s efforts are to make any real difference.
“[The Budget] was an important first step, but it’s not job done,” said Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate. “To see housing in the Government’s infrastructure revolution and the biggest cash injection in a decade is good news. The big question is how much of this money will be put into the social homes we desperately need to end the housing emergency, and transform the lives of millions.
“Extra investment in rough sleeping services is also very welcome but homelessness is more than rough sleeping alone. 280,000 people are homeless in England including 126,000 children. Building social homes is the only solution and voices right across the political spectrum agree.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Missing from [the] Budget is bold action to prevent people from being forced on the streets in the first place, such as clear targets for increasing the supply of social housing and restoring housing benefit to cover the cost of rent. Rough sleeping is the most brutal and devastating form of homelessness and while the additional funding announced to tackle this is much needed, a dark cloud remains over the Government’s ability to end rough sleeping within this Parliament without tackling its root causes.
“The lack of investment in housing benefit is a complete missed opportunity for the Chancellor to free some of the most vulnerable people from the grip of poverty. The upcoming Spending Review must restore housing benefit to cover at least the lowest third of rents – the Government cannot continue to look the other way while people are forced into homelessness under the constant pressure of rising rents and low incomes.”
Councillor David Renard, the Local Government Association’s (LGA) housing spokesperson, said: “Greater investment in the Affordable Homes Programme is a positive step, but with more than a million households on council waiting lists, and over 86,000 households in temporary accommodation, it is vital the programme is re-focussed towards building homes for social rent.
“We are also pleased the Government acted on our calls to cut the interest rates for investment in social housing.
“It is good the Government has announced further funding to get people sleeping rough off the streets and into safe and warm accommodation, including extra money to address substance misuse.
“With over two thirds of councils spending more than they planned to on tackling homelessness, it is vital the Government follows this with long-term funding for homeless prevention in the Spending Review.
“It should also restore local housing allowance rates to cover at least the lowest third of market rents and give councils the powers to invest in new homes for those that need them, by reforming Right to Buy and allowing councils to keep receipts in full and set discounts locally.”
On the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday of a £1 billion Building Safety Fund to helped people living in high-rise properties with unsafe cladding, the LGA’s buildings safety spokesperson, Lord Porter added: “We are pleased the Government has listened to the LGA and launched this new fund, which will help ensure thousands of building residents will no longer have to live with dangerous cladding systems.
“Innocent leaseholders and owners cannot be expected to foot the cost of replacing dangerous cladding on their buildings and we have been calling for government action on this for more than two years. More work is needed to address other aspects of building fire safety, but this is a positive step.
“The extra £20 million for Fire and Rescue Services, to increase inspection and enforcement capability, is also helpful in delivering the effective fire safety regulation and properly funded training we have been calling for.”
Claire Ainsley, executive director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “The test for levelling up the country is whether it helps those who are locked out of opportunities to boost their standards of living. This budget was a strong start, but there’s still more to do to target support where it’s needed most.
“The rise in the National Living Wage by 2024 must be followed up with ambitious ongoing plans for skills, jobs, social security and housing if the Government is to show that it is serious about breaking poverty’s grip on families around the UK.
“Infrastructure spending is welcome and is a crucial element of levelling up, as is reorienting spending to the places and people that need it most. People and skills need investment too and this Budget must be the start of a government-wide focus on delivering routes out of poverty for families throughout the UK.
“The first Budget of this new decade rightly focuses on using our public services – social security and the health service – to support people who may be at risk from the health and economic effects of the coronavirus.
“Removing the minimum income floor from Universal Credit and reducing time before claiming employment and support allowance will help self-employed workers, especially those on low incomes or in precarious jobs who are affected by the spread of coronavirus. We also need action on the five-week wait for people who need to claim Universal Credit so that it provides a lifeline during a challenging time for our nation.
“Our social security system can be the key to unlocking poverty’s constraints on families, especially those with children who are struggling to get by. Boosting this would be much more effective than the changes to the National Insurance thresholds”.
Social housing consortium JV North welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement of a new £12 billion Affordable Homes Programme. Unsurprising, given the organisation and its members are making extensive use of the existing 2016-21 programme.
“We wanted financial certainty and continuity beyond 2021 so we can maintain momentum capacity in the system, we’ve got both as part of a very big programme that is warmly welcomed,” said Wayne Gales, chair of JV North and the chief executive of Weaver Vale Housing Trust.
“We’re now keen to learn the finer details, in particular what the multi-year settlement entails, what is deemed affordable, the type of tenures and any other obligations we have to meet.
“We are also encouraged by news of planning reforms to be announced tomorrow (Thursday) because together with £12 billion funding it gives us a great opportunity to build more homes better and faster.
“JV North members have worked tremendously hard with colleagues at Homes England over the past few years building 4,550 homes in 2016/21 and our appetite to build together continues to grow.
“As part of our future planning, we will be inviting housing associations, contractors and consultants to sessions to see if they want to join us and shape how the JV North consortium works in the future.
“We will be looking at how to get the best from land-led package deals, make the modular housing concept a reality at scale, improve quality, energy efficiency and work together with partners better.”
Adam Cunnington, chief executive of Public Sector Plc, said: “The news on devolution, housing and infrastructure investment is welcome and starts to give us an idea of how this Government wants to get things done.
“Tripling the average net investment into rail and road, affordable housing, broadband and research provides a very credible platform from which this Government can start to pursue its agenda to level up the British economy and invest more in regions outside of London.
“However, much of the detail of how this money will be spent will not be revealed until the delayed National Infrastructure Strategy has been published.
“To maximise the impact of this the National Infrastructure Strategy must ensure that these investments take a joined-up, integrated approach so that spending on rail and road unlocks opportunities to build new affordable homes close to transport infrastructure where new homes will unlock the most opportunities for people.
“To this end it makes sense to invest much more than £1.1 billion in Housing Infrastructure Fund to build homes in areas of high demand.
“While the creation of a new West Yorkshire Mayor is another positive step on the way to more local devolution the most crucial issue facing local authorities is the uncertainty over their funding and we really need to get this done as soon as possible so that councils can make plans for their property portfolio, investments and for providing the local public services that communities need.
“We look forward to finding out more detail on the National Infrastructure Strategy and the Spending Review in the coming months and in the meantime working hard with our council and housing association partners to get things done.”