A century on from the Addison Act, and it seems inescapable that the election of a majority Conservative Government under Boris Johnson has all-but buried social housing – and it remains to be seen whether the housing sector can dig it back out.
Last night’s exit poll predicted a strong Conservative victory, and as the results rolled in, this proved to be very much the case. From a position of leading a fractious and enfeebled minority administration, Johnson strides out today with a 78 majority in his back pocket.
With one constituency left to declare, the Conservatives scored 364 MPs after hammering Labour in its Northern heartlands. Labour has had its worst showing of the post-1945 era, coming in with 203 seats. The LibDems, meanwhile, lost their party leader Jo Swinson, and secured 11 seats. The SNP proved a powerful force in Scotland, taking 48 seats.
The country – at least England, then – is now Johnson’s. The question is, what will he do with it? Beyond his campaign slogan of “Get Brexit done”, that is? And will voters in the North find any favours from the new regime in Westminster for breaking the so-called ‘Red Wall’? We’ll just have to see.
Well, this is a housing publication, and on that score, going by the pre-election ministerial announcements and the Conservative manifesto, we can really expect much the same as before.
That means homeownership returns to front and centre of Government priorities; a position it never really left, despite former PM Theresa May’s promise of a Social Housing White Paper, and some warm words towards the tenure during her ill-fated days at the helm.
The Conservative manifesto was light on detail, certainly compared to the meticulous and costed (though far from perfect) Labour document. The Conservatives were clearly leaving their options open, and their cards close to their chest, but with such a secure majority now, it is anybody’s guess quite how beholden Johnson and his ministerial team will feel towards these pledges.
On that note, Johnson’s manifesto contained a promise, somewhat vague, to bring forward this white paper, with a claim to better empower social tenants and deliver more such homes, but whether it will actually appear – and mean much in practice – or remain forever over the rainbow, is currently a moot point.
More concrete, and given substance by past government action, are the measures the Conservatives pledged on “helping people to buy and rent”.
Here, we can expect the promised roll-out of the ‘voluntary’ extension of right-to-buy to cover housing associations homes, as well as maintaining its commitment to continue right-to-buy of council homes.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives pledged to extend Help to Buy from 2021 to 2023 and look at new ways to support homeownership, along with a promise to encourage a new market in long-term fixed-rate mortgages. Also, we can expect the Government to simplify the national model of shared ownership, and otherwise further expend this form of hybrid tenure.
There’s the pledge on leasehold reforms, of course, and a promise to end so-called no fault evictions to offer some ease for private renters.
The Government, going by its manifesto, will also renew the Affordable Homes Programme, promising hundreds of thousands of new –allegedly – affordable homes. It said it will also do more to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.
Overall, the Government is pledged to deliver one million homes over the life of this Parliament, which it says will be of all tenures, with modern methods of construction set to play a big role in delivering these numbers.
All told, despite the references to better housing quality and environmental performance, the Conservatives offered little of substantial difference to prior policy offers. In that sense, it was very much a business as usual approach – and that’s what we now look set to have now got.
Quiet how much of this manifesto will work its way in to the Government’s legislative programme will no doubt be revealed in the coming weeks and months – starting with the Queen’s Speech.
Meanwhile, the desperate need for social housing, and for a concerted, long-term strategy to tackle the housing crisis North and South hasn’t gone away.
Over recent years, industry bodies like the National Housing Federation, the Chartered Institute of Housing, and the Local Government Association, along with charities such as Shelter and Crisis, have provided plenty of research and evidence of the growing need – and the necessary solutions – for tackling the housing crisis head on. Much of this built on and reinforced the work commissioned by the Social Housing Under Threat (SHOUT) campaign back in 2014.
In that context, the party’s wider politics and policy pledges, and any misgivings about its leadership team aside, Labour’s housing pledges were something of an answer to the pleas. But those manifesto commitments now go to join their own reports and evidence gathering dust on the archivist’s shelf; raw material for future historians and the curious, but little comfort for those in desperate need of a home they can truly afford.
Quite what happens with Labour, well it’s speculation at this point, but Corbyn – and his immediate team – are certainly history and so too is its housing programme. That said, given the independent research referred to above, it’s likely that aspects of the party’s proposals will live on, in some depoliticised form, in the housing and associated sectors’ continued efforts to lobby for change.
It remains to be seen how amenable ministers will prove to these lobbying efforts, and the evidence created to back the arguments; on past form from previous administrations, it can’t be said to bode much confidence. And with such a stonking majority, and following such a turbulent last few years, will ministers be that eager to listen as they float on a wave of euphoria. This is, after all, is a hugely triumphant moment for a Conservative Party that so recently seemed on the verge of collapse.
The election is over. The dust is settling. The recriminations are beginning. But for a lot of people, however they voted, it remains the case that we are waiting to learn our fate. Johnson now must demonstrate that he is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, not merely the leader of a victorious faction – and social housing must play a vital part of that.
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Kate Henderson, chief executive of the national Housing Federation, said: “Housing associations will be looking to the new Conservative Government to quickly deliver on its welcome manifesto commitment to renew the Affordable Homes Programme. Our members urgently need certainty about future funding to continue building thousands of affordable homes, including homes for social rent.
“The housing crisis has not gone away, and we will be redoubling our efforts to build new homes, end homelessness and ensure everyone has the support they need to live with security and the dignity they deserve.
“We will also be renewing our calls on Government to bring greater clarity on the critical issue of building safety, and to take a strategic lead in coordinating a national programme of works. Together with tenants, our members look forward to partnering on the Social Housing White Paper to ensure a new deal for social housing.”
Gavin Smart, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “We know that for far too many people in our country housing isn’t working and at CIH we know what needs to be done to change this. We are ready to work with the new government to put in the place the measures needed to create a future in which everyone has a safe, secure and affordable place to call home.”
Claire Ainsley, executive director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “This is a historic result. Low-income voters have made clear they want to see change. With trust in politicians at a low ebb, Boris Johnson’s government must deliver on their promises for places and people held back from opportunity, and for families locked in poverty.
“With a strong majority, he can afford to be much more ambitious about the domestic reform needed to drive the transformational change these places are crying out for. It is not right that so many people are struggling to stay afloat, with rising costs and flatlining incomes. Low-income voters want action on jobs, the cost of living, and levelling up the economy.
“If people cannot feel a positive change in their communities and households soon then trust in politicians, and the prospects for our country, will worsen. The Government must work quickly to reassure those struggling that they will act to make their lives better.”
On the woeful results for the Labour Party, she added: “This is a painful wake-up call for Labour. But the result is more than Corbyn and Brexit – Labour’s decline amongst working-class began two decades ago.
“After four successive defeats, it needs to look deeply at itself and understand the long-term forces that has dislocated low-income voters and former industrial towns from the party.
“Until Labour shows it understands the concerns and values of voters in the North and Midlands again, and that is has a credible plan for creating prosperity, improving living standards and unlocking opportunity, it will find itself in the political wilderness.”
Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said: “The RTPI congratulates Boris Johnson and the Conservatives on their victory in the 2019 General Election.
“We urge them to now act fast to ensure planning and planners are adequately resourced to enable local planning teams to deliver for communities. There is now a golden opportunity to invest in the much-needed infrastructure to unlock the potential to deliver the communities that people want to live in. Strategic planning can play a key role and we urge the incoming Government to embrace it and more forward with further devolution.
“Over the past decade, local authority planning teams have seen a reduction of 42% in funding, a situation which must now be urgently addressed to enable us to meet the challenges ahead.”
Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, chief executive of the National Custom & Self Build Association said: “We congratulate the Conservative party on their victory and we look forward to working with them to deliver more and better homes that more people aspire to live in and that communities are happier to see built.”
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “The Conservative party manifesto for this election promised ‘we will do more to make universal credit work’. Just last week on the campaign trail, Boris Johnson said helping people with the cost of living is ‘an absolute crusade’ for him personally.
“It is crucial these words are acted on. We know what hasn’t been working as it should, and we know what needs to change. We must start putting money back into the pockets of people who most need support, by ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit, ensuring benefit payments cover the cost of living and investing in local emergency support for people in crisis.
“It’s in our power as a country to end the need for food banks. But if we’re to get there, we need our new government to act. We’re ready to share evidence from our network of food banks across the UK, and we’d encourage any new MPs to speak to their local food bank about why people are being referred for emergency food. It’s not right that anyone should have to turn to charity for the basics – this can change.”
Main Image: Boris Johnson visits the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in July 2017, during his time as foreign secretary. © British Embassy Tokyo. CC BY 2.0