A dereliction of duty

Bill McKenzieLord Bill McKenzie of Luton is Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister in the Lords

Last week’s release of the March quarters housing statistics is an opportunity to reflect on Housing Minister Grant Shapps desire that “Building more homes in this country is the gold standard on which we shall be judged”.

Seasonally adjusted house building starts in England are 11% lower than the previous quarter, and 50% below the peak in the quarter ending December.  Annual housing starts in the 12 months to March 2012 – at 109,000 - were also down on the previous year by 6%. With the exception of 2010, when the impact of the global financial crisis was being most felt, this is the lowest annual total of new homes built in any year since 1946.

These figures show that matters are getting worse not better. 2011 completions were less than half those needed annually to meet demand. So it is no wonder that overcrowding is getting worse, and that homelessness and rough sleeping are on the increase. And the situation is of course going to become even more dire when yet more housing benefit cuts come down the line.

If this represents Shapps gold standard, then his currency has suffered a severe devaluation.

In their second housing report released recently, three respected bodies, the National Housing Federation, Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing, together offered the view that the government was going nowhere on 8 out of 10 key housing indicators. Included in their concerns are not only the paucity of housing starts, with the new planning system not yet making any significant impact, but falling home ownership and rising private sector rents.

We should be clear that the government have contributed to the housing crisis we face. The 60% cut to the affordable housing budget has not only brought more misery to the homeless; it has also hit the construction sector hard, contributing further to our country’s recession.

The inability of Ministers to address the chronic housing crisis in a way which would help drive a plan for growth, assist those in need of housing and enable those who aspire to build a home and be part of a community, is a clear dereliction of duty.

By any standard, Shapps and his colleagues should be judged to be failing, out of touch, and careless of the lives of those for whom a decent home is the anchor of their family and future.

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