No place like home

Bill McKenzie

Bill McKenzie welcomes the Future Homes Commission conclusions on tackling the worst housing crisis in a generation

The UK finds itself in a situation where we are building less than half the homes needed to keep pace with new household developments, let alone address the backlog. There are some two million people on housing waiting lists.

Meanwhile, homelessness is increasing, with the number of children and pregnant women living in bed and breakfast accommodation jumping by 60% in one year. The private rented sector has rising rent levels and inadequate regulation where still some 37% of property is failing to meet the decent homes standard. Indeed, in some parts of the UK, shipping containers are to be converted to provide accommodation for the homeless.

All of this is happening at a time when economic growth is not just weak but being dragged down by the dramatic decline in the construction sector, where every £1 of output would generate nearly £3 of demand in the economy. With young people needing skills, apprenticeships and jobs, the imperative of building more homes falls firmly in the "no brainer" category.

The Coalition’s failure to invest in housing is, as the new report from the Future Homes Commission argues, seriously undermining growth. That is why Labour believes investing the proceeds of the sale of the 4G licences should be used to kick start the situation by building 100,000 new affordable homes. But we also agree that this is not just a numbers game. It is about the quality of the homes provided, the funding of the investment, and the significant consequences for local communities.

We very much support the emphasis of the Commission in highlighting the key role of local authorities in helping to create sustainable communities. We share the vision of mixed communities living in well-designed, high quality homes in neighbourhoods with good facilities and where people want to live.

What is clear, in the current climate, is that traditional forms of finance from government and banks are unlikely to help deliver the scale of funding required to build the 300,000 plus homes our country needs each year. As the Commission points out, plummeting mortgage availability makes it difficult to finance developments. 

And there are different difficulties arising in respect of the private rented sector – predicted to grow to nearly six million households by 2016. This as a huge and neglected issue, driven by a range of factors, of which inability to purchase is less common than moving because of work. That is unlikely to change, given estimates that in the future individuals may on average change jobs eleven times during their working life.  

Labour welcomes the Commission’s report, and the government should act now to address the worst housing crisis in a generation.

Lords Bill McKenzie of Luton is Shadow Housing Minister in the Lords

Published 4th December 2012


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