Monday, 20 August 2012

No Olympic delivery by the Housing Minister

When Housing Minister Grant Shapps gave evidence to the All-Party Communities and Local Government Select Committee which I chair on 13 September 2010, he said “Building more homes is the gold standard upon which we shall be judged. The idea is to get a system which delivers housing in this country.” [1]

However, whilst Britain’s athletes were delivering a record crop of gold medals last week, the latest house-building statistics show that the Housing Minister hasn’t even got his tracksuit off. He set his own target on which we should judge him. When Eddie the Eagle fell so far short of the achievements of other ski-jumpers, we could at least applaud his effort and determination. It is difficult to believe we should do the same for Mr Shapps.

New housing starts over the last year fell by another 10% to less than 99,000. There was another 10% drop in the last three months compared to the previous quarter. It was even worse for social housing, where housing association new building fell by 23%.

Further confirmation that we are heading for a housing crisis has been provided by other statistics published this week.

According to the latest Buy-to-Let Index[2], private sector rents hit a new record high in July, rising to £725 per month. Average rents rose by 1% compared to June, pushing annual rental inflation to 2.9%. What happened to the Housing Minister’s forecast that these would be falling as a result of the cuts in housing benefit? It is unsurprising that private rented tenant arrears rose for again, with 9.3% of rent late or unpaid. [For the record, this is significantly higher than any council or social housing provider achieves.]

Other government statistics[3] showed that homelessness is rising rapidly and that councils throughout the UK are increasing resources to assist families in preventing homelessness.

The Government’s policies are clearly failing. We need an alternative plan for jobs, homes and growth. Building new affordable homes would put unemployed building workers back to work, create jobs and apprenticeships for young people and provide a boost to the construction industry. When will it happen?