Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, the representative body for housing associations in England. I wholeheartedly welcome this report. The most reverend Primates set their commission the task of reimagining housing policy and practice and it has done them proud.
In the face of a national crisis in meeting housing need, with millions living in unaffordable, cramped accommodation, which the pandemic has exposed as a danger to our national health, the report seeks cross- party consensus on the development of a long-term housing strategy that will provide a stable and sustainable solution. It does this in a most refreshing way: it looks into the Church’s own backyard, so to speak—reminiscent of the saying, “Physician, heal thyself”—and seeks first the commitment of the Church’s leaders, clergy and congregations to put their land and other resources into delivering the social and environmental benefits of meeting local housing need and building viable communities. It reminds not just the Church but the rest of us that it is the poorest and the most marginalised who suffer the burden of our housing crisis. This is put into stark relief by all the data emerging from the pandemic, which reinforces the point that the worst-off have been the worst hit.
If we look at the facts, over 8 million people in England are in housing need. This is likely only to increase as the pandemic progresses, as we see unemployment levels rising, together with the number of people claiming universal credit. Research from the National Housing Federation reveals that for 3.8 million of those in housing need, social rented housing would be the best solution. However, 1.6 million households are on the social housing waiting list. Providers could meet that need with the right funding support and access to land.
The report’s recommendation to the Church Commissioners to use their land assets for the development of more truly affordable homes will, I hope, be embraced by the Church at all levels. The report looks at other positive developments, such as the commitment to the stewardship code and seeking collaboration with the Charity Commission. It commits the Church Commissioners to engaging in innovative partnerships with others, particularly councils and housing associations, to fulfil the mission. Housing associations will gladly work with them to achieve this.
I hope that the actions of the Church Commissioners will encourage other landowners to follow their example. I hope that they inspire the Government to recognise social housing as fundamental to a society where no one is left behind and where communities thrive.
As the report emphasises, this crisis will not be resolved without government action—not short-term fixes as Ministers come and go, but
“a bold, coherent, long-term housing strategy, focused on those in greatest need.”
I hope the Government will listen. They have committed to building affordable homes through the affordable homes programme and I welcome this. But that will not go anywhere near far enough to address the crisis we face. The very word “affordable” is a misnomer, as other speakers have said. For those in high-price areas, it is impossible to contemplate finding 80% of market rates—the so-called affordable rate.
We need to build 90,000 socially rented homes a year, as well as provide adequate supported houses for those with additional needs. This will not only address the housing crisis that we face, but help to relieve pressure on stretched public services. I will give just one example. Anchor Hanover housing association recently modelled the value of a supported housing tenancy in one of their schemes for older people and found that every extra care housing place can generate up to £6,700 in savings to local public services, so the economic case for investing in different tenures of housing is as strong as the moral one.
The report does not shirk the need for remediation of existing homes. One of its six key themes is sustainability and the challenges facing the housing and construction sector in delivering the Government’s aspirations on energy efficiency and decarbonisation. It is worth recalling that 80% of all the homes that will exist in 2050 have already been built. That is a huge challenge for retrofitting carbon-neutral heating and power systems. The Committee on Climate Change has already said that
“We will not meet our targets for emissions reduction without near complete decarbonisation of the housing stock.”
The Government have made some large sums available, which are most welcome, but the resources available to the sector are not nearly sufficient to respond to the challenges of safety and cladding, remediation and decarbonisation, and building the new homes that we need.
The report is right to emphasise the need for a long-term strategy to address the housing shortage in this country, and other noble Lords have echoed that today. Coupled with clear objectives, the report identifies the way in which housing associations, local authorities and the Church, together with the Government, can deliver this mission. It is only by taking a holistic approach, focusing on everything from remediation to reforming the welfare system, that we begin to address the chronic housing need in England. This can only be delivered by a long-term strategy, which requires cross-party agreement. I hope that, today, the Minister commits to starting that process. Surely the inequalities in this country and the many divisions that have been reinforced by the pandemic require a more imaginative political response.
Housing associations stand ready to work with the Government to build the homes that this country needs. They are ready to work with local church groups, local authorities and charity partners to deliver the safe, high-quality and sustainable homes that we need. But I cannot stress enough the long-term certainty that is needed from the Government in order to sign off ambitious business plans to retrofit, remediate and build the truly affordable homes that we so desperately need. I hope that the Minister commits to a speedy response to this excellent report from the most reverend Primate’s commission.