“Laying the Foundations: a Housing Strategy for England” – a few comments

David Cameron and Nick Clegg call this document an ambitious new strategy to tackle the housing shortage, boost the economy, create jobs and give people the opportunity to get on the housing ladder. They say they inherited a broken housing market and a devastating collapse in construction from the era of top down targets but that the Government’s new plans will give the housing market a shot in the arm by boosting supply, easing financial pressures and helping with demand – “The action we take will drive up the level of house-building, ensure we are helping new home owners and boost consumer confidence”.

In reality, the strategy consolidates a lot of existing policy initiatives that are being introduced through the Localism Act and other legislation. It also gives the policy background to spending measures being introduced in the Autumn Statement. Not a lot is genuinely “new”.

Many of these proposals are useful. It is questionable, however, whether this document equates to a comprehensive and coherent strategy that will really address the housing needs of the nation. The scale of all the proposed construction activity when added together does not match the scale of the problems facing us. It also remains to be seen whether the Localism Act package of community freedoms and incentives will actually deliver more approved house plots than the previous system of regional targets. Whether any strategy could deliver in the present economic circumstances is of course a big question.

A major consideration for social housing providers must be whether these proposals actually point to a further residualization of social housing on the American welfare housing model. If so, this is dangerous – extending stigma and ghettoization – and goes against efforts to create cohesive, mixed communities.

Registered providers also need to be aware that they hold no privileged position as a preferred delivery agent. There is still a strong hint that the Coalition Government leadership– both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative elements – see the sector and its tenants as part of the welfare culture problem rather than part of the solution that springboards people out of dependency.

Kim Penfold
13 December 2011