The national housing emergency and the Conservatives

The national housing emergency and the Conservatives

On 12 December, the United Kingdom will go to the polls in a general election for the third time in four years. One thing, however, is abundantly clear – that whoever the next government is, they will need to take radical steps to tackle our national housing emergency.

For the 1.1 million households on council waiting lists, the 277,000 people who are homeless in England, and the millions of families trapped in insecure private rentals, action can’t come soon enough.

To help us understand more about what each of the parties would do about this, on 4 December, Shelter, along with eight other organisations from the housing and homelessness sectors will be hosting a National Housing Hustings with representatives from England’s major political parties.

Follow the action on social media, using #housinghustings. This will be an opportunity for those who are experiencing the housing emergency to engage in the debate and hear the detail of what they would do over the next parliament.

Ahead of the hustings, Shelter has produced short summaries of each party manifesto to highlight some of the key things we know already about their plans to tackle the housing emergency.

Last, but by no means least, we have the Conservatives and Get Brexit Done Unleash Britain’s Potential.

The Conservatives and housebuilding

You can’t solve the housing emergency without homes, and in particular social homes, of which Shelter has calculated we need at least 90,000 per year. On social housing, the Conservative manifesto only makes a brief mention with a commitment that the forthcoming Social Housing White Paper will ‘set out further measures to empower tenants and support the continued supply of social housing’. The manifesto also commits to the renewal of the Affordable Homes Programme, which provides funding for the delivery of all forms of affordable housing, including social housing. On both of these pledges there is no detail in terms of the total number of homes that might be delivered, the types of homes or how much funding will be made available.

On wider housebuilding, the Conservative manifesto recommits the party to its ambition of achieving 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s.

Within these overall housing plans is also the introduction of a new discounted homeownership product, that would see developers providing homes with a one-third market discount. This appears to be a replacement for Starter Homes, with the market discount retained in perpetuity and passed on to future buyers. On this product, more detail would be welcome around the impact for other forms of affordable housing, given it appears this would be delivered through the existing Section 106 system.

Supporting the Conservative housebuilding plans are a series of additional promises including:

  • simplifying the planning system to help the public and small builders
  • supporting modern methods of construction
  • amending planning rules to ensure an infrastructure first approach, supported by a £10 billion Single Housing Infrastructure fund

The Conservatives and private renting

Under their previous Prime Minister, the Conservative Party committed to ending Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions, but the election was called before this could be legislated. This commitment has carried through into the new manifesto which promises a ‘Better Deal for Renters’ that would include:

  • abolishing ‘no-fault’ evictions
  • creating a single ‘lifetime’ deposit that moves from property to property with tenants
  • strengthening the rights of possession for landlords.

With 11 million private renters in England, tackling the instability that currently exists in the sector has to be a priority for the next government, and it is clear that cross-party consensus has now emerged to make this happen.

The Conservatives and homelessness

The Conservatives have used this manifesto to bring forward their target for ending rough sleeping from 2027 to the end of the next parliament. They pledge to do this by expanding pilot programmes such as Housing First and the Rough Sleeping Initiative.

Shelter is working on Housing First projects in Manchester, for example, along with other organisations. And while the scheme is a fantastic approach to housing entrenched rough sleepers and getting them a suite of support including health and mental health services, it can take some time to come to fruition. As such, more detail is needed given that these schemes need extensive, tailored support to work properly. And while Housing First is right for some homeless individuals, it must not be seen as a single-model solution for ending street homelessness. In addition, the Conservatives are promising to:

  • fully enforce the Homelessness Reduction Act which was introduced in 2017 and places duties on councils to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness
  • continue the roll-out of Universal Credit
  • end the benefits freeze as planned in April 2020

One area where more detail is still needed, is around what will happen with Local Housing Allowance (LHA) once the benefits freeze ends in spring of 2020. Currently, LHA rates don’t cover rents for a two-bedroom home in 97% of England, and to address this they need to be increased to cover the bottom third of local rental markets.

The National Housing Hustings

On Wednesday 4 December, we will have the opportunity to find out more about how these pledges would be delivered at the National Housing Hustings, hosted by Centrepoint, Crisis, CPRE, Homeless Link, National Housing Federation, RIBA, RICS, Shelter, and St Mungo’s.

Housing spokespeople have been invited from the Conservative, Green, Liberal Democrats and Labour parties – the four parties that had an MP elected in England at the last general election.

Questions will come from people who have experienced the housing emergency first-hand, including those trapped in private renting, waiting for a social home and who have seen the reality of homelessness.

If you are interested in housing and want to make your voice heard at this election, you can take our action calling on your prospective parliamentary candidates to commit to ending the housing emergency.