Autumn statement - much more needed

Today’s Autumn statement was an opportunity for the Chancellor to signal a real change of approach to housing supply, in particular to invest in genuinely affordable housing.

His extra £1.4 billion for affordable housing is a step in the right direction but it is not nearly enough.

To begin with, it is not clear if this is extra money on top of the £4.7 bn Shared Ownership and Affordable Housing Funding Programme announced earlier this year. And although the Chancellor has announced greater flexibility on how these funds can be spent it is not clear how much will be directed at genuinely affordable housing. Our assumption is that the bulk of it will be directed at the “affordable rent” programme, shared ownership, starter homes and other forms of intermediate tenure. Although these schemes can be viable in parts of the country the fact is that, in most of southern England where housing needs are greatest, products such as “affordable rent” with rents set at up to 80 percent of market rent, are simply unaffordable to “just managing” families and are likely to trap them within the benefit system for the long term.

SHOUT has consistently argued for investment in 100,000 social rented homes each year as a way of producing significant savings on the Housing Benefit bill (almost a trillion pounds in little more than a generation), as well as helping to bring down rents and house prices and providing a major stimulus to the economy. All of the evidence indicates that the house-building industry will never build the number of homes that are required if the focus if solely on owner occupation. Most experts believe that, without addressing structural issues such as planning, land release and the structure of the housebuilding industry itself, subsidising various forms of home ownership will merely inflate the price of houses and is therefore self-defeating. The government's current focus on starter homes is also regressive because the significant subsidies offered to first time buyers evaporate after eight years when properties can be sold at their full value. In contrast, investment in social housing can be recycled for the benefit of future generations.

Regrettably, the Government’s approach over the past few years has tended to put all its eggs in the home-ownership basket, with only £1 spent on affordable housing for every £20 spent on a raft of home ownership initiatives. In 2012 there were almost 40,000 social rent completions in England. In 2016 only 950 social rented homes went on site in England. This is not good news for those households seeking genuinely affordable homes to rent.

We are pleased that the Government has signalled a clear change of tone on housing policy in recent months. Today’s announcement is to be welcomed, but it needs to go much, much further if the country’s serious housing problems are to be addressed.

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The Minister, the hedge fund manager and a guy I met on the way to the station

Yesterday I travelled to the Conservative Party Conference to speak at a fringe event hosted by Conservative think tank Bright Blue. Thank you, Bright Blue, and to Cheyne Capital for sponsoring the event.

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SHOUT letter to new Housing Minister

As another Housing Minister takes on the responsibility of solving the housing crisis, SHOUT has sent a letter outlining the recent consensus that's emerging around the provision of more social housing in the tenure mix of homes that need to be built. The full letter can be read by reading the rest of this entry.

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Social Housing in Focus - how to make an impact

This is a guest blog from RP ASSURE

The views expressed are not necessarily the views of the SHOUT campaign.

With a new government, a bulging benefits bill and controversial cuts adding fuel to an already hellish fire, 2015 has been a difficult year for the social housing sector. And as concerns over the UK’s financially vulnerable bubble ever closer to boiling point, opinion remains divided over the best way to move forward.

As the war over welfare reform rages on and truly affordable homes give way to rising rent prices, we’re taking a look at the future of social housing and discussing how much-needed changes can make an impact on the UK housing crisis.

The current landscape

As the acute housing shortage grows ever more apparent, all eyes are on the government to find a solution to the increasing problem - but with a lack of housing contributing to rocketing rent prices, it looks set to be a drawn out process.

While 141,000 homes were built last year, questions have been raised as to whether this is something the government can maintain in their efforts to stabilise the sector. With charities and industry professionals campaigning tirelessly for an affordable social housing sector, as well as a promise to bridge the gap between incomes and living costs, the country is up in arms about the current status of social housing.

Earlier this month, the Belfast Telegraph reported on the positive effect social housing associations can have, with figures from 2012/13 showing that “15,000 jobs were supported by the sector”. But, as backing from the government dwindles and registered providers feel the strain of trying to support their tenants, how long can the sector struggle on?

Reducing risk

In light of this year’s political upheaval, those who rely on social housing are at risk of being left out in the cold - and they’re not alone. As the country deals with the largely unwelcome shake-ups, it seems that individuals and organisations working to support the social housing sphere are among those hit hardest.

With multiple threats pressing down on registered providers, managing risk is an ongoing process. From efforts to support their tenants to offering advice with issues surrounding unemployment, social housing associations are feeling the strain - and implementing suitable financial risk mitigation options will be key to their survival in the sector.

While social housing landlords face a period of uncertainty, implementing safeguarding solutions means they can work towards a financially stable future for both themselves and their tenants.

Social housing: a solution

So, what’s the answer for the social housing sector?

With David Cameron suggesting £450,000 is a reasonable price tag for a starter home dreams of homeownership are slipping further out of reach for many of the UK’s low income families. As it becomes increasingly difficult to plant a foot on the property ladder, more and more of the country’s residents are becoming reliant on social housing.

Despite figures revealing that less than 460,000 homes were built between 2011 and 2014, by the end of their time in power, the Conservatives are aiming to have built one million more homes in the UK. Realistically, at least 100,000 new homes a year are considered necessary to stabilise the social housing sector - but will the Conservatives deliver on their promise?

Whether you’re a concerned social housing provider or confused tenant, if you’re affected by the latest shake-ups to the sector, keep one eye on the industry news surrounding this political hot potato. That way, you can make steps towards safeguarding your future.


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Generation Rent to Generation Own: Housing policy built on sand?

It should be cause for celebration that, after so many years when it has often not been central to political debate, housing was right at the centre of the PM’s Party Conference speech today.  His sound bite “Generation Rent to Generation Own" also acknowledges the reversal, since the millennium, of the progressive increase in the proportion of households in owner-occupation over previous decades.   There are indeed millions of households looking for a home of their own, not mum and dad’s back bedroom, or a private let with little chance of stability, and all too often poorly maintained. 

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The National Housing Federation proposes to make a voluntary "offer" to government on the Right to Buy. Housing Associations have been asked to vote on the proposal by 5pm on Friday. This is SHOUT's statement in response.

"SHOUT campaigns for an increase in 100,000 social rented homes each year. Our position on the Right to Buy is that there should be genuine like-for-like replacement, by tenure and by area.

"The voluntary offer being made by the National Housing Federation to the government does not achieve this and will lead to a net reduction in social rented housing.

"Furthermore, SHOUT is concerned over the lack of debate and transparency surrounding this offer. Six working days is not a practical timetable with the information currently available to allow 1,100 housing associations to make a good governance decision based on "timely and accurate information",  or to consult properly with their tenants and other stakeholders.

 "We are therefore opposed to this offer being made at this time and within the proposed timescale."


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London Housing Commission - submission

Here is SHOUT's submission to the London Housing Commission. It sets out a carefully argued case for investment in social rented housing as the best way of dealing with some of London's intractable housing problems.












Response to Call for Evidence





SHOUT ( is a volunteer-run campaign making the case for investment in genuinely affordable homes and demonstrating the positive effects that such housing has on people and communities.



September 2015






Key messages


Our response to the Commission’s core questions is:


  1. There is no prospect of increasing building to the 50-60,000 a year in the London SHMA without a large programme of public investment.  20-30,000 a year of the new units need to be at genuinely affordable, that is significantly below-market, rents[1].  A mix with lower volumes of below-market rent would waste taxpayers’ money, result in continuing high levels of in-work poverty, and provide insufficient housing for the lower-income workers needed for London’s economic vitality.
  2. Increasing the stock of significantly below-market units over 10 years by around 250,000, as we propose, would be the most significant part of a strategy to address affordability, for renting and for owner-occupation.  It would:
  • directly offer homes at genuinely affordable rents to many more Londoners;
  • by increasing total rental supply, create downward pressure on rents in the private sector;
  • offer a route to home-ownership for currently priced-out private renters, by enabling them to save from their income and enter owner-occupation via Right to Buy or the general market;
  • create downward pressure on prices of homes for sale through increasing total housing supply, rebalancing the market between landlord and owner-occupier purchasers.

The public investment case for such a programme is unanswerable, but there are ways initial investment could be delivered without adding to the public spending and debt totals.

  1. Our campaign is concerned with social and community housing, so we leave it to others to make proposals directly addressing quality in the private rented sector.  However, the current inadequate supply of homes for rent at genuinely affordable levels, managed by accountable, regulated, social landlords is one of the main reasons why some private landlords can get away with renting out poorly maintained and managed homes.





SHOUT welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Commission.  We would be very interested in participating in any hearings or discussions in the next stages of the process: we may be contacted via Martin Wheatley,, 07722 997246.

SHOUT is an entirely volunteer-run campaign, set up in 2014, to make the case for public investment in genuinely affordable housing, and to combat the negativity and stigma which often surrounds debates about housing association and council homes and the people who live in them.  Its leadership group and wider base of sympathisers includes people with political opinions across the spectrum, as well as those who are non-aligned.  John Healey MP, Lord Porter, now Conservative LGA Chair, and Liberal Democrat, Green and cross-bench figures spoke at its launch in June 2014.  Leading members have recently been in dialogue with, for example, Treasury and CLG officials, and business trade bodies.  It has built its support base largely through social media: it has nearly 3,400 followers on Twitter.   More information about the campaign can be found on the website

Building New Social Rent Homes: An Economic Appraisal

National analysis

2.1 The points we make in this submission rest heavily on an important recent report Building New Social Rent Homes: an Economic Appraisal which SHOUT commissioned, in partnership with the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA), from the leading economics consultancy Capital Economics.  The report is included in this submission and is available to download at  We find the analysis and conclusions in the report very convincing, but they are not ours: they are based on Capital’s professional expertise and judgement.

2.2 The purpose of the research was to evaluate the fiscal and economic benefits and costs of scaling up public investment in England in housing for rent at genuinely affordable levels[2] to 100,000 a year by 2020-21, against a continuation of current policies, involving declining investment in housing for rent, with most of it at “Affordable Rents.  Its main findings are:

  • in almost all parts of the country, the cost to the welfare system of supporting low income households in private rented housing (and, to a very considerable extent, in homes at Affordable Rent) is greater than supporting equivalent households in homes at social rent;
  • the decline in the stock of social rent homes, and rising private rents, means that the cost to the welfare system arising from the housing costs of low income households has increased very fast in recent years: it has nearly doubled in real terms in the last 10 years, and now accounts for over 37 per cent of housing benefit spend;
  • if this trend were to continue, expenditure on housing benefit would increase, by the end of the OBR’s long term forecast period in 2065-66, to £197.3bn in nominal terms, or nearly £62bn a year at today’s prices, with the private sector component more than quadrupling, to £38bn at today’s prices;
  • set against the significant risk to fiscal sustainability of carrying on with current policy, a policy of resuming the development of homes for genuinely affordable rent at scale “is fiscally sustainable and economically efficient.”  It would bring about “a sustained structural improvement to public sector finances – by reducing spending on welfare payments and stimulating higher tax receipts.”  Other things equal, public borrowing would be 0.5 per cent of GDP lower by 2065-66, and the stock of public debt 5.2 per cent of GDP lower;
  • if the increased investment in new homes were scored as public expenditure, the proposed policy would initially, of course, lead to an increase in public spending and borrowing, as the up-front investment in new housing would be greater than the welfare savings achieved early in the policy.  However, the report notes that the impact would be very modest (peaking at 0.13% of GDP in 2020-21), opinion in the markets would be very sympathetic to investment in tradeable and income-generating assets which would help address the longstanding economic risks caused by inadequate volumes of housing development, and there are ways the Government could support investment without it scoring in the public spending totals;
  • the estimates of benefits and costs in the core analysis is very cautious, limited to the direct cost of building new homes, welfare savings and increased tax receipts from higher construction activity.  However, there would be significant additional socio-economic benefits in terms of health, wellbeing and education.

Applying the analysis to London

London is at one extreme of the analysis on all its key dimensions.

Housing supply and affordability

As figure 1 shows, housing supply in London in the last 30 or so years has been volatile, largely because of very significant fluctuations in private sector development, with a five-fold difference between the years of highest and lowest output.  


However, private sector supply has never gone higher than 30% of the requirement in the London SHMA.  Cumulative output in the last 15 years is less than a quarter of the SHMA requirement.   Even with social building added in, London has never reached even half of the SHMA requirement, and cumulative output over the last 15 years is only just over a third of the SHMA requirement.   While output in England as a whole has persistently been below the 200-250,000 generally agreed to be required, the difference is less extreme.  As the price line in Figure 1 shows, the volatile and inadequate level of building has resulted in extreme house price inflation, with at best a weak supply response to rising prices.

Figure 2 illustrates further how London is an extreme version of the national phenomenon.  It shows trend starts and house prices for London and England.  London’s house price inflation has been significantly greater than England as a whole (prices have increased 8.5 times since 1982, compared with 5.9 times nationally), yet the trend in private sector starts is only modestly higher (though admittedly indicating slight growth, as opposed to a downward trend in England as a whole.


Affordability and consequences for tenure

In England as a whole, house price growth is persistently higher than earnings growth, but this is even more so in London.  Figure 3 shows how price increases and London have become even more decoupled from earnings growth than in England generally.  The trend since 2011 is particularly disturbing: house prices in London have accelerate compared with the rest of the country, while London’s earnings lead has narrowed.   The average price of a semi-detached house in London is now more than 15 times average household income; and the average price of a flat or maisonette well over 10 times average household income.[3]   Rents have increased by nearly 6 per cent a year in London in the last 4 years.[4]  Since the 2008 financial crisis, average household income in London has been increasing by less than 2 per cent a year.[5]  As of 2013, a household on the average income for London would be spending over 40 per cent of its income on rent in a property at the average rent for London.[6]  The gap between incomes and rents has widened further since.


These trends have resulted in dramatic changes in tenure mix. Figure 4 below (reproducing a table in the English Housing Survey 2013-14, shows how private renting has more than doubled its share, while the shares of owner-occupation and social renting have fallen.  This is the inevitable result of rising population, rising prices for sale, and very low levels of social development.

Figure 4: Tenure


Consequences for housing benefit

The figures below, from Building New Social Rent Homes, show, for illustrative household types and locations, the impact of rents on housing benefit.  Despite the restrictions on Local Housing Allowance rates, the cost to the benefit system of supporting a low income household in the private sector is up to 93 per cent higher than a similar household in a social rent home



Benefits, social rent and private rent, illustrative household types and locations




Household type

Household income (per year)

Benefits at social rent (per week)

Benefits at private rent (per week)

Additional benefits cost for private rent*


Single, 2 children










Couple 1 child





Couple, retired






Single, 1 child










Couple, 3 children





Single, retired






The consequences for housing benefit are very significant.  As Figure 5 shows, in just 6 years, the number of working households living in the private sector claiming in London has increased by nearly 170%, to over 140,000, or around 1 in 17 of working households.  This exceeds even the 140% increase for England as a whole.  Such claims now account for 17% of caseload, compared with 7% in 2009.  Over the same period, there has been almost no change in the social housing caseload.  This is a very clear demonstration of the extent to which, as a consequence of purchase being increasingly unaffordable, and rents rising faster than earnings, housing costs are putting the finances of working households under intolerable strain, and increasing welfare dependency and spending.   As the CBI has recently pointed out, this also has labour market consequences, as living and working in London in modestly-paid work becomes increasingly unattractive, indeed unviable.[7]



In every way, the situation in London is a much more extreme version of a national picture which is itself deeply troubling:

  • private sector building has never reached anywhere near the levels required to meet demand;
  • as a consequence, house price inflation has accelerated, and (especially recently) is far outstripping earnings growth;
  • rents are increasing much faster than earnings too;
  • despite restrictions in entitlement, increasing numbers of working London households have to claim welfare benefits to afford private rented housing, at much greater cost than if they were living in social housing.

The pace at which the crisis is deepening is extreme.


The Commission’s Core Questions

1.  How can we double the delivery of homes in London every year, and maintain high levels of housing delivery in the long term?

We suggest the analysis above demonstrates very clearly that the ambition to double the number of homes built, and maintain delivery at that higher level, is absolutely essential.   It also shows that around half the additional development must be via publicly-supported investment in homes for genuinely affordable rent, for two reasons.

First, there is no prospect of increased private sector development alone increasing to the extent required.   For the last 15 years at least, from the Sustainable Communities Plan onwards, national and London government have, through the planning system, the deployment of public land and institutional mechanisms, sought to enable and support more development in London.  Despite that, and the very strong price signals, the rate of private development over the period has barely changed, and for a considerable phase was running at much lower levels. Additional development needs to be by all types of player and at all tenures, and we wish the Commission success in identifying further ways to bring about additional private development.  If the private sector alone were to bring about the necessary additional development, its output would need to more than triple from current levels, which are themselves higher than much of the last 30 years, and stay at that level.  We see no plausible mix of interventions which could achieve that.

Second, a very large part of the requirement needs to be met via homes at rents well below market rates, to put into reverse the increasing poverty and pressure on the welfare system and labour market resulting from the current situation.   Even if it were possible for the private sector to build over 50,000 units a year, as we explain above, increasing numbers of working London households could not afford either to buy or rent them, certainly not until such a rate of development has been sustained over the decades needed to put into reverse recent trends in prices and rents.  The conclusion of Building New Social Rent Homes about England as a whole, that there is an unarguable fiscal and economic case for very much higher levels of development for genuinely affordable rent, is even stronger when applied to London.

We strongly support the methodology for setting such rents proposed in Savills’ recent work for JRF and the National Housing Federation.[8]  By being anchored on local earnings, this approach would ensure that rents were set at levels genuinely affordable to Londoners, while also being able to reflect London’s somewhat higher earnings levels.

There may be scope for social landlords and others to develop homes for rents at what are often called intermediate levels, and which, as “Affordable Rent”, has become the main new development output of social landlords since 2010, to meet demand at a certain level of the market.  However, we argue strongly that, in the London context, where market rents are so far adrift of social rents and modest earnings,  most publicly supported development must be at much lower rents, and that intermediate or “Affordable” rent, on a large scale, will waste taxpayers’ money and fail to address poverty and welfare dependency.   That new Affordable Rent homes can usually only be delivered through the conversion of current social rent properties to the higher rent level only worsens the economic case.   In the illustrative household types and locations examined in Building New Social Rent Homes, Affordable Rent is between 73 per cent and 109 per cent higher than social rent in the Camden cases, and between 16 per cent and 151 per cent higher in the Brent examples.[9]   The rents in these examples range up to 45 per cent of average household income.  In the London context, Affordable is clearly a complete misnomer for middle to lower income households.

In conclusion, therefore, we propose that there should be a sustained programme of up to 30,000 new units a year at genuinely affordable rents.

2. How can we reconnect the costs of home ownership and renting to incomes in London?

If a programme of the kind we propose were maintained over 10 years, it would increase the stock of significantly below market units by between 200,000 and 300,000.  It would address affordability for rent and owner-occupation, both directly and indirectly:


  • it would directly offer homes at genuinely affordable rents to Londoners on low to modest incomes, notably the current 140,000 households who are working and claiming local housing allowance;
  • by increasing very significantly the total stock of homes to rent, it would help stabilise the private rental market and prevent a continued upward spiral which is the near-certain outcome of continuing with the current level of development;
  • a significant obstacle to home ownership at the moment is that households paying very high private rents are not in a position to save for a deposit.  If they were instead able to rent at genuinely affordable levels, more would be able to save, and then buy, either via Right to Buy  (which SHOUT supports if landlords can keep sufficient receipts for genuine one for one replacement at genuinely affordable rents) or in the general market;
  • the contribution the additional units would make to wider supply would assist in reducing upward pressure on prices across the whole market.


Building New Social Rent Homes demonstrates that there is a unanswerable case for public investment in new genuinely affordable housing on this scale, above all in London and other high cost areas.  Its calculations of scheme viability in central and outer London are extremely positive, demonstrating present values over 25 years, net of build cost, of between £100,000 and £260,000 per property.[10]  Across England as a whole, the report shows that a sustained programme of 100,000 units a year would bring very significant benefits to PSBR and the stock of public debt over the medium to long term.[11]  Capital did not calculate separately the benefits of London’s share of such a programme, but it is clear that a 20-30,000 unit a year programme in London would bring about particularly strong exchequer benefits, since the scheme viabilities in London are at the top end of the range for England as a whole.


Such investment would, of course, require initial public investment to secure the reduced welfare spending and other benefits over the medium to long term.  The Treasury is likely to have concerns about any upward pressure on spending in the short term.   Our response is twofold:


  • the impact is very modest and would be viewed by the markets much more positively than incurring a similar impact for other purpose.   The PSBR impact, for England as a whole, peaks at the end of the Spending Review period at 0.13%.   While the term ‘investment’ is often misused in relation to the public finances, investing in new housing is among the most genuine and sustainable investments the public sector can make.  Unlike other kinds of public infrastructure, homes are a tradeable asset, with an easily realisable market value.  Once built, the management, maintenance and debt service associated with social homes are met via the rent which tenants pay.  Capital’s advice, based on their experience of the bond markets, is that additional borrowing for this purpose would be positively viewed in the City, both because of its clear benefits in terms of medium term fiscal sustainability, and because the under-supply of housing is recognised as a key economic risk;[12]
  • there are ways the policy could be implemented without any short term upward pressure on the PSBR.  There is a strong case, based on international practice, for excluding public corporations’ borrowing from the target definition of PSBR.  The policy case for this is the very different character of borrowing to invest in an income-generating asset with a realisable market value, as opposed to borrowing for welfare or public sector pay, or even spending on less marketable forms of infrastructure.[13]  Such a reclassification would unlock the very considerable investment capacity in the balance sheets of council and ALMO landlords.  Across England as a whole, this has been estimated as, enabling, on very cautious assumptions the delivery of 60,000 new homes over 5 years without central government grant or any impact on target PSBR.  Using the full potential balance sheet capacity could enable the delivery of up to 230,000 new homes.[14]  Capital Economics propose that finance for additional council or ALMO homes, and for housing association homes, could be provided through a housing investment bank partially backed by the Treasury (see Figure 6).  Finance provided through such a mechanism would not impact on the PSBR.[15]










Figure 6: Funding platform to mitigate the impact of additional borrowing on public sector net debt



Capital’s illustrative proposal is for a national institution.  However, the current emphasis on devolution makes a strong case, rather, for institutions meeting the needs of different city-regions and other functional economic areas.  Applied to London, the approach would have particular attractions:

  • the higher asset values of existing social housing in London and associated land holdings;
  • the continued ownership of most of London’s council-built stock by the boroughs.  Compared with much housing association stock, there is very significant balance sheet capacity in this publicly-owned stock.


We plan, if we can create a suitable partnership and secure funding, to investigate the viability of such institutions further, and would hope to look at London, among other sub-national locations, as part of this work.   We would welcome the Commission’s involvement in work of this kind, and suggest the staff team contact us if they want to talk about it further.


3. How can we provide a high quality private rented sector?


The focus of SHOUT’s campaign is on social and community housing, so we leave it to other respondents to make proposals in response to this part of the Commission’s brief.  We would, however, observe, that one reason why London private tenants often experience such poor conditions is that the very constrained availability of genuinely affordable housing managed by public and social landlords means low income and vulnerable households have no option but to look for private rented housing.  However, their limited incomes, and the reducing proportion of the rental market affordable within LHA rates which are falling in real terms, as rents rise, mean that they face very constrained choices and have even less scope than other tenants to challenge poor conditions and landlord behaviour.   The programme of building we propose would allow many more to access more suitable genuinely affordable housing, and would reduce pressure on the private rented market in ways which would force poor landlords to raise their game.



September 2015

[1] See page 7 below for an explanation of what we mean by ‘significantly below-market’

[2] See page 7 below for how we would propose to define “genuinely affordable.”

[3] Halifax

[4] VOA

[5] GLA

[6] GLA

[7] London Bbusiness Survey, CBI, September 2015, p10-11

[8] Living Rents – a new development framework for Affordable Housing, Mark Lupton and Helen Collins, Savills, June 2015

[9] Building New Social Rent Homes, p48

[10] Building New Social Rent Homes, p27

[11] ibid, p36-37

[12] ibid, p41

[13] ibid, p41 and Let’s Get Building, John Perry, National Federation of ALMOs, 2012

[14] Let’s Get Building, p19-20

[15] Building New Social Rent Homes, p42 and Increasing Investment in Affordable Housing, Capital Economics, 2014

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Staring you in the face

There’s a very good answer – staring you in the face, writes Martin Wheatley

How often, in life, have we found ourselves struggling with a difficult problem – an exam question, an issue at work, how to manage competing pressures on our time?  We can (sort of) see where we want to get to, we think of this solution or that, none of it quite seems to work, or it brings with it a further set of problems and the cure begins to look worse than the disease.   Then all of a sudden: “ping.” We have a brainwave, or someone close to us makes a suggestion.  Suddenly it all seems a lot easier, the fog clears and the way ahead is clear.  It may take some patience and trouble, but at least we can get going with confidence we will come out the other end in a good place.

The current government, like any other which might have been in its place if the electoral dice had rolled differently, undoubtedly faces a lot of real challenges: keeping public spending under control (and, in particular, tackling long term dynamics, notably population ageing, which make that more difficult); welfare spending which seems to keep on growing, despite reductions in entitlement; and the spiralling cost of homes to buy or rent, driven by a long term failure in the British economy, its inability to react to rising demand and price signals by producing more housing.   They have SHOUT’s sympathy and support as they look for ways to untangle these various knots.

Nor could we disagree with the underlying sense of a lot of what Ministers have been saying in the run-up to today’s Budget: the PM and Chancellor’s evident frustration at the impact of high house prices on less well off people; the “welfare merry go round” in which people with low earnings pay tax and then have to have their income topped up by benefits; and some out-of-work households receiving welfare payments considerably greater than many in work.  In a well-functioning economy and society, none of these things should be happening.  That they are looking for a set of policies which address these issues is therefore entirely commendable.

Unfortunately, it seems to us that in moving from what they want to achieve to specific policies, in many cases, something has gone quite seriously wrong.  There has already been a lot of debate about the housing association right to buy, the benefit cap, and now the plan to require relatively high income social tenants to pay market rents, as well as Help to Buy, Starter Homes, encouraging self-build, and yet another round of trying to make planning faster.   The Budget has reversed the 2013 decision to allow social rents to rise in real terms for at least 10 years.  Others will comment much more fully than we, on all sides of the debate, on these specific points.

 However, what these policies have in common is that they cannot do nearly enough to address the fundamental problem, which is the high cost of market housing, driven by some 40 years of the economy as a whole, public and private, only building roughly half the new homes we need, year after year after year. 

In some cases, depending on how exactly they end up being implemented, they look as if they may be administratively complex, carry a significant risk of reducing the amount of housing affordable for people on low incomes, or leave vulnerable households unfairly paying the price for something beyond their control – the very high cost of private renting, especially in high cost parts of the country, or the new “Affordable Rents” linked to those spiralling private rents.  The proposal on market rents for higher earners rests on a basic misconception that social housing is “subsidised.” At the same time as two sets of tenants (taking up new leases at affordable rents, and relatively high earners moving to market rents) will be paying rents which are higher, and likely to increase in real terms, a third group will be paying much less, and will see it decreasing (because of the planned 1% annual cut in social rents). How is this coherent and defensible?


If only there were a policy answer which could put into reverse the escalation of private sector housing benefit (up by more than half in real terms since 2008), add large numbers of homes to the housing stock at rents which neither add to pressure on the welfare budget for low-income households or which don’t take a completely unreasonable chunk out of the earnings of people who are working hard, but without the income or capital to access home ownership, for now. An answer too, which would provide a pathway to home ownership, through being able to save enough from a modest income to exercise right to buy or buy in the open market.  Not least, one which for 30 years after WWII, was a major part of the UK economy successfully producing up to 300,000 new homes a year, at a time when national income per head was much lower.

City consultancy Capital Economics “Build to Save” report, commissioned by SHOUT and the National Federation of ALMOs, makes an “unanswerable” case for just such a policy: government investing in a new large scale programme of home building.   Of course this policy would require some short term increase in public spending, but adding just £1 to every £769 the Government is intending to borrow anyway. Capital Economics tell us this would not worry the City: quite the reverse, since they share everyone else’s concerns about the massive risk to the economy posed by the housing crisis.  Once built, the new homes would start bearing down on the welfare bill, year after year after year.  By the mid century, the investment would be paying off handsomely, with national debt being a staggering £0.9 trillion lower than it would be if the state were still shovelling money into the private rented sector through the welfare system.

 "The economic and fiscal case for building new social rent housing is unanswerable"

From the Capital Economics report

The argument is building on the Government’s side of the political spectrum, including the incoming Conservative chair of the Local Government Association, The Good Right, and the Reform and Centre for Social Justice think tanks.   SHOUT will try to work with them and all people of sense in the coming months to try to persuade the Government that the answer has been staring them in the face all along.  Let’s hope, by the time of the next Budget, we will have persuaded Government that it can go a long way to cut the deficit, cut welfare, and solve the housing crisis through one bold and simple policy, which its 1950s forebears adopted to the benefit of the country and their political success.

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What lies ahead?

(This article by Colin Wiles first appeared in Inside Housing)

I’ll tell you what #ukhousing needs. It needs a dedicated team of people with high-powered binoculars who can scan the horizon for danger.

Looking back, did any one seriously anticipate RTB2, affordable rents, the bedroom tax? It’s not good enough that these proposals take us by surprise: we should have sound counter arguments in place the minute they appear,  or better still head them off at the pass so they don’t see the light of day.

Being caught by surprise suggests a profession that is not in control of its own destiny.

Except the high-powered binoculars don’t need to look forwards they need to look backwards, because all the evidence about what could happen in the future can be found in past reports from right-leaning think tanks and buried in sites like Conservative Home.

Almost two years ago I wrote a blog about a walk from King’s Cross to the NHF office in Red Lion Square, describing how 50 percent of the homes en-route were valuable social housing properties that had helped to create lively and mixed neighbourhoods. This was written in response to a Policy Exchange report proposing that such homes should be sold off in order to fund new ones in poorer areas. Now, with a few variations on the theme, it is about to appear in a new Housing Bill as a way of funding Right to Buy 2. Virtually every property on my walk would be sold off as soon as it becomes empty under these proposals.

Policy Exchange is one of the most influential of the right-leaning think tanks. Some of their ideas such as brownfield regeneration and office to residential are already in the pipeline. Going back through some of their past reports, here, in no particular order, are a few more housing and planning policies that could be coming over the horizon in the next year or so. I have linked to the relevant report in each case.

1. Further cuts in affordable housing investment and a continuing emphasis upon home ownership. Cuts are not explicit in PE reports, but their whole tenor is that social housing is part of the problem and creates dependency. “Why Social Housing is Failing” is a typical chapter heading. What’s more, the fact that so many housing providers are going down a more commercial route, and becoming less reliant upon grant, would suggest that this trend is set to continue. The example of L & Q is case in point. The arguments about the rising housing benefit bill appear to have little impact.

2. More support and funding for self builders. A Right to Build, in areas where councils fail to meet their housing targets with land sold in an auction process.

3. An emphasis upon building bungalows in order to encourage downsizing.

4. Pressure to demolish “monolithic” high-rise social housing estates and replace them with lower rise, but higher density mixed communities. This was set out in a joint report with Create Streets, but has also been pushed by Lord Adonis and the IPPR.

5. Encouragement of garden villages, as well as garden cities and new towns. “Over one million new homes could be built over the next decade if each of the 353 councils in England built just one garden village of 3,000 new houses”. Each local authority would be encouraged to set up a development corporation to plan for a new village within their area. In return, if targets were met, other developments opposed by local people would not be allowed to go to appeal.

6. “Freedom” for housing associations. An idea floated just last year in a report by Chris Walker that was sponsored by Genesis. Apparently, housing associations are being stifled by red tape and setting them free from most regulation, so that they set their own rents and choose their own tenants, would allow them to build 100,000  homes a year. I’m going to be debating this proposal at Manchester with Chris if you can make it. I wrote about it here.

7. A boost to house building to 300,000 homes a year in order to bring down house prices and rents by promoting garden cities and self build. This would be achieved by buying land at 150% of its existing use value and using land value uplifts to fund development. (This is something I would strongly support, obviously).

8. A watering down of housing targets for local planning authorities and a greater  emphasis upon neighbourhood plans and localism. How this can be reconciled with the last item is not clear! The Big Society might make a comeback too. 

So those are my predictions for the next 12 months. Whether they will all materialise we shall see, but let’s not forget that Alex Morton, who wrote many of these reports, is now an advisor on housing and planning in Number Ten. Whatever is coming over the horizon the challenges will be immense and there will need to be some serious soul searching and thought about the best way to respond. 

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A stable home makes all the difference

Here, Rosa Ellis (@RosaEllis) blogs for SHOUT about the importance of a stable home. As Housing finally looms large in the forthcoming General Election, it's easy to forget that at the end of all the sound-bites are people and their lives, where security and affordability are key factors in providing a foundation for them to flourish.


A few years ago I faced redundancy. I loved my job but out of the blue the organisation no longer loved me back. Or so it felt.

Less than a year earlier I had left a better-paid job to do this one because it was in a sector I cared more about: international development. Moving to a small charity during a recession, perhaps I should have known the risk, but when you’re young and offered your dream job you don’t say no.

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    UPDATED October 2016 Capital Economics report: Building Social Rent homes
    SHOUT Supports ending the Housing Crisis in a Generation