In her first speech as Prime Minister, on the steps of No 10,...
One reason the Government is limiting the number of refugees we will accept is an acute shortage of homes in the UK. The National Housing Federation says we need another million homes and not enough are being built. Successive Governments have failed to act and the excess of demand over supply has pushed up house prices and made home-ownership beyond the means of young couples, especially in London which has the biggest problem.
Government inaction is only one of the causes. Shelter cites a shortage of land as another. Greenfield sites are protected but it is suggested that there are enough brownfield sites to accommodate 1.8 million new homes. The slowness of the planning process is another factor. Changes in 2012 saw the number of applications approved annually increase from 158,000 to 240,000. Developers are also blamed for sitting on land for which planning has been approved to maximise their profits as house prices rise. For the same reason developers sometimes build expensive properties rather than affordable homes first time buyers can afford.
The increasing house prices have forced many to rent rather than buy and in some instances to have to cope with private landlords who do not always offer secure long term tenancies. This can mean families with young children forced to move every six months with all the emotional harm that causes, especially to their children.
The Coalition Government introduced a ‘Help to Buy’ scheme to help first time buyers but more was needed to increase the supply of homes for purchase. The present Government aims to transform ‘generation rent into generation buy’ and set a target of one million new homes by 2020. Its Housing and Planning Bill currently before Parliament is intended to make this target attainable. It will give local authorities powers to apply banning orders against rogue landlords and establish a proper process by which landlords can repossess properties abandoned by bad tenants. Controversially, the Bill also establishes a Right to Buy for housing association tenants.
The housing budget has been doubled to £8 billion and £140 million has been set aside to transform the worst 100 sink estates. The Opposition questions whether this means established communities will be broken up and whether those who have bought their homes in these estates will be guaranteed homes in the rebuilt estates. The P.M. wants to offer people on sink estates something better and accuses Labour of trying to prevent this. The key issue will be the cost of the new homes and whether the poorest will be able to afford them. The Government certainly wants to charge tenants paid more than £30,000 p.a. and still living in Council houses, to pay higher rents than those on the national living wage. Their critics are concerned that Government policies will shrink the rented sector and make it difficult for people on low incomes to live in London.
A home is crucial for settled family life and policies that affect the availability, cost, location and quality of appropriate houses are important issues. Nobody wants people to become homeless, families to be broken up or to live in squalor but some have to and that is a moral as well as a political issue that challenges how seriously we ‘love our neighbours’ as Jesus expects.