Published On: Wed, Feb 12th, 2020

This latest Tory housing wheeze is likely to be as doomed as the last one

The government has announced that it has effectively abandoned social housebuilding in favour of yet another botched scheme to reverse a 20 year decline in homeownership.

The latest – First Homes – lowers deposit and mortgage requirements for first-time buyers through discounting house prices by 30%. Although the details are still to be confirmed, the scheme will also favour armed services veterans and key workers like nurses and teachers.

The discount “will be locked into the property to ensure more first-time buyers benefit in years to come” but, again, how this is to be achieved is left unsaid.

No such luck of a specially designed subsidy for the nation’s 320,000 homeless, those living in squalid private renting, women fleeing domestic violence and the 1.1m households on council waiting lists.

Boris Johnson continues ten years of Tory disdain for social rented and its tenants, plus the promotion of home ownership at any cost. David Cameron’s government slashed the social housing budget back in 2010, which saw investment in social homes fall to the lowest level since the Second World War.

Even though investment in ‘affordable’ housing in general picked-up under Theresa May’s premiership – consisting of new housing with rents set at 80% of market rates and various forms of low-cost home ownership – successive Tory governments have been content to let social housing wither on the vine; denuded over time by the ‘rejuvenated’ Right to Buy.

The consequences of these housing policies, linked with the effects of welfare ‘reforms’, have been devastating for housing security and wellbeing: a massive rise in rough sleeping, growing statutory homelessness, thousands of families dumped in temporary accommodation for long stays – all since 2010 – define the shape of today’s housing crisis.

First Homes is the most recent in a succession of failed attempts by Tory governments to promote home ownership. Help to Buy largely aided better-off first-time buyers and lined the pockets of housebuilders.

A promised 200,000 starter home programme saw not one being built. And extending the Right to Buy to housing associations, so potentially denuding the social housing stock still further, has never gone past a limited pilot in one English region.

Social landlords and experts have pointed out that First Homes will bring into doubt planned social housebuilding and say that more social renting is the best way to help those on low incomes to ‘level-up’.

Many others question whether spending scare resources on feather-bedding home owners represents value for money when research shows social housebuilding is the most the effective means of confronting the housing crisis and providing affordable housing for the long-term.

Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, former Chair of the Centre for Community Research, and part of the SHOUT save social housing campaign. He writes in a personal capacity.

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