Monday, 20 October 2014

A permanently divided nation

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has laid before Parliament its second annual State of the Nation Report in which it says 'Britain is on the brink of becoming a permanently divided nation.'

The report predicts that 2020 is set to mark the end of the first decade since records began without a fall in absolute poverty. Even with a strong economic recovery and a record number of people in work the Commission has found that the social recovery needed to get Britain back on track to abolish child poverty has not happened.

The link between effort and reward, on which social mobility relies, the Commission says, 'has been broken by changes in the housing market - with home ownership rates halving among young people in 20 years - and the labour market - with 5 million workers trapped in low pay.'

Chair of the Commission Alan Milburn, said:
"The circumstances are so different, the challenges are so great that the old ways of thinking and acting that have dominated public-policy making for decades will simply not pass muster. What worked in the past will not serve as an adequate guide for the future. A new agenda is needed."
The next UK Government in 2015 will have to adopt radical new approaches if poverty is to be beaten, mobility improved and if Britain is to avoid becoming a permanently divided society. 'We have reached a crossroads', the Commission says, with three roads open to the next Government:
  1. Continue with the current confusion where noble ambitions – lower poverty, higher mobility – are not complemented by consistent or clear enough policies.
  2. Accept that progress will not be made, that poverty will rise and that mobility will fall.
  3. Reset our ambitions as a nation in the light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. To define clear objectives and timescales for reducing – and then ending - child poverty and improving social mobility.
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission monitors the progress of government and others in improving social mobility and reducing child poverty in the United Kingdom.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Labour's commitment to build the homes that first-time buyers need

Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband MP, today launched Labour's housing plan - Lyons Report - in which he made a commitment to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020 and for doubling the number of first-time buyers over the next decade, if elected next May.

The plan argues that tackling the 'housing crisis' will require strong leadership from central government alongside the delegation of powers, funding and responsibility so that every community can build the homes they need. It also expects a more active role for local government to deliver on the 200,000 homes a year by 2020. Councils will be:
  • empowered to enforce land release from developers, including strengthened compulsory purchase powers.
  • able to share their borrowing caps so that spare capacity in one area can support house building elsewhere.
  • given new powers tackle empty homes, of which there are almost 1 million in the UK.
Other proposals include developing a more competitive construction industry with an expansion of the number of smaller building companies, and giving local people first refusal on homes built in their area for up to two months.

Author of the report, Sir Michael Lyons, said:
"My report sets out a comprehensive plan to tackle the key problems that underpin our failure to build enough homes. This will require strong leadership from central government alongside the delegation of powers and responsibility so that every community provides the homes they need."

"The recommendations will make more land available for new homes; unlock investment in infrastructure; and ensure that new homes are built when and where they are needed in attractive, thriving places. That will involve a more active role for local government in assembling land and in risk sharing partnerships with developers, landowners."
In launching the Lyons Report on a visit to Milton Keynes, Ed Miliband said,
"Only Labour has a plan to build the homes that our country, our local communities and our families need. We will get Britain building again by insisting local authorities have a plan to meet the need for housing in their area - and that the big developers play their part rather than hold land back."
Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing Grainia Long and a member of the Lyons commission, said:
"This report is a detailed blueprint for action on most of the main barriers to building 200,000 homes a year. It's the most comprehensive approach since the Barker Review of housing supply 10 years ago – and if implemented would bring a renewed urgency to addressing the housing crisis."
The Lyons Report forms part of Labour's Policy Review, in which Sir Michael Lyons led an independent housing commission to set out a plan to tackle the deep and underlying causes of the 'housing crisis'.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Report calls for more support for young private tenants

A report produced by the All Parliamentary Group for the Private Rented Sector (PRS) asks central government to offer more support for younger people who want to rent homes in the PRS.

The inquiry, into access to private rented housing for those under the age of 35, was chaired by Conservative MP Oliver Colvile, and also involved Labour’s Karen Buck and David Ward from the Lib Dems. It was funded by the Residential Landlords Association.

The PRS has a much younger profile than other tenures, with over half of its tenants under the age of 35, and young tenants in the PRS are more than twice as likely to be claiming housing benefit than those living in social rented homes (42.5 per cent compared to 20.5 per cent).

The report’s recommendations include:
  • Government should work with local authorities, through the Local Government Association, to determine what impact Article 4 Directions (planning rules that allow local authorities to require a landlord to seek planning permission before converting a property to a House of Multiple Occupation) are having on those needing shared housing.

  • The Government should launch a full review of the operation of the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) which, since the beginning of 2012, restricts single people under the age of 35 to claiming housing benefit only for a room in a shared house. This should include whether there is sufficient shared housing to cope with the increased demand arising from SAR changes, and the issues affecting those with mental health problems and non-custodial parents wishing to accommodate their children for visits.

  • The rent-a-room allowance that allows someone to earn up to a threshold of £4,250 per year tax-free from letting out furnished accommodation in their own home should be increased, 'with a level in London higher than that outside'.

  • The charging of council tax for bedsit rooms should be banned, or a lower band for bedsits introduced, to ensure rented rooms aren’t made unaffordable by more councils charging separate council tax on them.

  • VAT rules should be reviewed to encourage more properties to be converted for housing use.
Responding to the report, Gavin Smart, deputy chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said:
"We welcome this report – particularly the call for a full review of the Shared Accommodation Rate rules, which mean single people under 35 can now only claim housing benefit equivalent to a room in a shared house."
However, Alex Hilton, director of Generation Rent, told Inside Housing:
"The recommendations in this report simply don’t go far enough and in most cases do no more than call for a review. This incremental approach fails to reflect an understanding of the pressure cooker in which renters of all ages are living today."

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Proposal for a new Housing Investment Bank

farron 12Party President Tim Farron, speaking at the Liberal Democrat autumn 2014 conference, announced a proposal to create a Housing Investment Bank and the development of a long-term plan to deliver the Lib Dems target of 300,000 new homes a year by 2020.

It's intended that a new Housing Investment Bank would create the scale needed to draw in private investment and improve access to finance for social housing providers through traditional capital grant, soft loans and equity investment, bond issues and government guarantees.

The Housing Investment Bank would also include a 'challenge fund' to promote innovative solutions to the housing crisis and 'imbed long termism' into these solutions.

To support the Lib Dems target of building 300,000 new homes a year by 2020 the autumn conference outlined a range of measures:
  • local authorities will be allowed to develop  new homes through local housing companies, outside of the Housing Revenue Account.
  • social landlords will be given greater rent flexibilities, lifting restrictions on how they value their stock and allowing them to take account of the whole cost of occupancy relating to heating costs.
  • amend the New Towns Act to transfer its powers to local authorities, so that land can be acquired at above existing use value for the creation of new garden villages, neighbourhoods, towns and cities, to meet identified housing need.
  • encourage the development of the offsite construction industry, continue and strengthen support for small and medium size builders, new entrants and self-build.
  • unlock housing association capacity by freeing up opportunities to access land through the new garden communities programme.
  • allow local housing authorities to suspend the right to buy in their area, or to substitute the right to acquire as held by tenants of Housing Associations.
The Lib Dems existing policies on housing are set out in policy paper from 2012, Decent Homes For All, and a policy motion, Reform of Planning, from its spring 2014 conference.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Housing Minister launches scheme to 'get Britain building'

Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, has announced that eleven areas across England will benefit from a government backed scheme to help aspiring self-builders launch their own projects. Mr Lewis said:

"This is one of a range of measures we’re taking to help aspiring homeowners, but also to get Britain building – and thanks to our efforts, house building levels are at their highest since 2007 and rising."

The eleven local authorities included in the pilot scheme will benefit from £550,000 in shared funds to invest in the scheme and will form part of a consultation on Right to Build.

According to a recent press release from the Department for Communities and Local Government:

'This will not be a free-for-all - those looking to build will still need to go through the normal planning application process. But it will open up the opportunity to self-build beyond those with “grand designs” so even more people can realise their self-build ambitions.'

The government will decide whether the scheme should be extended across the country later this year.