How DLUHC and DWP mark their homework

With a new secretary of state, a new department and a new name, what are the government’s real priorities when it comes to housing?

Some big clues dropped in an intriguing supplementary document published alongside the Budget and Spending Review this week.

Spending Review 2021 – Policy outcomes and metrics is meant to tie spending and performance together. Each department has an Outcome Delivery Plan that sets out their priority outcomes and the metrics they will use to measure their performance against them. Effectively, this is their homework how they want it to be marked and the measures used are highly revealing.

Cross-cutting priorities across governments and have been updated to include five themes that are seen as missions for ‘relentless focus’: levelling up, net zero, education, jobs and skills, health and crime and justice.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has five priority outcomes. Two reflect its new responsibilities of levelling up and maintaining the union, one is a ‘sustainable and resilient’ local government sector and the other two are specifically about housing.

First up is the all-embracing one of: ‘More, better quality, safer, greener and more affordable homes.’ 

Note that this is not just about quantity or targets for the number of new homes, but also building quality, safety, energy efficiency and affordability.

There are eight performance metrics that go with that:

  • Net additions to housing stock
  • Number and % of high-rise residential buildings with unsafe ACM cladding where remediation completed
  • Total completions of affordable homes
  • Number of Energy Performance Certificates created
  • Number and % of planning applications considered within statutory deadlines
  • Additional housing completions from government programmes
  • Share of supported housing completions using Modern Methods of Construction
  • % of local authorities with an up-to-date Local Plan

What’s noticeable straight away is that six of these relate to quantity, either in housing completions or planning applications. These recognise alternative measures of housing supply as well as measures for affordable housing completions and homes delivered with government support.

However, there is no mention at all of the targets in the 2019 Conservative manifesto of ‘progress towards’  300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s and ‘at least a million more homes, of all tenures, over the next Parliament – in the areas that really need them’.

Is that a coincidence or have the targets been downgraded in line with the retreat on planning reform?

The metric on building safety is very narrowly defined to relate solely to high-rise buildings with ACM cladding and excludes not just high-rises with other types of dangerous cladding and other safety defects but also all buildings below 18m with safety issues.

It’s almost as though a department that has fallen short again and again on ACM remediation does not want to be judged on anything else. It is also completely consistent with the failure to increase inadequate funding for building safety in the Spending Review – ‘not our problem’ seems to be the underlying message.

On affordability, the metric of total completions of affordable homes says nothing about whether they are actually ‘affordable’  – despite the priority outcome being that there should not just be more of them but also that they should be ‘more affordable’. Again this can hardly be a coincidence.

The metric of the share of homes being delivered via MMC is a nod to quality and perhaps sustainability but there is nothing here about basic standards despite the social housing white paper and a potential new decent homes standard. Decarbonisation metrics like progress on energy efficiency and the number of heat pump installations sit with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The second housing-related objective is to: ‘End rough sleeping through more effective prevention and crisis intervention services, and reduce homelessness by enabling local authorities to fully meet their statutory duties.’

The scope here is quite wide and this is reflected in three metrics that are more wide-ranging than the carefully circumscribed ones chosen on housing supply.

The first two are perhaps the obvious ones of the number of people sleeping rough in the annual snapshot and the number of units delivered through the Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme.

The third – ‘the number of families in temporary accommodation’ – is more surprising and more challenging given that the numbers involved have almost doubled since 2010.

On the last count, there were 96,600 families in temporary accommodation in England, more than a quarter of whom had been forced to move outside of their home local authority area.

The reason they and their 124,000 children are in temporary accommodation is of course that they are homeless and in priority need but there is not enough permanent social housing available.

So if DLUHC really wants to be judged on that metric, perhaps recent research by the Chartered Institute of Housing and Centre for Homelessness Impact on the major savings that could be achieved by building more social rented homes might be of interest?

Those savings would come not just in temporary accommodation costs but in the housing benefit bill, which should interest the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as well as DLUHC.

More permanent and affordable social housing would be a good way to achieve one of the DWP’s priority outcomes: ‘Address poverty through enabling progression in the workforce and increasing financial resilience.’

Except that the performance metric chosen for poverty is just about the least challenging one that the DWP could have chosen: ‘Absolute poverty before housing costs – child, adult and pensioner combined.’

Not poverty relative to the population as a whole – the measure used in almost all serious debate about poverty and in the legally binding targets to reduce child poverty that the government abolished in 2016 – and not poverty that includes the largest cost faced by families.

After the withdrawal of the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit and with another freeze in Local Housing Allowance looming, this is of course another complete coincidence. 


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