Originally written as a column for Inside Housing on October 6.
You are prime minister. You have £5.8 billion to spend on housing. What do you do?
Before you answer there is a catch. You are a Tory prime minister. So this has to be all about home ownership.
This is not about the Affordable Homes Programme either – although the modest increase in that is tilted towards home ownership too.
You may have guessed by now that this is about decisions already taken by Boris Johnson’s chancellor Rishi Sunak, decisions that are looking worse and worse the more time goes on.
That thought was prompted by the only ‘new’ idea that I’ve seen emerging from the Conservative Party conference: a plan to create ‘Generation Buy’ by encouraging low-deposit mortgages to help young people on to the housing ladder.
The idea revealed by Mr Johnson in a Telegraph interview on Saturday is not especially new – essentially it’s a rehash of the mortgage guarantee part of Help to Buy and it harks back to the days when Gordon Brown wanted to encourage long-term, fixed-rate mortgages – and it seems to be inspired by a report published by the Centre for Policy Studies last month.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally published on September 7 as a column for Inside Housing.
All through the cladding saga, the government has dragged its feet and resisted spending money before finally being forced to act.
Think back to the way ministers resisted any kind of fund for replacement of Grenfell-style ACM cladding, then insisted private building owners should pay, then denied the need for any help for non-ACM cladding and you see a pattern repeating itself.
It took the government almost a year after Grenfell to announce a £400m fund for the removal of ACM on social housing blocks, almost two years to find £200m for private blocks and almost three years to announce the £1bn Building Safety Fund for the removal of non-ACM cladding.
All this while the cladding scandal continued to escalate, dragging in more and more blocks and more and more residents and eventually wrecking the whole market in recently built flats.Read the rest of this entry »
This Sunday is the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. There are still 2,000 high-risk residential buildings out there with dangerous cladding.
Let that sink in for a second because it’s easy to let time obscure the scale of the problem if you’ve followed the twists and turns of the cladding saga since 2017 from afar.
Not so easy if you are one of the tens of thousands of people living in thousands of flats in those buildings. In a survey released by the UK Cladding Action Group on Thursday, 23 per cent of residents said they had felt suicidal or a desire to self-harm as a result.
This morning (Friday) the all-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee describes the situation as ‘deeply shocking and completely unacceptable’ in a report that lacerates the government’s slow and inadequate response. The committee has a Conservative majority but is doing an increasingly impressive job of holding ministers to account. Read the rest of this entry »
Originally posted on May 28 as a column for Inside Housing.
What then? It’s the question that’s been left hanging in most of the housing elements of the government’s response to the Coronavirus and much more besides.
There was a partial answer on what happens to thousands of temporarily accommodated rough sleepers as the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) accelerated funding to make 3,300 housing units available over the next 12 months.
There was an answer of sorts for leaseholders living in unsafe buildings as MHCLG opened registrations for its new £1 billion Building Safety Fund that extends help to other forms of dangerous cladding as well as Aluminium Composite Material (ACM).
And there was a welcome one for millions of home owners with mortgages as the Treasury extended the chance to apply for a payment holiday by another three months and Financial Conduct Authority guidance made clear that banks should not start of continue repossession proceedings until the end of October given the uncertainty faced by customers and government advice on social distancing and self-isolation.
But there is still no answer for millions of social and private renters asking what will happen when the moratorium on evictions ends on June 25.
Originally published on April 30 as a column for Inside Housing.
The first parliamentary questions on housing since the Coronavirus lockdown saw pleas for construction and housebuilding sites to get back to work.
But this was anything but a return to normal as a socially distanced and virtual House of Commons saw scrutiny of ministers truncated by the parliamentary timetable and technical gremlins.
Though questions about the costs of Covid-19 for local government took top billing, Tuesday afternoon’s Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) questions only underlined the fact that the top housing issue before the outbreak has not gone away.
Six short weeks ago there was some good news for victims of the cladding scandal as the Budget extended government help beyond Grenfell-style ACM cladding to cover other materials such as High Pressure Laminate (HPL).
Full details of the £1 billion fund are expected in May but there are still big questions about how it will operate.
And in the meantime the plight of residents has got worse as bills escalate for insurance premiums and for waking watches in blocks where work to replace the cladding has been halted by the lockdown. These interim measures are not covered by the fund.
Originally published on March 11 as a blog for Inside Housing.
This is a Budget that does not live up to its own hype and has some glaring omissions but still brings some good news for housing.
There are three big positives: a £12.2bn Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) over the five years from 2021/22; an additional £1bn for a Building Safety Fund to remove dangerous cladding; and £650m to help rough sleepers into permanent accommodation.
Add the reversal of an interest rate hike for borrowing for new council homes, extra funding for housing infrastructure, £1.2bn in consequentials that other UK nations can invest in new homes and an extension of Shared Accommodation Rate exemptions to young rough sleepers and other vulnerable groups, and this looks like one of the best Budgets for housing in the last 10 years.
However, that’s not setting the bar especially high, and you don’t have to look very far below the surface before the questions start to mount up.
Originally posted on January 24 as a blog for Inside Housing.
This week’s flurry of announcements on fire safety comes from a government desperate to show that it is getting on top of the crisis.
But it still leaves ministers running to catch up and facing yet more questions about the adequacy of their response.
Timed to coincide with this week’s government response to phase one of the Grenfell inquiry and next week’s start of phase two, the announcements from housing secretary Robert Jenrick included a new Building Safety Regulator, clarified and consolidated fire safety advice and a pledge to name building owners who have not acted to make their buildings safe.
He is minded to lower the threshold for sprinklers in new residential buildings from 18m to 11m and match that in a consultation in the ban on combustible materials and he also launched a call for evidence on the prioritisation of risks from external wall systems in existing buildings.
More help for residents of buildings with non-ACM cladding could be on the way as Jenrick told the Commons that he was discussing the options with the Treasury and that the chancellor ‘will set out further details in due course’.
Finally, testing results of other cladding materials are to be published next month but the housing secretary said these would confirm the decision to prioritise ACM and make it clear that it is ‘significantly more dangerous than any other substance’.
Presented this way it seemed that the government is finally coming up with a response that is moving faster than the problems are mounting up on thousands of buildings around the country. As Jenrick summed it up: ‘As that work continues, it becomes ever more evident that problems have developed over many decades, leading to serious incidents and the risk of further loss of life. This is completely unacceptable.’
But that feeling soon began to dissipate under scrutiny from MPs in debates on Monday and Tuesday.
Originally published on January 15 as a blog for Inside Housing.
Robert Jenrick and Esther McVey faced their first parliamentary questions as housing secretary and housing minister on Monday – almost six months after they took up their posts.
The reasons for the remarkable delay to their despatch box debuts – the summer recess, Brexit and the December election – are not hard to guess and are also why housing has slipped down the political agenda in the meantime.
But, give or take the odd appearance in parliamentary debates and in front of select committees, the delay also means that we still have only a fuzzy picture of what they really think about the key issues stacking up in their in-trays.
And it came in the wake of a report in the Daily Mail over the weekend about an apparent clash between the two over where the government should spend its housing cash and which voters they should be targeting.