After a long night of black coffee and the occasional powernap, I first want to say congratulations to all new and returning MPs, both in our region and across the country as whole. Unexpectedly, we have a Government with a clear majority and, to boot, they have a range of housing commitments, some of which they say they will enact in the first 100 days of office. I confess, some do look a little worrying for housing associations and for those we serve; others interesting to explore.
I guess the most worrying for us is the eye-catching and high-profile pledge to extend the “Right To Buy” to around 1.3M housing association tenants, allowing them to purchase their home at discounts of up to £103,900. Like other housing associations, Curo is not against home ownership – but we still need to be able to provide affordable housing for local families for whom ownership is not an option. You see, when stock is removed from the social housing sector via Right To Buy, history has shown that replacements simply do not follow. Instead, with only half the homes we need being built each year, all that happens is the nation’s social housing gets further depleted. So, my first priority will be to understand how the Government will honour their commitment to replace each one sold on a ”one-for-one” basis.
Other manifesto proposals such as reducing the total household benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 a year will affect a growing number of tenants, and not just those in social housing – the truth is that people in the private rented sector will be hit the hardest and first in most cases. Then of course there is the £12bn of further cuts to the welfare bill; we don’t know where these cuts will fall, but HAILO’s recent research with the LSE makes it clear that we can expect them to be felt greatest by the poorest in our society, and many of them are our customers.
Other commitments look a little more positive. Ideas like a pledge to build 200,000 new starter homes for first-time buyers under 40, the creation of a £1bn fund to unlock homes on brownfield land and building 275,000 additional affordable homes by 2020. Let’s see how they evolve and how we can help.
The past five years have been a little challenging and with these sorts of agendas, I foresee the next five being equally so. We’ll need therefore to continue to be creative and entrepreneurial to find ways to navigate the terrain and to continue to serve our customers well.
We will also need to keep making pragmatic commercial decisions to ensure we can provide more homes and continue with all the other charitable activities we undertake. The social housing sector has a wealth of experience and expertise, and I really hope the Government will understand that working in partnership with us will lead to better outcomes, a stronger independent sector and a better society.
I look forward to the Queen’s Speech, expected on 27 May, and more detail on the road ahead for housing to 2020.