Will Budget 2020 ‘get it done’ for housing?
After only four weeks in the job, last week Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivered his first Budget statement. It contained some big ticket items including a package of measures to mitigate the Covid-19 outbreak and substantial investment in infrastructure projects under the banner of ‘getting Britain building.’ Compared to almost a decade of austerity-driven budgets, it felt like quite a spending spree, says CIH's head of policy Melanie Rees. But, to borrow the Chancellor’s repeated catch-phrase, will it ‘get it done’ for housing?
Here’s my take on the headlines.
The commitment to invest £12.2bn in ‘affordable’ housing is, on the face of it, good news. This includes £9.5bn of ‘new’ money up to 2025/26 which provides certainty for social housing providers building new homes. But what does affordable mean in practice? Perhaps the detail in the statement gives us a clue when it says, “this new five-year programme will help more people into homeownership and help those most at risk of homelessness”. For me, this hints at a strong focus on shared ownership and homes built under the proposed First Homes scheme rather than funding for the homes at social rents we desperately need.
An extra £1bn to remove all types of dangerous cladding from buildings over 18m in height is a big step in the right direction and a clear tribute to the campaign groups which have made such a compelling call on government to act. While it won’t cover homes below 18m in height and the total cost of remediation works is likely to exceed £10bn, this gives some greatly-needed reassurance to people, including leaseholders, whose homes are currently unsafe.
To get anywhere close to building the 300,000 new homes we need each year, everyone who can needs to be able to play a part. So cutting the Public Works Loan Board interest rates by one per cent for councils which are building is a welcome move and addresses a barrier we identified when looking at how councils are using their new powers following the lifting of the borrowing cap in October 2018. Of course, another significant barrier we identified was the rules around councils being able to use and keep the receipts from the sale of homes under the Right to Buy scheme. Government consulted on proposals to address this in 2018 and we are still waiting to hear the outcome.
An allocation of £643m to support people who are homeless and rough sleepers includes £237m previously announced for housing for up to 6,000 rough sleepers, £144m for associated support services and £262m for substance misuse treatment services. This shows government’s keenness to deliver on its manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024 - but it doesn’t tackle the root causes of homelessness.
Ahead of the budget we called on government to invest in new homes at social rents – we need to build 90,000 of these every year to meet Heriot Watt University’s latest assessment of housing need – and to close the huge gap between local housing allowance rates and the lowest 30 per cent of private rents in a local area. It was disappointing that these two asks, which would have a huge impact on ending homelessness and rough sleeping, were overlooked.
The Budget statement declaration that “everyone should be able to access a safe and affordable home” certainly chimes with what we believe at CIH. We’ll be using the opportunity of the coming Comprehensive Spending Review to call on government to make that a reality and really get it done for housing.