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If we build it, will they come?

Courage is the commitment to begin without any guarantee of success.

It’s Party Conference season again, so the papers and the Twitter timelines are full of keynote speeches and new policies that may or not be implemented, depending on whether they are announced by the incumbents or the wannabes. Plus, of course, there’s always the chance that ideas announced at conference become so watered down by the time they make it to actual policy that they look completely different.

Still, the £2bn injection of cash in to the social housing sector is a welcome admission that this government is sticking to its guns as far as the housing sector is concerned. This time last year, housing was high on the agenda, (to the extent that the BMF managed to secure the services of then housing minister Alok Sharma to speak at Members’ Day)  so it’s good to see it still is.

An extra £2bn of funding for social housing, announced by May at the National Housing Federation’s Housing Summit is, I understand, in addition to money previously announced.

So good news all round, yes? Question is, is that money and this continued emphasis on social housing enough to solve all the housing issues we have?

No of course it isn’t.

This money will, it is said, be sufficient to 25,000 homes for social rent by 2021. A start, but not enough, although the also announced changes to the way funding for social housing is sourced could, according to the National Housing Federation, see the figure could rise to between 50,000 and 60,000.

David Orr, Chairman of the National Housing Federation, said that the announcements represent ” a total step change” as for years, the  way that money was allocated meant housing associations couldn’t be sure of long-term funding to build affordable housing. It also marks a move away from the sole focus being on increasing owner-occupation – those of us of a certain age remember Thatcher’s “home-owning democracy”.

Labour said it wasn’t enough – they would say that wouldn’t they – and plan to find the money for more than 60,000 social homes for rent within two years. Quite where they plan to find that money from, I’m not sure. The twin bogey-men of Business and the Middle Classes probably.

The trouble is, there is no one-size-fits all problem with housing in this country and, therefore, no one-size-fits all solution.  In a country where a quick trawl of Rightmove shows that the price of a two-bedroomed end-of-terrace, suits-first-time-buyer house can range from £45,000 to £240,000, the issues are far more complex than simply not having sufficient houses to rent.

I don’t have the answers. The government doesn’t have the answer. Maybe that’s because there really aren’t any.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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