It was refreshing today to hear the prime minister specifically talk about social housing being one of the possible uses of an additional £2bn fund to top up the 2016-2021 Affordable Housing Programme.
Whatever the detail of the funding, this is a dramatic and positive change in direction for a government previously dedicated primarily to home ownership recognising the work of campaigns and independent groups to shift the focus back to truly affordable rented homes.
The initial press release suggests that this funding will provide only 25,000 homes over the next four years, and there is no detail as to how many of these will be council houses or let at genuinely affordable social rents.
A focus on just the possibility of allowing bids to fund building homes at social rents in areas of the country where rents are high is also potentially too limiting a factor.
The lack of certainty in the funding allocation means that homes may not be built until towards the end of the funding programme, perhaps resulting in just 12,500 homes of unknown tenure being built in 2020 and 2021, against the 40,000 social rent homes that were constructed as recently as 2010.
Our campaign has called for 100,000 social rent homes each year to be built, alongside at least 150,000 of other tenures.
While it’s interesting to hear social housing being mentioned at both of the main party conferences, setting this £2bn against an announcement for £10bn of additional Help To Buy funding shows that we will need to continue to campaign to change longer-term government policy.
The prime minister’s speech also touched on providing rent certainty for social housing providers after the 1% annual rent cut comes to an end, but as with the rest of the announcements it will be necessary to see what certainty translates to in policy. There was no mention of the Local Housing Allowance caps which still threaten the future of the provision of supported housing schemes.
Government investment in homes can be spent to benefit people who need homes of all tenures, and to begin to address the growing problem of rising housing benefit spending.
More committed funding models will need to emerge than today’s announcements to make government housing budgets work for everyone.