Social housing Green Paper draws widespread criticism

Following the publication of the government’s Green Paper, several notable charities dealing with housing and poverty, including Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, have emphasised the severity of the situation facing families across the UK, and urged the government to invest in 80,000 genuinely affordable homes a year.

Social housing in England
Social housing in England

Image: Bill Harrison / cc-by-sa 2.0

Gethin Roberts

The government has today (14 August) released a Green Paper aiming to tackle the issues faced by the four million UK households currently living in social housing. The paper sets out the how the government plans to get a handle on the stigma surrounding social housing, as well as improving and quickening complaints procedures and empowering tenants, such as though changes to shared ownership schemes in order to make it easier for tenants to get on the housing ladder.

Many responses, however, have been negative, with housing charities Shelter and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and homeless charity Crisis all saying that the paper does not go far enough.

Some of the paper’s notable proposals include:

  • Introducing landlord league tables and new performance indicators;

  • Giving the social housing regulator further powers to intervene when needed and ensure the standard of social homes;

  • Speeding up the complaints process and giving tenants more support when something goes wrong;

  • Changing shared ownership schemes to help enable people to become homeowners by allowing tenants to purchase one per cent of their property each year; and

  • Holding a consultation on how councils can spend money from stock sold under the Right to Buy policy.

One of the major points of contention has been the lack of any commitment to building more social housing. Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, commented: “The terrible Grenfell tragedy has shone a light on social housing and forced the country to think about the choices we face.

“Today’s Green Paper is full of warm words, but doesn’t commit a single extra penny towards building the social homes needed by the 1.2 million people on the waiting list.”

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of JRF, said that the paper should have been a chance to tackle the current widespread poverty facing families across the UK:  “The Social Housing Green Paper was an opportunity to right this wrong and deliver a plan that would build a new generation of social housing, that would loosen the grip of poverty on families and help people to build a secure future.  Whilst the plans to empower tenants and give them a real voice are very welcome the lack of concrete plans to build significantly more truly affordable homes risks failing a generation.

“Against a backdrop of rising food bank use, families on low incomes will continue to face impossible choices about whether to pay the rent or put food on the table. We urge the government to invest in 80,000 genuinely affordable homes a year at the next Spending Review to put things right.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, also emphasised that it was positive to see the government consulting on issues such as tenant welfare, but again said: “This Green Paper has to go further. In order to solve homelessness the government must also significantly increase England’s supply of social homes, and that means setting targets for building the new social homes that are urgently needed.

“Our latest research shows that in England we need to build 90,000 homes at social rent levels every year for the next 15 years, to meet demand amongst those on the lowest incomes. That’s a far cry from the 5,000 built last year. The government must also address the barriers that stop many homeless people accessing social housing, such as rules that bar tenants with previous rent arrears or ask them to prove a connection to a local area.

While charities have reacted to the lack of a commitment to build more genuinely affordable social housing, there is no focus on the large number of empty houses across the UK which could be filled. Writing for iNews last week, Jonathan Bartley, Green Party Co-leader, said: “Taking action on empty homes could bring the estimated 205,293 vacant properties back into use.”