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By Jo Phillips

By Jo Phillips

With a roof right over our heads…

In her latest blog, Jo looks at the UK property market and questions what the government can and will do about it.

Another day, another housebuilder’s viability report shows they can’t now honour the commitment to a percentage of affordable homes. What a surprise. Or it would be to anyone who hasn’t seen this pattern over and over again, as developers push through plans on the promise of a percentage of affordable housing and councils, naively some might say, agreeing that the development can go ahead, often in the face of local opposition because there’ll be affordable homes for local people. Sure enough, a little further down the unmade road those promises come to nothing just like the promises to end no fault evictions that we’ve been hearing since Theresa May pledged to abolish section 21 notices five years ago. Since then around a million renters – or 500 a day – have been chucked out of their homes by landlords using that notice and rental prices across the UK have gone up by over 56% .

Insecure, unaffordable and a terrible cost in terms of health, stress and stability to thousands of families. Disruption to schooling, employment, access to health, transport and other services caused by simply not knowing how long you can stay in a place you want to call home. The knock-on effects on the wider economy, cost to the NHS and other services are obvious but not, apparently to the government.

There have been 16 housing ministers since 2010 but only one Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State whose White Paper a couple of year ago spoke of; ‘tackling injustices’ and making changes to legislation that would mean renters could ‘confidently settle down and make their house a home.’  

You could paper over the cracks in the walls of thousands of new builds with the pledges and promises to ‘do something’ about housing that have come to absolutely nothing. Labour’s aim to look at ‘grey belt’ land for building is sensible, as are plans to turn empty retail and office space into homes providing that’s done properly. Some councils have finally cottoned on to the scourge of second home Air BnB market that’s hollowed out coastal and rural  areas and removed yet more housing stock from the reach of local people and there are some good, imaginative schemes around the country but not enough to tackle the problem. Housing that is safe, secure and affordable is such a basic requirement of any society it beggars belief that we can’t come up with something more than simply building endless new estates with no infrastructure to cope with the increased demand on public services. Where’s the thinking about older people who might want to downsize but aren’t ready for sheltered housing or a care home? Where’s the thinking about making sure communities are mixed and not almost entirely student or holiday lets? Where’s the thinking about revamping town centres which would support local shops, help the environment and cut crime? Where’s the thinking about rent controls and even more radically, changing the British mindset that owning property is the mark of success?

It’s hard not to think that Gove was got at by landlords and groups representing their interests. It might be cynical to point to the number of his Tory colleagues who are landlords and who might have had a quiet word. It could be even more cynical to wonder if there are more votes in the property owning, landlord sector because why would you bother to register to vote if you don’t know how long you’ll be staying at that address?

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