Social housing has quickly risen to the top of the media and political agenda over the last few months, and it was at the heart of both the Welsh Draft Budget and the Prime Minister’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference this week.
While the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn for many of those suffering as a result of the housing crisis might have been the catalyst for the Prime Minister to rediscover her appetite for social housing in England, Welsh housing associations have ensured that our tradition of building social homes has not deserted us in Wales.
Our Homes for Wales campaign in the run up to the Assembly election in 2016 highlighted the impact of the housing crisis in Wales. This Welsh Government has responded accordingly, building on the partnership with housing associations and local authorities through a tripartite Housing Supply Pact, and meeting our challenge to them to end the housing crisis and build a stronger Wales with the funding to match.
This week’s commitment by Welsh Government of £340m over the next two years to fund affordable housing is part of a £1.3bn package over the course of the Assembly, and it comes alongside the commitment in the budget deal with Plaid Cymru to protect funding for the life-saving Supporting People Programme. This means housing associations will not only continue to build truly affordable homes in Wales, but will be able to offer specialist support to those who need it most.
If you were one of the 150 or so people at the Supporting People campaign rally this week, you would have heard how that programme changes and saves lives, saving money across Government. However, you would also have heard the concern in the room about the threat faced by some of the most vulnerable people in Wales to their income, their stability and their ability to live independently as welfare reforms continue to roll out across the UK.
Like social housing, Universal Credit has been in the headlines recently with growing recognition across political boundaries of the difficulties caused by the rollout of the policy. Coupled with changes to the way housing benefit is calculated, welfare policy is now in danger of making social housing unaffordable for those it was built for.
Whether it is from Welsh Government or UK Government, capital funding alone will not solve the housing crisis. The conversation about social housing cannot happen without a discussion about how the welfare system supports people to afford to live in the affordable homes housing associations and local authorities build.
Although it has always been a quirk of devolution that central government policy can, inadvertently or otherwise, undermine the policies of the devolved governments, it is not just the ambition of the devolved governments to tackle the housing crisis that could be frustrated.
If the UK Government is serious in its own ambitions, it must listen to the growing concerns from the housing sector about the impact of the Local Housing Allowance cap and Universal Credit, both on tenants and the ability to build homes. We also need policy makers in Wales to grapple with what can be done to understand and to mitigate the impacts here, and to make representations to their partners in Whitehall to ensure that all of us working to solve the housing crisis in Wales aren’t doing so with one hand tied behind our backs.
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