Welsh Housing Survey: Better Data isn’t a Partisan Issue

Evidence-based policymaking should be taken as standard – so why are we relying on anecdotal evidence? Mike Hedges MS and Laura Jones MS argue for a Welsh Housing Survey.

The Renting Homes (Amendment) Bill has just cleared its final hurdle in the Senedd.

It is the sixth housing Act passed in seven years, never mind those that focus on land transaction tax, planning, and others that indirectly affect housing. Housing has clearly been a huge issue over the last decade and will continue to be.

The pandemic has also seen this policy area come under the microscope as the vast majority of us spend virtually all our time at home.

Mortgage holidays, possession bans, and welfare uplifts are just some of the unprecedented steps that have been taken to address the consequences of Covid-19 for housing.

However, these steps – whether to deal with coronavirus in the short-term or reform for the long-term – have a troubling characteristic in common: they have relied heavily on anecdotal evidence.

Indeed, during the passage of this latest bill the Welsh Government, landlord representatives, and tenant advocates all admitted that they were heavily, if not exclusively, reliant on anecdotal or non-independent evidence.

Regardless of the merits of the measures taken over the past few years, we should all be able to agree that significant policy changes, especially those designed to last, are done so in the context of credible, impartial data.

The level of data collected in Wales simply pales in comparison.”

Housing is not going to be less of a public priority, so should we not address this wrong that has lasted too long so policymakers have as much solid information as possible?

Since the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) launched their campaign for a Welsh Housing Survey last autumn, we have both been happy to sign up for what should be a non-partisan no-brainer.

The NRLA’s call has been backed by Homes for All Cymru – a housing umbrella organisation that includes Shelter and Crisis – in addition to the Chartered Institute for Housing, ARLA-Propertymark, the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, Tai Pawb, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Two Senedd committees have recommended the Welsh Government explore ways to increase and improve data on housing in Wales, especially the private rented sector (PRS).

This demonstrates that a Welsh Housing Survey is not a dividing line but a uniting cause that can bring different-minded people together as we aim to tackle some of the most challenging problems in our society.

A Welsh Housing Survey would be a comprehensive data collection exercise that emulates – and can even improve upon – its long-running English equivalent. The English Housing Survey has been running for half a century.

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It’s two components are a household interview and a physical inspection of a sub-sample of the properties. Each year, around 13,300 households take part in the face-to-face interview survey, with about 6,000 of the households also taking part in the physical survey.

The English survey collects a wealth of information such as data on the proportion of PRS tenancies ended by the tenant, the levels of satisfaction among social renters, and the percentage of owner-occupied homes that are under-occupied.

These are just examples of the wealth of information captured in England that the National Survey for Wales and the Housing Conditions Evidence Programme do not. The level of data collected in Wales simply pales in comparison.

“More informed and evidence-based policymaking… is the least that should be expected from our confident law-making nation.”

Furthermore, adopting a similar model for Wales would allow for greater comparability and accountability between the nations. A Welsh survey is critical for measuring the impact of housing policies – a significant part of the Senedd’s post-legislative scrutiny duties.

Public spending should obviously be prioritised during these times, but a Welsh Housing Survey will provide value-for-money as the benefits of evidence-based policymaking and its outcomes far outweighing the potential modest cost of the survey. In England, it is less than £20m for five rounds of delivery over seven years.

There will be plenty of policy debates to come before the election this year and we’re sure it will continue after. But when the next Welsh Government takes its place and we look to life after Covid, we should not waste time before getting a Welsh Housing Survey in place.

This will lead to more informed and evidence-based policymaking in housing for the benefit of everyone in Wales.

It is the least that should be expected from our confident law-making nation.

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Laura Jones MS is the Welsh Conservative Shadow Housing Minister.
Mike Hedges MS is the Labour and Co-operative Senedd member for Swansea East.

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