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Opinion

The decision to sell off our social housing and not replace it has damaged our communities and people’s life chances

15 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Photo Welsh Government

Jack Sargeant, MS Alyn and Deeside

Social housing transforms lives for the better. It gives them good quality, secure and affordable housing, and a platform from which they can achieve.

The decision to sell off our social housing and not replace it has damaged our communities and people’s life chances.

The statistics paint a bleak picture. In England more council houses are sold off through the right to buy than are built each year, compounding an already bleak situation.

In Wales we have ended the right to buy and for the first time in more than a generation we are making progress in building social housing. We now need to accelerate this.

Building social houses has cost implications but it also provides a guaranteed income. The alternative is not free either, across the UK we pay a fortune through the local housing allowance to private landlords to house people in often unsuitable and sometimes poorly maintained homes.

Precarious

Privately rented homes are of course precarious, imagine having to change you child’s school, your doctor and maybe even your job because you can’t find a property in the same area.

There are parts of England where over 50% of the former council stock is rented out by private landlords.

All this is why I am so pleased Vaughan Gething has put building social housing front and centre in his Welsh Labour leadership bid.

Vaughan not only recognises the need to build but the haste with which we must proceed. He takes a holistic approach, talking about using mixed construction methods as well as the need for planning reform to ensure the planning system is not a barrier to getting people the homes they need.

Vaughan recognises that we need a mixed approach when it comes to building new social housing but has been quick to understand the advantages of modular housing and the additional benefits to the wider Welsh economy.

The combined purchasing power of Welsh Councils and Housing Associations would be enough to foster a made in Wales approach, with the units being built and designed here and of course the research and development based in Wales as well.

Skilled jobs

This would create high skilled jobs, speed up the process and make Wales a world leader in the sector. This would be a real driver for economic growth in Wales as it would create not just the jobs in production but also we would have the chance to shape Welsh supply chains.

Sadly, despite its clear benefits to society, social housing is not popular with everyone, and the planning system has on occasions become a barrier to more social housing being built.

Tory austerity has had a huge impact on local councils, including on planning departments. As a result, there’s a lack of capacity to process applications, which can lead to significant waiting lists. But we cannot condemn people to inadequate housing because of long delays in our planning process .

Vaughan is right to talk about planning reform. I’d like to see targets set to ensure planning authorities are progressing applications. We also need consistency in the way planning rules are applied. Speak to any Housing Association and they will tell you certain authorities are less keen on social housing applications than others.

Vaughan has set out an ambitious programme, but he also knows that to tackle the housing crisis we need to elect a UK Labour government.

When Rishi Sunak the then Chancellor froze the Local Housing allowance, he made a bad situation worse. With rents rising we saw huge growth in homelessness. This freeze was off the back of previous Tory cuts aimed at bringing benefit spend down.

What it actually did was add rocket fuel to a housing crisis that has a huge cost to the state. The mental health and physical health repercussions, the temporary housing costs, and the expensive interventions to address the effects of homelessness.

I am delighted that Vaughan has really grasped the seriousness of the situation and the need to build more social housing. He will have my full support in taking this ambitious programme forward.


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Gary H
Gary H
1 month ago

I hope Mr Sargeant has paid for this shameless ad for V Gething. We all agree about social housing so why link it to Gething. By the way, as a PC member, I have no interest in who wins, but I object to the hijacking of this website by infighting Labour grandees

Last edited 1 month ago by Gary H
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary H

There should be a third ‘the peoples wild card’ choice…

Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
1 month ago

It is essential to have social housing. It is not essential to build it rather acquiring existing properties may be the solution. Also avoiding building massive estates but rather having dispersed properties would be better especially in holiday areas. A careful eye needs to be kept on Housing Associations – in England they have engineered mergers and this has led to loss of local control, financially benefited the management, and deteriorated the service to tenants along the lines of the private sector. There are some very odd things linked to charitable status like in house maintenance becoming a profitable business… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

I think the Housing Association system in Wales is already damaged. Labour could do something about it but has too many party hacks embedded in the system and is afraid to upset them ! You are pointing in the right direction – so many empty properties could be repurposed and brought back into the social housing stock without building estates on green fields. There again the failure to do so begs so many questions about vested interests here in Wales.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

The building of large estates is something that hasn’t happened in social housing since the 1970s with the preference being for smaller ‘infill’ developments avoiding social exclusion. That’s not always popular with the NIMBYs but you won’t get many social housing professionals advocating for the building of large estates, and where these do exist, they are local authority housing transfers. The only people in favour of, and building large estates are the big housing developers like Redrow and Persimmon with their ghastly often substandard offerings. Large estates in social housing terms are now seen as almost bad practice, and building… Read more »

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
1 month ago

What do you mean ‘especially in holiday areas’?

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
1 month ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

What it sounds a bit like, is as if somewhere is classed as a ‘holiday area’ then housing for local people affordable on local wages should be allowed to slip down the list of priorities?

Peter
Peter
1 month ago

I’m very sorry but what you suggest for pensioners and the young is ridiculous the way that the system works at present. Soon as they started to work they would start to lose benefits that they could be liable for. I used to be a supervisor in the aviation industry, and although the wages weren’t the best there was always tons of overtime available for any one who wanted it. But trying to get anyone to work extra was almost impossible because as soon as they worked a few hours overtime they would lose their benefits. The only way they… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago

The opening paragraphs are quite right. I think most would be in agreement. But there is an elephant in this room Mr Sargeant. The person who was ultimately responsible for “the right to buy policy” as we all well know was one Mrs Margaret Hilda Thatcher. She was Prime Minister of the UK and the head of government over Wales, owing to her majority of MP’s, thanks to the voters of England. Wales did not return a majority of Conservative MP’s in any of the General Elections her party won during her time as leader. Here’s a fact for you… Read more »

Peter
Peter
1 month ago
Reply to  Annibendod

You are quite correct, it was Maggi Thatcher that introduced the right to buy, But initially through the Welsh assembly and more recently with the Senedd In power in Wales, it has taken twenty years to for them to cancel the “right to buy”.. So Annibendob it would appear that Labour has had the reins of power for a whole lot longer than the tories did and did nothing about it.

Peter
Peter
1 month ago

Maybe if social housing tenants paid the correct amount for their homes and the same as everyone else, as It is well know that many social housing tenants have the same amount of disposable income if not more than those people buying privately but they only pay 80% of the true market value in rent they also pay pitiful council tax, and under Welsh Labour council tenants will soon be paying even less. Every school child could work out that if you need to build new homes then the figures just will not add up. I fear Wales is falling… Read more »

TomTom82
TomTom82
1 month ago

Whichever party is in charge makes no difference. Local councils, the senedd, Westminster, they all oppose new builds. They all have their own agendas but I believe the one thing that binds all these parties is that they have adopted Blairs dystopian vision that big brother is essential. He’ll see to your housing, he’ll see to your health, education, he’ll even see to it you know how to think and what to believe. The politicians don’t want you to own your own home, they want you to be their loyal subject. They want to be Lord of the Manor and… Read more »

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