There is no doubt that the chancellor’s Autumn Statement brought some welcome support for struggling renters.
In the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, when one in 50 Londoners find themselves in temporary accommodation and growing numbers of households struggle to pay bills, the news that Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is to be unfrozen and brought up to the 30th percentile of market rents – giving housing benefit recipients a further £800 of support per year – will alleviate some of the squeeze as private sector rents continue to surge.
And yet, as the chancellor set out 110 measures for economic growth, capital investment in housing was once again absent, leaving the sector and the dreams of millions of a secure, affordable place to call home frustrated.
Despite welcome recognition of the squeeze on millions of renters and action to support them, the Autumn Statement treats the symptom while leaving the cause – a lack of affordable homes – untouched when it needed to do both.
In turn, the government has missed an opportunity to bolster economic growth through supporting skilled construction jobs, regenerate local communities and help reduce the strain on the public purse through safe, secure and affordable housing.
In 2022, and even with the LHA freeze, Britain’s housing benefit bill stood at £23.4bn – more than the running costs of every government department barring education, defence and health and social care.
Shocking? When considered against the backdrop of a nation that the National Housing Federation (NHF) estimates needs around 90,000 new social homes a year while delivering on average just 6,500, then perhaps not. The NHF’s research also goes some way towards explaining why 29% of housing benefit claimants are in the private rental sector.
If the government is serious about reducing the strain on public finances while boosting economic growth, then investment in affordable housing ought to be at the very heart of its agenda.
Even in the midst of the housing crisis, the housing association sector offers ample evidence of our contribution to the British economy and to reducing the strain on public finances.
Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing’s (MTVH’s) research with Sonnet Advisory & Impact CIC shows that, for every £1 invested in MTVH, the return for society is £1.53 through supporting education, reducing the strain on health and care services and supporting local economies.
Without a long-term commitment to tackling the housing crisis, the dream of a safe, secure, affordable home will become ever more distant for millions of people. What’s more, the public purse will continue to face an ever-growing bill.
It is no secret that the British economy has for some time stagnated. By setting out 110 measures, the government’s message is one of determination to grow the economy. If it is truly serious, housing can no longer be ignored – it should make it 111.
Geeta Nanda is chief executive of MTVH