I spend a lot of my day worrying about housing supply, rightly so, it’s the big priority for this government.
Everyone needs the security and stability of a decent home. We are getting Britain building again, fixing the broken housing market and helping hard-working people get the home they want:
new housing construction is at its highest level since 2008
24% increase in planning approvals for new homes in the last year
200,000 affordable homes have been delivered since 2010
And this has benefits beyond ensuring more people have a home that they can call their own. It helps to build communities, and it creates jobs for young people.
I commend you here today for your role in this.
Housing associations are rising to the challenge and being more innovative, and as a result, delivering more homes. And councils are bringing land to the table and beginning to use the financial freedoms we have given them to build a new generation of council housing.
You should be cherished for your efforts to provide homes for those in the most need: for helping to create strong communities and for the good work you do with your tenants. We want to support this, which is why we have made an additional £1 million available next year to support social tenants to take control of their housing services.
And why we will shortly publish a new guide for tenants with easy access information on how to get involved in managing their homes.
But even with the good progress we have made, we can all do more on housing supply and there is a need for urgency. I particularly want to see high quality affordable housing delivered quickly. I have been challenging the industry to think differently about how they can do this, including using modern methods of construction, and I plan on continuing to do so.
I also want to make an early start on the ground with the next Affordable Homes programme.
So the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) will be discussing with landlords where they have scope to accelerate starts into this year.
To facilitate this, I can announce that I have asked the HCA to increase the amount of grant paid at start on site from 50% to 75% of the total payment from 1 July.
This provides a strong incentive to get on with building new homes now. It will be available to 31 March 2015 for DCLG affordable housing schemes.
But today I want to talk about creating the right housing for people that find themselves vulnerable through disability or ill health; for those that find themselves on the margins of society and without a roof over their heads at all.
Social landlords can and should be leaders in their communities, and helping government meet these challenges should be part of their role.
This is about more than bricks and mortar, it’s about wider care and support.
Older people’s housing
There is a conversation to be had on older people’s housing. I’ve been lucky enough to see first-hand some of the great work on older people’s housing being undertaken by many individuals and organisations here today.
The developments I visited at Dovecote Meadow and Seafarers Way in Sunderland, and the retirement village at Lovats Field in Milton Keynes, are really putting older people’s needs and happiness at the forefront of design.
Then there are the home improvement agencies, such as the one I saw in Leeds, which are enabling older and disabled people to remain comfortably and independently in their own homes.
The challenge of providing for our ageing population is a big one. The population of older people in England is growing faster than any other group.
We all know that all too often individuals are brought to consideration of their own situations by crises. What I would really like to see is people thinking properly about their future plans well ahead of these crises.
I think you can help me to start that discussion with people and this is something I want to return to in the future.
Putting the right care and support in place is also about helping those in greatest need.
The homelessness statistics last week showed a reduction in the number of families accepted as homeless compared to this time last year – a downward trend we have seen for the last three quarters.
But I am not complacent. On any given day, there are still over 2,000 people sleeping rough and over 30,000 in hostels in England.
Having nowhere to live is usually not their only problem. Many have poor health; many have drug or alcohol addiction. Very few are in work.
It is unacceptable that so many people face such a hard life. As a caring society we shouldn’t be allowing this to happen.
It is also costly. This group of people place a great burden on our health services and our criminal justice system. Only last month I met a former rough sleeper [Chris] who had been to hospital 150 times in a single year.
I want to make a bold and sustained effort to help these thousands of homeless single people. But we can’t do this on our own. We need to get them into stable accommodation, help them tackle their underlying problems, and help to get them into work.
Providing accommodation is not sufficient to prevent homelessness, and it is vital that vulnerable people can access a range of support so they can lead independent lives.
So earlier this month I announced that government departments have united to expand support for vulnerable people – with over £65 million of funding from across Whitehall being offered to councils and other organisations to tackle homelessness across the country.
The funding will be invested across 5 programmes:
An £8 million Help for Single Homeless Fund that will improve council services for single people facing the prospect of homelessness.
The £15 million Fair Chance Fund, an innovative “payments by results” scheme, that will provide accommodation, education, training and employment opportunities for the most vulnerable, young, homeless people.
A total of £41.5 million will be shared between Homelessness Change funding to provide tailored hostel accommodation for rough sleepers to get them off the streets and transform their lives through health, training and education facilities.
And Platform for Life, a new programme to provide shared accommodation for young people at risk of homelessness so they have a stable platform for work and study.
More than £580,000 will extend the Homelessness Gold Standard scheme, which helps councils to improve frontline housing services for families and single homeless people.
This comes on top of the £470 million funding the government has maintained since 2010 to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness.
And it comes alongside the No Second Night Out scheme, which has helped thousands of people off the streets since its launch in 2011.
I want us to work together on an ambitious programme to tackle homelessness. I’m especially interested in working alongside councils to look at the options available for families at risk of homelessness.
The trauma of becoming homeless, and the uncertainty of temporary accommodation, can cause damage to families that we should try to avoid. Councils already do a huge amount to try to prevent homelessness occurring – making sure that families get help before descending into crisis. But I know it’s getting more difficult for them to find the right kind of housing to help prevent homelessness. With demand increasing for private rented homes, councils are facing tough competition finding the right housing at affordable prices.
I’m keen to work with local authorities to explore how we can increase the supply of long-term, well managed, private rented accommodation, available to councils to accommodate homeless households at Local Housing Allowance level rents. Some councils are already exploring ways of attracting new investment into this kind of property. I would like to work closely with a few places to develop case studies, exploring how we might identify and overcome obstacles to wider investment.
This government is providing the tools and the funding to build more homes, build the right homes and support people in those homes. But this is a joint endeavour – homelessness is everyone’s problem, and planning for our old age is everyone’s responsibility.
Individuals need to take responsibility for their future. And government, housing associations, house builders and councils need to ensure that the support and the homes are there to support their ambitions.