In England we face both a housing crisis and a growth crisis. Despite high house prices and high and rising rents, the number of homes started last year fell 4% to 98,000. Meanwhile, housing waiting lists are at over 1.8 million households. Individuals and families are trapped waiting in often unsuitable accommodation. As part of trying to get the nation's finances back on track, spend on new homes has been shredded. This is a roll call of doom.
Fortunately we think a policy exists that is very popular, fair, and could boost the number of homes built by between 80,000 and 170,000 a year; nearly double or triple the current total of homes built in the UK. At present, around 20% of the social housing stock in this country is 'expensive'. It is worth more than the average for that size property within the same region (e.g. the North West, London). We believe selling this off as it becomes empty could raise £4.5 billion a year - as much as the last spending round managed over four. 30,000 homes being sold off annually to fund building many new homes in the same area.
Behind the cold figures, the practical reality of current policy beggars belief. I was born in a council flat. My parents hoped for something free of damp in inner city Birmingham. They certainly didn't expect a large and expensive townhouse. This policy isn't just unfair to the taxpayer but also the nearly two million families and individuals on the social housing waiting list. One single family gets a house that most taxpayers can't afford (unfair) and force others to wait for possibly years (unfair). The public agree. 73% believe that social tenants should not be offered new properties worth more than the average in the local authority. 60% agreed that social tenants should not be offered new properties in expensive area. Even social tenants agree with changing the current system.
Some argue that changing current policy will create ghettos and cause mass unemployment. This is simply wrong. Even over time we are only selling 20% of the social housing stock. So most social houses aren't affected. This policy would mix social stock in the bottom 50% of homes and give a 2:1 private: social split, so it doesn't isolate social tenants. What we should be aiming for is decent quality homes as we built in the 1930s or late 1940s. There should be a minimum value as well as a maximum value. Homes and space and gardens achieved via local control over the design and quality of what is built. It is pretty insulting and patronising to say anywhere outside the top half of properties is a 'ghetto'.
On employment, there is a weak link between employment in an area and the value of its housing. Even assuming that the link is 100% causal (living in a more expensive area raises your chance of a job, not just people with jobs live in more expensive areas), the cost per job is £2.5 million. This eye-watering sum compares to £33,000 per job the Regional Growth Fund creates - it is fifty-six times more expensive. Because of commuting location within an area isn't that key for jobs. But while we're on employment this policy creates 340,000 jobs - a desperately needed shot in the arm for the economy and also many unskilled jobs - which we urgently need.
Existing tenants are not affected by this measure. We need to get a grip on housing policy. This is a quick and popular option to help get the economy going and people housed. Government cannot afford to delay.
Alex Morton is head of housing at Policy Exchange