Social Housing matters, but it's been neglected for far too long. There's no doubt that the coalition inherited a housing crisis when we came into government, one that's been growing over the last thirty years. Social housing numbers have been in steep decline for decades, due to a combination of a lack of investment in house building, and the introduction of the Right to Buy policy during the Thatcher administration. All governments during this period have been equally to blame for allowing this to happen - there were over one million fewer homes in the social rented sector after the 18 years of Thatcher and Major. The Blair-Brown era then saw a further 420,000 homes lost from the social sector, whilst waiting lists soared from just over 1 million to 1.7 million people.
Even Labour's current Leader, Ed Miliband, admits that his party failed on social housing. In a pamphlet for the Fabian Society during the recent Leadership Election, he wrote "We [Labour] refused to prioritise the building of new social housing".
Liberal Democrats in government are ensuring this trend is reversed. We fought hard to make sure that the Comprehensive Spending Review last October included money for a social housing building programme of 150,000 new social and affordable homes to be built up to 2015. A key part of this was the new Affordable Rent model that we introduced, with an invitation to social housing providers to bid for funding.
We now know that demand from affordable housing providers to be involved in the programme has been huge, bigger even than our own expectations. And as can be seen in the details of yesterday's announcement, every part of England is set to benefit. New homes will be delivered across all the country - rural and urban communities alike - and will include family homes.
We've been able to announce support for 145 schemes, sharing the £1.8bn pot of funding. This means that not only are we set to achieve our social house building target, we are set to exceed it. The Government is now on course to deliver up to 170,000 new homes by 2015, safeguarding some 80,000 jobs in construction, and other related trades in the process. We can now confidently say that we will be the first government for over thirty years to finish with more social and affordable homes than we started with.
Housing is a complex issue, and there are no easy solutions to the myriad of problems we face. Whether it's overcrowding, under-occupation, waiting lists, or housing quality, we need a large package of solutions to tackle these issues. There is no one-size-fits-all option. But clearly the best place to start is by increasing the social housing supply. This won't end our housing problems, but it is a big step in the right direction.
We all know that times are tough, and we need to learn how to do more with less in every aspect of government policy, including social housing. But even at a time when we are borrowing £400 million every day, government will still be spending billions on getting on with the job of tackling the housing problem in this country. And unlike Thatcher, or Blair, we will deliver an increase in affordable housing.
Andrew Stunell MP is the Liberal Democrat Communities and Local Government Minister and MP for Hazel Grove.
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