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Now Is the Time to Start Building Houses

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We are now half way through the five year term of this coalition government's administration. During that time we've heard a lot of speeches and promises about how housing would be a priority. And it needs to be. As a result of decades of only building half the number of new homes needed we now have a perfect storm of rising house prices, rising rents and a severe lack of affordable homes.

This has led to a housing market that is unsustainable. Private sector rents in many parts of the country are rising rapidly. Housing benefit payments are growing daily as 10,000 more working households every month are forced to rely on state support as their rents rise quickly and wages stagnate. Overcrowding increases and life chances for everyone affected are hit hard. At the same time, construction workers who could be in work building homes and paying tax are on the dole.

Last year the Housing Strategy made the bold promise to 'Get Britain Building' again. Today the Housing Report - a joint publication by the National Housing Federation, Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing tracking government progress on housing - shows that the core target of building more homes has not been met. There have been plenty of initiatives, a whole host of legislative changes, new funding structures introduced - but new supply remains stubbornly bumping along at the lowest peacetime levels since 1920.

Last year 390,000 new households formed - yet we built only 114,000 new homes. Our population has grown by 18million since 1923, when we were recovering from the Great War, and yet for the last 25 years, including the period of greatest personal wealth in the history of the nation, we've failed to build enough homes to house us all. Planning consents are down by 24% since 2010 so no sign that things will improve any time soon.

It's this increasing demand on the houses we have built that are pushing up prices to buy and rent, costing both the hard-working families and the government more.

The consequences are getting even starker. Homelessness, in its most visible form of rough sleeping, is rising rapidly. And on top of that the face of homelessness is changing - families with young children are now living for prolonged periods in wholly unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation. That's children in this day and age who are left to live in B&B's where they have to share bathrooms with strangers, can't go to their rooms during the day and forced to do their homework in the local McDonalds.

I know that building new homes is not the only answer. In many parts of the country the compelling problem is the condition of the existing housing. We could get huge numbers of people back to work refurbishing these homes.

But the overwhelming message is clear. We desperately need housing to be a national priority to deliver a huge increase in new homes. Our continued failure to tackle this problem head on hits millions of families hard, denies people the opportunity to buy their own home, traps increasing numbers of working people in benefit dependency at huge cost to the public purse and acts as a real brake on economic growth. The government agrees that the economic arguments for building new homes are overwhelming. The question now is not whether we can afford to invest in new homes. It is whether we can afford not to.