How can you understand something’s true value?
It’s a question often asked in Government, and rightly so, because rarely do facts and figures tell the whole story.
This is especially the case when considering social housing, as we did last night at the Westminster Ideas Exchange.
What was clear to the panel and audience is that, to really understand the true value of our four million social homes, we must look beyond the mere shelter they provide.
All of us need a home, somewhere we can call our own, somewhere that families can be secure and where children can grow. This is exactly what our social homes provide for millions of families. It is what defines their great value.
Sadly, we inherited a social housing system that was failing badly, and letting down the very people it was supposed to help.
Under the previous administration the number of people left languishing on waiting lists had almost doubled, and hundreds of thousands of families were forced to live in homes that no longer met their needs.
During this period we lost almost half a million affordable homes, and saw the rate of housebuilding drop to its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s.
It’s why this Government immediately turned its attention to delivering more affordable homes, and radically reforming the system for social housing.
So what have we achieved, and where are we going?
First and foremost, we’re reversing the loss of affordable housing by investing £19.5bn of public and private money to deliver 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015.
Despite the tough economic climate this programme is on track. Almost 58,000 affordable homes were delivered last year – around a third more than the average built each year in the decade before the last election.
This is a real improvement and bears testament to the innovative model for affordable housing underpinning the programme. Instead of a cumbersome one-size-fits-all approach, the new Affordable Rent model is providing a variety of tenancies to meet the needs of new tenants. It means more tenants will receive help when they need it, for as long as they need it.
This success is being matched by our efforts to improve the quality of existing social homes through the £1.6 billion Decent Homes programme.
At the same time, our Localism Act is ensuring that social homes are managed under a smarter system.
The reforms mean social landlords have more freedoms and flexibilities to address the issues that affect their tenants: from managing stock to tackling fraud and taking on the anti-social tenants that inflict misery on their neighbours.
Like the Affordable Rent model, the reforms will help social landlords meet local housing demand, while at the same time making sure that the most vulnerable in society continue to be protected.
But greater freedom and flexibility should not only be for landlords – we also want tenants to benefit.
So our HomeSwap Direct is increasing the opportunities for social tenants to move through swapping their home with another tenant. This online tool can help tenants get jobs, live nearer their family or simply giving them the power to improve their quality of life. It’s proving popular, with over 2.8 million searches made so far.
Our support for aspirational tenants is also the reason we are committed to expanding Right to Buy.
The previous Government’s cuts to the discount saw sales plummet by 93 per cent between 1997 and 2010. So we’re reinvigorating the scheme, offering families a discount of up to £75,000 to buy their home. It’s early days, but councils are already reporting a surge of interest.
I understand some people might be nervous that Right to Buy will deplete the amount of social housing available. That’s why, for the first time, we’re ensuring the receipts from additional Right to Buy sales are being recycled back into delivering new affordable homes for rent.
So after an era of ideological neglect this Government is backing social housing with significant funding and much-needed reform. Much progress has been made, but I’m determined to go further.
Immediately after becoming Housing Minister last year I set out a comprehensive set of measures to accelerate progress, with hundreds of millions of pounds to build new homes for rent in both the private and public sector.
And in the coming months we’ll continue our work to ensure the sector has a stable financial platform for delivering new homes in the years ahead.
So, we understand the true value of social housing, and are determined to strengthen support, so even more families can benefit.