Construction of homes for social rent drops 80% in a decade

Figures for England show 6,463 homes built in 2017-18 despite 1.25m families on waiting lists

The number of new homes built for social rent has fallen by almost four-fifths in a decade, according to official figures that come as more than 1 million families are stuck on waiting lists for council housing in England.

Figures released by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government show just 6,463 homes were built in England for social rent in 2017-18, down from almost 30,000 a decade ago.

Condemning the lack of new social housing, Labour said that a the current rate of construction it would take at least 170 years to house the families on waiting lists.

John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said: “These figures confirm the disastrous fall in the number of new affordable homes for social rent under the Conservatives.”

Despite the sharp decline, the overall number of properties constructed in England that were classified by the government as affordable rose by 12% last year to 47,355.

The bulk were built for so-called “affordable rent”, where rental costs are capped at 80% of local private sector rents. Affordable rent properties are typically favoured by the building industry because developers tend to make larger profits on them.

Unlike affordable rent, social rental properties also take into account local incomes as well as house prices. Campaigners have criticised the term affordable rent for “turning the English language on its head”, saying they are still unaffordable to many people.

The number of affordable rent properties has soared since they were introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government in 2011, as the number of social rent properties has declined. Almost 27,200 were built last year, up from about 24,300 in 2016-17.

About 57% of all new affordable homes built last year were for affordable rent, while just 14% were for social rent. The rest are intermediate affordable housing, which includes shared ownership properties and affordable home ownership schemes.

In England, about 1.25 million families were registered on the waiting list for social housing between 2016-17. About two-thirds have been waiting for more than a year. On average, an English local authority has more than 3,500 families on its books.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Shelter, said the gap between the number of social homes needed and those being built was vast. “This just isn’t acceptable when nearly 280,000 people are homeless in England today,” she said.

In her Conservative party conference speech last month, Theresa May said a cap on local authority borrowing for the construction of new homes would be scrapped, a step designed to increase the number of new homes built across Britain.

Patrick Gower, a residential research associate at the estate agency Knight Frank, said the prime minister would be encouraged by the 12% rise in the number of affordable housing completions.

He said the number of affordable homes starting to be built last year also increased by 11% to 53,572. “The number of homes likely to complete in the coming two to three years is also likely to increase,” he added.

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Increasing the number of affordable homes has become a top priority amid a national housing shortage exacerbated by high house prices. High rental costs have added to the pressures facing households across the country.

Councils used to build more than 40% of affordable or social homes in the 1970s but there has been a shortage of properties since Margaret Thatcher introduced right to buy in the 1980s.

Mark Robinson, the chief executive of Scape Group, a public sector construction outsourcer, said: “Councils must be empowered to build social housing themselves, as they were in the 1970s.”


Richard Partington Economics correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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