by Rob Simkins
The Welsh housing crisis. It’s a term often bandied around by a range of groups and individuals. Type it into a search engine and you won’t be short of opinions to sift through. The noise in this area has been taken up a notch more recently, especially with our latest campaign which has seen members of the Welsh public send around 1,000 emails to MSs demanding that 20,000 more social homes are built during the next Senedd term, 2021-26. It has been brilliant to see the impact of our campaign, with each of the three, main parties who could form a government (or the bulk of a government) putting social housing front and centre of their efforts to win over the Welsh electorate in May.
Demand currently far outstrips supply when it comes to social housing in Wales. Across Wales, there are around 67,000 households on waiting lists for social housing, who are often then forced into the private rented sector which can be unaffordable and more insecure – or even worse, they are forced into homelessness.
It is also important to differentiate social housing from affordable housing. While there remains demand for affordable housing in Wales, this definition means anything below market rent (including just below) and Help To Buy homes which can cost up to £300,000 – well above the average house price for most parts of Wales.
So how then, do each of the three biggest parties in our Senedd propose to address this clear and present need?
Well, let’s start with the current party in government, Welsh Labour. Speaking at Community Housing Cymru’s (CHC) annual conference on the 26th of November, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James MS, revealed that Welsh Labour will commit to building 20,000 social homes for rent in the next Senedd term if they win the election. The Minister promised that this would be within the Welsh Labour manifesto for the 2021 elections, building on the previous target of 20,000 affordable (not social) homes by 2021 which the Welsh Government state that they are on track to meet.
Looking across to the Welsh Conservatives, leader of the Senedd Group, Paul Davies MS reiterated the party’s goal of delivering 100,000 homes over the next ten years – of which 40,000 would be social homes. This is reflected alongside wider policy points in the Welsh Conservatives’ 10-point action plan to tackle Wales’ homelessness crisis. The action plan also promises to legislate to make housing a basic human right in Wales, citing Shelter Cymru’s report; The right to adequate housing in Wales.
Plaid Cymru have also been quick to back the building of social homes too, proposing 30,000 social homes should they form the next government as part of a wider package of 50,000 affordable purchase and rental homes.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have also played a significant role in government with Welsh Labour over the current Senedd term and depending on election results could also be in a position to build 30,000 new social homes over the course of the next term. This would feature as part of a programme including the introduction of a Right to Adequate Housing into Welsh law.
Shelter Cymru, along with a number of other organisations has long called for an increase in social housing in Wales. This is to ensure that waiting lists are kept as short as possible or ideally eliminated altogether, to ensure that as many people as possible are in good quality and safe homes , and to work towards ending homelessness in Wales. As such, we warmly welcome the commitments to helping to end the housing crisis by building more social homes, laid out by all parties in should they form the next Welsh Government.
The fact that housing has to this point been a pivotal part of each party’s policy process perhaps demonstrates that now is the time for a wider debate to be had on housing. The coronavirus crisis has shown that for many people in Wales, their housing situation is simply not good enough. This in turn has a knock-on effect on people’s lives, manifesting itself in everything that they do. From making people less productive in the workplace, to making them more susceptible to poor physical and/or mental health, to compromising their children’s education. Shelter Cymru’s Life in Lockdown report painted this picture, finding that 10% of households with children had no access to outdoor space during the first lockdown and that fewer than half of those who reported disrepair had their issues resolved between March and July 2020.
These are significant commitments and none of us should underestimate the challenge that the next Welsh Government will face, whichever party is in government. To achieve any of the parties’ objectives will require investment above current levels.
A Welsh public who demand more social housing, and who stand ready to hold the next government to account for their welcome promises will keep social housing, at the forefront of the debate. You can write to your MS, sign our petition or get involved in other ways by donating your money, time or energy and experience to Shelter Cymru.
Together, we can make sure that no matter where in Wales you call home, you have the right to an affordable, good and secure home.