Five things we learned from our housing hustings
In a political world that could see us heading for a coalition government after May 6th, there was more consensus than conflict between Labour’s former Housing Minister, Julie James, Plaid Cymru’s former shadow minister for Public Service Transformation and the Future, Delyth Jewell and the Conservative’s former shadow minister for Housing, David Melding. This agreement may be no bad thing.
Journalist Will Hayward chaired proceedings. So what did we learn?
- We kicked the discussion off with a topic that cut across the whole of the event – the role of good quality housing.
Julie James looked to the successes of WHQS in improving the quality of social housing since 2004 and promised to invest over £1bn to the next phase which would see homes retrofitted to EPC Band A. These ‘homes for life’ would be easily adaptable for those with needs, and the means test on small/medium adaptations would be removed.
Plaid Cymru’s Delyth Jewell highlighted that the quality of housing is interlinked with the quality of life. Having a safe and secure place to call home can improve not only a person’s physical wellbeing but mental wellbeing too. It can reduce fuel poverty and excess winter deaths. A healthy home also goes further than bricks and mortar - digital inclusivity is vital, and Plaid Cymru promise to deliver ultrafast broadband to every Welsh home. The party also promises to ensure homes are within a five-minute walk to green space.
While David Melding of the Conservative Party agreed, he added that the Tories would look to prioritise housing for the most in need, and would provide effective schemes alongside this to support the most vulnerable in society. He stated that the provision of adequate housing is the most effective action that can be taken to improve someone’s health and wellbeing.
2. Next up was the topic of green recovery.
All the candidates agreed with the need to support local SMEs in house building and retrofitting, with Delyth Jewell stating that we now have an opportunity to enrich communities by providing good quality jobs and good quality homes. David Melding emphasised the need to promote construction amongst young people to tackle the skills shortage in Wales.
On this point, Julie James looked to the former Welsh Labour Government’s funding provided to ‘over-skill’ so that house building and retrofitting can take place at scale. She also reflected on the former Government’s support to SMEs in accessing land and the Welsh funds provided to the sector via the Development Bank of Wales. To ensure social, economic and environmental value in this area, the Can-Do toolkits were implemented in partnership with RSLs and SMEs.
3. On the subject of housing support:
Although it was pointed out that the Housing Support Grant had only been mentioned in one – the Conservative – manifesto, no candidate disagreed with the importance that this funding brings to supporting people to maintain tenancies. All recognised the need for certainty around these programmes, with Julie James stating that £40mn had been committed to the grant for next year. Plaid Cymru added that discretion and compassion are needed on eviction policies, and placing under 18-year-olds in Bed & Breakfast accommodation should be banned.
4. How do the three parties plan to make sure housing is a basic right for everyone?
Housing associations have ambitions to make housing a basic right for all, and so it was encouraging, albeit not surprising, to hear all the candidates agree with this statement. The disparity emerged when discussing the right means to achieving this aim. Labour’s Julie James is keen to ensure an individual can enforce their own right to adequate housing, she recognised however that we do not yet have sufficient supply of housing to allow this to happen. Plaid Cymru will introduce a rapid rehousing policy with Housing First and would require all local authorities to adopt this model. Delyth Jewell continued by making the case to devolve the welfare system and pilot the universal basic income, actions that could shift the focus from crisis to prevention. The only disagreement of the event came when David Melding and Julie James spoke against the need to transfer powers of social security to the Senedd.
5. The hustings ended on the vital topic of investment. The candidates were asked what would be committed by the next Welsh Government for housing associations to deliver on the plethora of social and economic benefits that are a result of building good quality, affordable homes.
Delyth Jewell recognised the role of registered social landlords as being critical and committed to listening to the sector after the election and the coronavirus pandemic, to assess what level of investment would be needed. Julie James committed to negotiating with social landlords on the five-year rent control system which she stated is in need of an overhaul. She recognised that the right balance is needed between the affordability of rent for the tenant and the need to have a rental income stream that can fund future housing.
With 14 partners and over 100 attendees taking part in the hustings from not only the housing sector but also the environment, construction, health and economy sectors, we were once again reminded that housing is more than just housing. Building and maintaining good quality, affordable homes can provide jobs, boost the economy, tackle the climate emergency, improve health outcomes and reduce fuel poverty. It was promising to hear each and every party involved in the event recognise the importance of housing associations, and each committed to working together with the sector in the next Senedd term to ensure the right level of investment is provided.
If you missed the hustings, you can watch it here.