2024: the political year ahead for social housing
As 2023 begins to draw to a close, minds inevitably turn to what the year ahead may hold.
We know the coming 12 months will bring significant political change, but we don’t yet know what that means for policy or public spending priorities
At a UK level, we know there will be a general election. We don’t yet know exactly when it will take place but it has to be before January 2025. Although most general elections take place during the summer months, the likely key factor in determining when it will be is when Rishi Sunak thinks he will have the greatest chance of success.
Over the next few months, all parties will have to demonstrate to the electorate how they will tackle the multiple crises that we’re currently facing, whether it be the housing crisis, cost of living crisis, climate crisis, or global crises such as the wars in Ukraine and Israel-Gaza.
Labour currently has a strong lead over the Conservatives, however we know that events - both domestic and international - have the potential to dramatically shift voters’ views ahead of the election.
Whilst much is uncertain, we do know that the result of the next general election will look very different in Wales. Following a boundary commission review, there will be eight fewer constituencies, reducing the number of MPs representing Wales from 40 to 32. It remains to be seen what impact this reduction in MPs has on Wales’ profile and consideration at Westminster.
We are having early conversations with our sister federations across the UK to develop a shared campaign ahead of the general election, and ensure the experiences of Welsh housing associations, tenants and communities are heard loud and clear as parties decide on their priorities. We will be able to share more details on this in the new year.
Another major political event is the election of a new First Minister for Wales, as Mark Drakeford MS stands down. In the year ahead, we will see candidates set out their own vision for the country - including the role of housing.
As part of our work to ensure social housing remains a priority for the next First Minister and their team, in 2024 we will be working with our members and partners to refresh our vision for sustainable change, and encourage others to work with us to achieve it.
We will create spaces to explore longer term measures that support a shift from crisis to a settled state and a re-focus on prevention. We will showcase what social housing is helping to achieve in our diverse communities, and its contribution to wider public service partnerships. We will make a compelling case for implementation pressures to be fully considered alongside ambitions.
One of the first jobs for the next First Minister is to decide the team around them, and it is possible we may see significant changes. For instance, it’s possible that there will be a new Minister with responsibility for housing, who will bring their own experiences and priorities. We want our refreshed vision to help shape and inform those priorities.
The end of Mark Drakeford’s premiership will also mark the end of the cooperation agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru. This was formed following the 2021 Senedd election, where Labour gained 30 out of 60 seats. Being one short of an absolute majority, Labour teamed up with Plaid Cymru to push forward policies of joint interest. Rhun ap Iorwerth confirmed upon his election as leader of Plaid Cymru that he would not be renewing this contract.
Housing features in a number of the 46 joint policies of the cooperation agreement, including taking action on second homes, ending homelessness, establishing a national construction company (Unnos) and reforming building safety regime. As the cooperation agreement ends, we can expect the housing crisis to become an increasing area of scrutiny and challenge from Plaid Cymru as they move firmly back into opposition territory.
Another significant event in 2024 will be Welsh Government’s final budget. This year’s budget has been described by successive Welsh Ministers as one of the most difficult that the Welsh Government had to make since the formation of the Senedd. With continuing inflationary pressures, we are not expecting the financial challenges to ease anytime soon.
We are calling for the 2024/25 budget to prioritise three things to allow housing associations to continue to build and invest in new and existing homes and provide the high quality support tenants rely on:
- a long-term investment programme to deliver efficient and affordable homes for people in Wales;
a more agile and pragmatic approach to funding so that we can be responsive to the dynamic and challenging environment we find ourselves in;
a reinvigorated focus on prevention.
As well as protecting the quantum of investment in homes and support, a balanced investment programme, certainty and flexibility of funding are needed to make sure we deliver as much value as possible for the citizens of Wales.
Whilst there is much in the year ahead that is uncertain and subject to change, we know that housing associations remain innovative, flexible and committed to working in partnership to find pragmatic solutions in challenging times.
We will continue to speak out - and find allies to work with us - to ensure that housing associations have the tools and resources they need to continue their ever more important work on behalf of the people and communities across Wales.
- Bethan Proctor, policy and external affairs manager