Speech by the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Rachel Maclean MP, at the National Housing Federation Conference.

Rachel Maclean MP

I want to thank all of you in the audience. I know that you all work extremely hard for your tenants and communities during what’s been a uniquely challenging period – starting with the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the pandemic and, now, cost of living pressures.

In the century since housing was first promoted as a social good, it is important to acknowledge the contribution of the dedicated, visionary people who’ve made social housing such an integral part of our social fabric.

I do agree with the remark Lewis made earlier in his preface to me coming on the stage, that housing is integral to everything the government is trying to do in terms of levelling up and promoting quality of life for people.

As we look forward – as we continue to make improvements to people’s quality of life; increase pride and belonging in place; and pave the way to Net Zero – I have no doubt that the sector you collectively represent will once again be leading the charge.

That’s why we’re all gathered here today, because we all know that the foundations of a good life are ultimately built on having a safe, decent, affordable home. It’s that home that affords security, dignity and the opportunities to get on,

Those are the principles that underpin your sector’s social mission – and it’s one that this Government stands behind you to deliver.

There’s solid progress to build on.

Since 2018 this government has delivered the three highest annual rates of new home building for 30 years

With more than 860,000 households helped to purchase a home since spring 2010, through Government backed schemes such as Help to Buy and Right to Buy.

And we’re on track to meet our manifesto target of delivering one million new homes in this Parliament. It’s by expanding delivery overall, we are stimulating the market to deliver more affordable homes through the planning system.

A significant proportion of that new housing supply will be the many thousands of new affordable homes being built across the country.

This includes tens of thousands for social rent, delivered through our £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme.

This would not have been possible without all of you in the audience, given the significant contribution that housing associations make to housing supply.

It’s been a big year for the social housing sector.

Working together, we’ve made significant strides, notably with the Social Housing Regulation Bill passing into law – that’s an important part of delivering a fitting legacy for all affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

But we know there’s more to do to, much more – not just deliver for people of North Kensington, but for the millions living in social housing who deserve better.

Long-term housing plan

I heard Kate earlier speak about and call for the need for a long-term plan for housing.

We agree. We agree that we need to create a stronger, fairer housing market, and that is exactly what the Secretary of State set out recently. That is what we are developing and implementing.

It is a plan to deliver more homes.

More opportunities for people to own their home.

More homes in the right places.

More beautiful and greener homes and neighbourhoods.

That is underpinned by the regeneration and renaissance in the hearts of 20 of our towns and cities through inner city densification and brownfield development.

Anyone who like me who has spent most of their life in Birmingham, in my case about five decades, in Birmingham, will have seen that progress over time. I personally feel very proud of what Birmingham has done and can continue to do. Especially now with the Mayor, Andy Street.

But we are also supercharging the growth in our cities including Leeds and Cambridge, which of course is Europe’s science capital.

We have high ambitions and a long-term plan to achieve them.

Safe, decent warm social housing

But, beyond that, we need to get the basics right – ensuring that every home is safe, decent and warm.

That must be the first priority for landlords.

The tragic death of Awaab Ishak in Rochdale underlined in the starkest terms what is at stake.

Why we must raise the bar for existing homes and new homes.

Why we must learn the lessons from the past to build better homes for the future.

As we deliver more homes and we continue to aim for our target of 300,000 a year, we do so in the right way – prizing quality as well as quantity – ensuring the safety and dignity of residents.

Starting with getting our existing housing stock up to scratch and improving the lives of those living in it.

To that end, we’ve reduced the number of non-decent homes by 2.5 million since 2010 and will be updating the Decent Homes Standard and applying it to private rented homes for the first time.

All social housing should already meet the Decent Homes Standard. The majority does, but unfortunately there’s still 10% of social homes that don’t meet basic standards of habitability, that rises to a fifth for homes in the private rented sector.

It’s essential that we raise standards across the board – which is why we’re aiming to halve non-decent homes in both sectors by 2030 – with the biggest improvements in the lowest-performing areas.

Given what it means for residents when things go wrong – the daily misery, health and other problems that go with homes not fit to live in – it’s right that we set this level of ambition and go further to hold social landlords to account – something that I know the sector overwhelmingly welcomes.

As you’ll be aware, this is what the Social Housing Regulation Act aims to do – to strengthen the Regulator’s ability to take action when standards aren’t met, including through new, unlimited fines.

The Bill aims to put tenants’ needs at the heart of wider reforms to drive improvements in social housing and, crucially, requires social landlords to respond to serious hazards like damp and mould within new strict time limits.

We’re bringing a sharper focus to these issues – you can see that through the £30 million funding going to the Greater Manchester and West Midlands Combined Authorities for physical upgrades to social housing, targeting serious hazards, including damp and mould.

This all adds up to a more robust approach to ensuring that landlords provide the quality homes tenants deserve and get on with renovating existing stock – and they should prepare for the new regime coming into effect from April.

I recognise that many social landlords, highly commendably, aren’t waiting for this new regime and are already driving improvements.

In particular, I welcome the National Housing Federation’s work, as part of the ‘Together With Tenants’ initiative, to strengthen the relationship between housing associations and their residents. It is massively to the sector’s credit that it proactively identified work that needed to be done through last year’s Better Social Housing Review.

Strengthening relationships between tenants and landlords means rebalancing those relationships so that they’re fair and work well all round.

And the consultations we’re publishing on the quality of the homes and services that social landlords provide to their residents – spanning the review of the Decent Homes Standard, Awaab’s Law, professionalisation, energy efficiency standards and supported housing – are an important opportunity for you to shape future reforms and improvements to the sector. So we do very much look forward to you all contributing and having your say.

Of course, I’m well aware that, while we all want to improve the quality of existing homes, this clearly comes at a cost – and that this is an added strain on social landlords on top of a difficult economic backdrop and the what we believe is a necessary step to limit rent increases this year.

It’s a challenging period for the sector alongside a testing period for public finances more generally and this Government will do everything in its power to support you.

In doing so, I recognise the importance of setting a rent policy for social housing that strikes the right balance between championing our shared ambitions on quality and then what’s affordable for tenants and the welfare system.

That’s the approach the Government took last Autumn when weighing up a very difficult set of competing priorities for rent setting this year – and what I’ll be considering again, together with the Housing Secretary, in the round, as we publish our consultation on rent policy from 2025 later this year before making decisions about rents and new requirements in the first half of 2024.

Delivering more social housing

Quality matters. Ensuring that existing homes are safe, decent and warm matters.

But so too does quantity – meeting the significant demand for more social housing.

As I’ve just outlined, this is made all the more challenging by the need to invest more in existing homes and a more difficult operating environment.

But I know – and appreciate – that housebuilding remains central to your mission – and we will continue to back that ambition through the Affordable Homes Programme.

To that end, we have taken a series of pragmatic decisions to ensure delivery continues apace – providing greater flexibility on grant rates, directing a large share of the Programme towards supporting the delivery of Social Rent homes and allowing more funding to be used to acquire and convert existing homes.

The Affordable Homes Programme also now offers funding for estate regeneration – for providers looking to replace existing homes with new affordable homes – something I know has been widely welcomed, underlining, the important contribution that social housing providers can make to levelling up and regenerating communities across the country.

We’re determined to use every possible lever to increase the supply of affordable homes and deliver for those who need them most.

That’s why we’re looking at national planning policy, thinking about changing it to clarify that local planning authorities should do more to prioritise Social Rent homes.

And it’s why – having listened to your concerns through a number of discussions that I’ve held, your concerns about the new Infrastructure Levy – we have recently amended the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to strengthen the protections in law for onsite affordable housing delivery and have committed to further consultation with you on the detail.

Like you, we are determined to see that the Levy delivers at least as much – if not more – affordable housing than the existing system of developer contributions.

It’s also why we’re investing in accommodation for those fleeing war and conflict in Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as increasing the provision of decent family appropriate Temporary Accommodation, via the £750m Local Authority Housing Fund.

I would really like to put on record my gratitude to councils and their social housing partners for the significant contribution they have made in a short space of time to helping those affected.

Because, when it comes to levelling up, there are few better places to start than by ensuring that everyone has a safe, decent and warm home.

All of you are at the heart of our efforts to provide this safety net and springboard – and, indeed, at the heart of our long-term plan for housing, for economic growth, for building a stronger, fairer country.

we have achieved a great deal and, it’s in that spirit, we’re committed to going forward – to supporting you to balance the challenges of improving quality and increasing supply within a difficult economic context and also to provide as much long-term certainty as possible.

We will rise to these challenges and, I’m sure, grasp these opportunities and I look forward to working with you all in the future.

Thank you.

Published 15 September 2023