Housing is about so much more than having a roof over your head. A decent home means having somewhere to feel safe and secure, somewhere warm and dry that improves health rather than compromising it, an environment where children can focus on learning to help them get on in the future.
The Welsh government is committed to making this a reality for everybody. That is why the first minister has announced that we will introduce a bill to abolish the right to buy within the next year.
The introduction of the right-to-buy policy in 1981 has led to Wales losing more than 138,000 of its social housing stock. That represents a 45% reduction and forces many vulnerable people to wait longer for a home. In addition, the Welsh government is committed to continue investing £100m every year to ensure our homes are safe, warm and energy efficient and I do not want this investment lost to the private sector. Decisive action is needed to protect our social housing to make sure it is available for those who need it most.
Some may see our plans as stifling social mobility. This is not our intention. Not everyone can take advantage of the private housing markets and many families, including the vulnerable, depend on us to provide a safe, secure and affordable home. Research indicates a significant number of homes bought under the right-to-buy scheme have ended up in the private rented sector, which usually costs local people more to rent and costs the public purse more in terms of higher housing benefit.
We know our supply of homes is under considerable pressure and we have already committed to providing a total of 20,000 additional affordable homes during this term of government. It’s clear that joint working with partners such as registered social landlords, local authorities and housebuilders is essential, as is freeing up land sites for development for all tenures of housing.
Of course, it’s not just about the numbers but also the type of new homes we build. We have to ensure they meet current needs but also those we may face in future – an ageing population, increasing pressures on health and social care, our changing climate, increasing fuel poverty and the need to meet carbon reduction targets.
Plans to end right to buy are accompanied by action to help home ownership through schemes such as help to buy, which do not reduce the social housing stock. We are investing up to £290m in a second phase of the shared equity loan scheme, which will aim to support the construction of more than 6,000 additional new homes by 2021, significantly boosting Wales’ building industry and making home ownership achievable for thousands more families.
These ownership schemes are doing an excellent job of helping people to get on the property ladder, but while owning a home is the aim for many, my priority is ensuring everybody in Wales has a decent place to call home and access to all the opportunities that brings.
Carl Sargeant is the cabinet secretary for Communities and Children in Wales.
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