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CIH Cymru – Let’s make 2024 the year of being radical

It’s time to make housing the lens through which all other policies are seen, says Cerys Clark.

As far as housing policy is concerned, 2023 was a busy year in Wales. We had a green paper looking at housing adequacy and fair rent including rent control. Then the release of the new Welsh Housing Quarterly Standards and a white paper looking at ending homelessness in Wales. There were also several strategies from Welsh Government looking at ending child poverty, how we transition to green heating solutions and how we can ensure we have the skills needed to meet net zero.

So, you might be wondering what next? Isn’t Welsh Government working towards its goal of net zero, coupled with working towards its goal of ensuring homelessness in Wales is rare and where it does occur it is brief and not repeating. Whilst this would seem the case at face value there is still work to do to ensure everyone in Wales can access a safe, affordable, and sustainable home.

The new Welsh Housing Quality Standards will work towards the further decarbonisation of our social homes but what about the private housing sector? How do we incentivise private landlords and owner-occupiers to decarbonise their homes? Whilst we need a wider range of financial options, we also need to look at other ways to incentivise the private sector. The latest draft budget evidenced the very real financial pressures facing Wales due to ongoing inflation and real terms cuts to budgets even where there was a cash flat settlement this year. So, we need to think of innovative ways to incentivise the private housing sector and ensure it is able to finance the work needed to decarbonise homes. How you ask? Well  I’ll come back to that.

There is no denying that the white paper to end homelessness is ambitious and does propose radical change to the homelessness and allocations system here in Wales but there are no timescales for its implementation and no firm funding arrangement to ensure these lofty ambitions can be met. We cannot ignore the very real impact the housing crisis is having on individuals who live in Wales. Homeless is clearly rising, with 11,200 people in temporary accommodation including 3,500 children. There are also 130 people sleeping on the streets.

This is coupled with rising demand for social housing with the latest data showing that 139,000 households are on social housing lists in Wales. This is a visible consequence of a housing market in crisis with rising unaffordability for private rented and owner occupiers. Though Local Housing Allowance will be unfrozen from 2024, whether this continues depends on who wins the expected general election with the small print of the Autumn Statement saying it is likely to be frozen again in 2025.

Welsh Government in its green paper on housing adequacy and fair rents sought views on whether rent control could help with the rising levels of unaffordability in the rental sector. Yet Scotland, where rent control is in place, has seen the biggest growth in private rents in the UK over the last 12 months, suggesting that rent control is not having the desired effect, rather making rents even more unaffordable.

Whilst there have been a significant number of proposals to address various aspects of the housing crisis in Wales there seems to be a lack of a whole system approach to the crisis. Rather it’s a policy change here, a policy proposal there, hoping that they will all work together to result in change.  What is needed is a whole system approach to the housing crisis, one that will not only provide sufficient levels of funding but also provide a radical solution to the current crisis.

Making housing the foundational mission of government by incorporating the right to adequate housing into Welsh law would not only provide a safe, sustainable, and affordable home for the people of Wales, it would also improve health and wellbeing outcomes. Investment in the progressive realisation of the right to adequate housing will generate socio-economic benefits that outweigh the costs. Investing £5 billion in ending homelessness and improving housing adequacy can generate £11.5 billion in economic and social benefits over a 30-year period. In other words, spending £1 to provide adequate housing in Wales will generate £2.30 in benefits. These benefits will improve our financial outlook for years to come.

So, whilst we welcome the policies and legislation proposals made in 2023 as part of tackling the housing crisis and moving to net zero, we want to see 2024 being the year where we are radical, making housing the lens through which all other policies are made.

Enshrining the right to adequate housing can only benefit Wales and help deliver an equitable Wales. A Wales where everyone has enough money to live on. A Wales where everyone can afford the essentials. A Wales where child poverty is eradicated. A Wales where everyone can access a safe, affordable and sustainable home.

Cerys Clark is policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru

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