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Policy update



Conservatives pledge more cuts in welfare

Further cuts in social security are on the way if the Conservatives win the 2015 general election.

Chancellor George Osborne told the party conference that cuts in working age benefits would form a key part of a £25 billion programme of spending cuts to bring down the deficit. He promised a two-year freeze in working-age benefits from 2016 that would not apply to pensions, disability benefits or maternity pay. This would follow the current 1 per cent benefit uprating, which applies to the local housing allowance but not housing benefit for social tenants.

Earlier prime minister David Cameron had pledged two more cuts in benefits: a reduction in the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 a year; and the removal of housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance from 18 to 21-year-olds after six months out of work. Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the national introduction of the universal credit would be brought forward to next year.


Parties make conference bids for housing votes

Labour and the Conservatives both used their conferences to make new announcements on housing and bid for the votes of Generation Rent.

Ed Miliband made ‘building as many homes as we need’ and doubling the number of first-time buyers by 2025 one of the six national goals in his leader’s speech to the Labour conference. The party also revealed plans for council-led new homes corporations that would work with housing associations and private developers on large-scale schemes.

However, publication of a review of housing policy by Sir Michael Lyons was delayed until after the conference. The review will set out plans to achieve Labour’s pledge of 200,000 homes a year in England by 2020.

Several shadow cabinet ministers also signalled in fringe meetings that Labour will not lift the borrowing caps on council housing that many party activists see as a big barrier to achieving the pledge. Practical difficulties and fear of how a move on borrowing would be portrayed by opponents were cited as reasons.

The Conservatives were quick off the mark with announcements of their own even before their conference had officially started.

David Cameron revealed plans to offer 100,000 first-time buyers under the age of 40 the chance to buy a new home with a 20 per cent discount. The extension to the Help to Buy scheme would only apply to England.

The discount on the 100,000 starter homes would be possible because the Conservatives would release cheaper brownfield land previously used for industrial and commercial purposes and exempt housebuilders from requirements on affordable homes and community infrastructure. The homes will also be exempt from some building regulations such as the zero carbon homes standard, which applies from 2016.


Northern Ireland

Storey takes over from McCausland

A reshuffle of the Democratic Unionist side of the Northern Ireland government saw Mervyn Storey take over as social development minister from Nelson McCausland.

Storey will be responsible for both housing and social security and said that welfare reform would be one of his biggest challenges. Disagreement within the government means that Northern Ireland has still not implemented many aspects of UK welfare reform, including the bedroom tax.

He told the BBC: ‘I’m under no illusions as to the enormity of this challenge. But, I believe, if people want to see progress, then they have to face up to the reality that there is an agreement that has to be reached on this issue so that Northern Ireland ensures that we can move forward and continue to be prosperous in the way that we have been to date.’



Lesley Griffiths appointed minister for communities and tackling poverty

A Cabinet reshuffle in September saw Lesley Griffiths take charge of housing and regeneration as minister for communities and tackling poverty. Former housing and regeneration minister Carl Sargeant became minister for natural resources while Leighton Andrews returned to the Government as minister for public services.

First minister Carwyn Jones said the new Cabinet was equipped with the skills and experience to deliver the changes that Wales needs. He said: ‘We have seen our best ever inward investment figures, record exam results, and ground-breaking legislation. However, there is still a huge amount for us to do, especially in the delivery of our public services reform programme.’

Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths was previously minister for local government and before that minister for health and social services. Her new portfolio covers areas including welfare reform, child poverty, financial inclusion and equality as well as housing and regeneration. The new minister told the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Big Question conference that she wanted to see continued innovation from the sector to help meet the challenges created by UK Government welfare reform.

She said: ‘I am delighted to have been appointed minister with responsibility for housing. This is a crucially important sector that has a central role in tackling poverty right across Wales.

‘I am focused on making a real difference to the lives of people in Wales’ most disadvantaged communities. Having somewhere safe and secure to call home is a vitally important first step in drastically changing people’s lives for the better and enabling them to live an independent life.

‘I am very concerned about the impacts of welfare reform on our poorest communities. I want housing organisations to play a central role in helping us to mitigate the worst effects of such reforms. I am also keen to see real progress made in the efforts we take to prevent homelessness across Wales.’

Housewarming party celebrates Act

Welsh housing ministers past and present teamed up with people from across the public, private and third sectors to mark the passing of the Housing (Wales) Act.

The housewarming party was hosted by Sandy Mewies AM, chair of the cross-party in Cardiff housing group (second left) who cut a celebratory cake with communities and tackling poverty minister Lesley Griffiths (second right). Also pictured are former housing and regeneration minister Carl Sargeant (right), who steered the Act through the Assembly, and Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru director Keith Edwards.

Sandy Mewies said: ‘We’re here at a good place now, and we’re going to go on, I hope in the same way, ensuring that what we do is provide the best housing sector possible, rented, private, public for the people of Wales.’

Lesley Griffiths said: ‘I look forward to working with you all. You’ll know housing isn’t in my title but I am the minister for housing and housing’s really taken over the portfolio up to now.’

The housewarming party was supported by nine Welsh organisations: CIH Cymru, Housing Leadership Cymru, Tai Pawb, Citizens Advice, Community Housing Cymru, HouseMark Cymru, the Wales Cooperative Centre and Cymorth Cymru.

Tackling anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse

All social housing providers in Wales now have anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse policies in place for both tenants and staff, former housing and regeneration minister Carl Sargeant announced in August. Wales is the only country in the UK to have full compliance.

The announcement came three months after a statement by the minister in May that Welsh Government funding would be cut for landlords without a policy in place. Carl Sargeant said: ‘There is no doubt that the sector has come a long way in the past year and having up to date, workable policies is another huge step in the right direction. The challenge now is to ensure that policies are all effectively implemented, monitored and updated in order to best support the many people that are vulnerable across Wales.’

In a statement in September, communities and tackling poverty minister Lesley Griffiths said she was committed to continuing Carl Sargeant’s work on anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse in the housing-related context.

New guidance on community benefits

The Welsh Government has published updated guidance to improve the impact of its Community Benefits policy for construction contracts that generate jobs and training opportunities.

The Community Benefits policy builds social clauses into construction contracts to ensure Welsh businesses, people and communities benefit from public sector contracts. A Task and Finish Group led by Martin Mansfield helped produced the guidance published at the end of July.

Finance minister Jane Hutt said: ‘We know that the delivery of Community Benefits is best delivered through a collaborative approach between industry and the public sector so I hope this updated guidance will help all parties work together to exchange ideas and best practice.’

Funding boost for advice agencies

Free advice services in Wales have been awarded £2 million to help them manage increased demand, communities and tackling poverty minister Lesley Griffiths announced in September.

In July the Welsh Government doubled the fund from £1 million to £2 million. The additional funding will be shared between five organisations.

Consultation papers

Draft guidance on housing association board member remuneration

wales.gov.uk/consultations/housing-and-regeneration/draft-guidance-on-housing-association-board-member-remuneration/?lang=en – Responses by December 12

Draft Undertaking Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments guidance

wales.gov.uk/consultations/equality/gypsy-traveller-accommodation-assessments/?lang=en – Responses by November 21

Draft Designing Gypsy and Traveller Sites in Wales guidance

wales.gov.uk/consultations/equality/draft-designing-gypsy-traveller-sites-consultation/?lang=en – Responses by November 21

Draft Managing Gypsy and Traveller Sites in Wales guidance

wales.gov.uk/consultations/equality/draft-managing-gypsy-traveller-sites-consultation/?lang=en – Responses by November 21


1) Digital Deal evaluation findings –

Tinder Foundation, September 2014



2) Approaches to Tenancy Management in the Social Housing Sector – Exploring new models and changes in the tenant-landlord relationship –

HACT, September 2014

http://www.hact.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/Archives/2014/9/Tenancy Management report FINAL.pdf

3) The Impact of Welfare Reform in the Valleys –

Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University, September 2014


4) Silent Majority – How the public will support a new wave of social housing

Fabian Society, September 2014


5) Reducing Poverty in the UK – A collection of evidence reviews

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, August 2014


6) Housing Pinched – Understanding which households spend the most on housing costs

Resolution Foundation, August 2014


7) Universal Credit One Year In – The experiences of housing associations

National Housing Federation, August 2014


8) One Day at a Time: examining the cumulative impact of welfare reform on benefit claimants in Wales

Citizens Advice Cymru, July 2104 (see feature p25)


9) Landlords’ Strategies to Address Poverty and Disadvantage –

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, September 2014


10) Housing: Where’s the Plan?

Kate Barker, London Publishing Partnership, September 2014




Employment and Skills week highlights community benefits

Housing associations in Wales in collaboration with CIH Cymru and Community Housing Cymru ran their first Employment and Skills week in September to highlight the role affordable housing can play in delivering community benefits through employment and skills. It was also used as an opportunity to promote the sector as a great place to work, encouraging people to ‘think career – think housing’.

Findings from a survey of Welsh housing associations (based on a response rate of 37 per cent) revealed that 1,806 opportunities related to employment, skills and learning were provided during 2013/14, with responding housing associations investing on average £60,000.

Among the people given a chance this year was 22-year-old Daniel Tweed. Just over a year ago he was on the hunt for employment. He always had a keen interest in the outdoors, which is what encouraged him to study his level 2 certificate in practical and work based horticulture skills at Margam Park. However, his specialist career path meant that jobs were few and far between.

NPT Homes approached Steps to Employment to advertise an opportunity for someone to join its arborist team. The team was formed when homes where transferred from the council to NPT homes and specialises in tree maintenance on NPT Homes land. Daniel fitted the bill and made a real impression straight away. The programme gave him the opportunity to gain hands-on experience of tree climbing, felling and acting as a resource for his colleagues.

A decision was taken to offer him a two-year bespoke traineeship to allow him to become a qualified arborist, a very specialist role giving him specific skills to help manage trees and shrubs on NPT Homes land. The traineeship has seen him carry out intense City and Guilds training on using a chainsaw, wood chipper, hedge trimmer and the felling of small trees.

Daniel said: ‘The Steps to Employment programme gave me my chance here at NPT Homes and my experience to date has been really positive. Whilst getting a job is tough we are lucky in this area that there are schemes out there to help young people get much needed experience and employment.’

A follow-up event to Employment and Skills Week will be held in collaboration with NIACE Cymru, the National Voice for Lifelong learning on November 19 in Cardiff.

Anglesey launch for Caring Dads programme

A voluntary scheme on Anglesey is helping fathers rebuild positive relationships with children who are affected by domestic abuse.

The Caring Dads programme is run by domestic abuse support service Gorwel, partnered with Caring Dads Canada, and aims to help develop healthy father-child relationships.

The sessions will help increase participants’ awareness of attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that form father-child relationships, increase their responsibility for abusive and neglectful behaviour and develop awareness of child-centred fathering. The weekly programme will run in Llangefni over the next four months following a successful pilot last year. Research indicates that effective engagement with fathers increases the positive contribution they have on their children’s lives. This in turn results in a range of emotional, physical and cognitive benefits for their children.

Paul Jones, programme leader for Caring Dads, said: ‘Our aim is to increase the positive contribution that fathers make to their children’s lives. We are conscious that when the fathers are positively involved with their families, the outcomes for children are much greater.’

The scheme is one of a number of initiatives run by Gorwel, which is managed by housing association Grwp Cynefin.

Nationwide funding boost for co-operative housing

Wales Co-operative Centre is extending a project to boost the number of housing co-operatives able to provide affordable homes across Wales.

New funding of £40,000 from the Nationwide Foundation will be used to enhance support already provided by the Welsh Government. The project will help 26 co-operative groups to become established over the next two years.

Wales Co-operative Centre will engage experts to work with local co-operative housing projects on community development, as well as issues around legal, finance and business organisational models. This support will enable these co-operatives to become viable, robust and operational.

The Nationwide Foundation is a charitable funder that has a vision for everyone in the UK to have access to a decent home which they can afford. Interim chief executive Leigh Pearce, said: ‘As a result of this funding to Wales Co-operative Centre, we expect to see a long-term increase in the number of affordable co-operative homes in Wales. We welcome the recognition that the Welsh Government has already given to this scalable model of housing.’

Derek Walker, chief executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, said: ‘There is a massive untapped potential for co-operative housing in Wales and this project will develop real co-operative communities and bring the approach into the mainstream.’

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