We’ve all spent more time at home lately. Most of us will have been relieved to have somewhere safe and comfortable to retreat to, even if – for keyworkers – it’s at the end of a long shift.
But for one in five Northerners – 1.3million households – staying at home means spending more time in a property that doesn’t meet basic decent home standards. Half those households contain someone who’s older, or has a long-term illness or disability : precisely the groups we know are most vulnerable to Covid-19 and who will have to be under lockdown or shielding for longer.
It’s wrong that, at a time when we’ve all been asked to spend more time at home, so many of our fellow Northerners have had to do this in homes that don’t meet basic standards. And it doesn’t have to be like this.
Over the last month, the Northern Housing Consortium has been leading a conversation with councils and housing associations that share an ambition to do something about this. We want to contribute to social and economic recovery through more and better homes, right here in the North.
Building for the future : more homes
It looks like we’re in for a recession that will be deeper and longer than those in living memory. But back in the 1930s, we dug ourselves out of recession, in large part by building homes. 1/3 of the increase in GDP in the early 1930s came from the construction of new homes. Today, for every £1 we spend on construction, the economy benefits to the tune of £2.84.
We need 50,000 new homes in the North every single year if we’re to deliver on our economic ambitions. Ideas we have to make this a reality include:
- Bringing forward the £12bn Affordable Homes Programme announced at the Budget, and giving housing associations and councils the flexibilities they need to keep building going.
- Turning on the taps for the new Single Housing Infrastructure Fund – which enables future new homes, and ripping up the arbitrary rules that prevent much of the North from accessing this type of funding.
- Helping housing associations and councils buy sites that the private sector won’t be taking forward at present – because we know that when people can’t afford to buy, we need more homes to rent.
Building for the future: better homes
Poor housing is storing up problems for our NHS : AgeUK reckon cold homes cost the NHS over £1bn per year. It’s also storing up problems for our planet: 26% of the North’s carbon emissions come from our existing homes.
Yet doing something about this – retrofitting our existing homes to bring them up to scratch, could create 20,000 jobs in the North. So why aren’t we getting on with it? Making this a reality could mean:
- A North-wide programme of cavity or external wall insulation, going street-by-street, upgrading every home, whether it’s owned or rented
- Replacing the North’s oldest gas boilers with modern equivalents or heat pumps running on renewable electricity
- A massive retraining programme – enabling those who’ve been made redundant to acquire the skills to do the green jobs of the future.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be finalising our asks and offers of Government. We know we can create and preserve good jobs in construction, building and maintenance, give everyone somewhere decent to live, and contribute to greening our region. It’s win-win-win. But we can’t do this alone. We need Government to step-up and support us to build back better through more and better homes in the North.
Tracy Harrison – Chief Executive, Northern Housing Consortium