The North needs more affordable homes, and we need them now

By HSPG CEO – Guy Horne:

While Westminster had its back turned grappling with the fallout of Boris Johnson’s resignation and upcoming Conservative leadership battle, a wave of shocking reports highlighted an alarming escalation in the North East’s housing crisis. 

Manchester now tops the list of rental price hotspots across the UK. Years of rising housing costs and a worsening cost of living crisis has further culminated in the North East being recognised as having the highest rate of child poverty in any region or nation across the UK.

Shocking though these findings are, it is sadly not surprising. 

Chronic underfunding of affordable homes in the region, a levelling up promise that is failing to deliver, as well as years of political volatility within the housing ministry have come home to roost. This reality should come as a stark warning to the leadership that succeeds Boris Johnson’s government. The North East needs more affordable homes, and we need them now. 

Rising regional pressures

It’s clear that these findings point to a worrying intensification of the region’s housing crisis, but far from being new challenges, these pressures have been mounting for some time. 

House prices and rental costs have been rising for years, reaching record rates in recent months. Most recently, Rightmove’s research has revealed that Manchester now leads the country’s rental cost hot spots, with the average asking rent up 23.4% in a year.  

This has compounded a cost of living crisis crippling countless families across the region, with the Centre for Cities thinktank reporting that the North-South cost of living divide is intensifying generations of regional inequality. 

The alarming rise in child poverty is again not a new issue. Child poverty has steadily increased in lockstep with decreasing housing affordability, resulting in the North East experiencing by far the steepest increase – from 26% to 38% – in child poverty across the UK in the period 2014/15 to 2020/21.  

Historic underfunding must be reversed

A chronic lack of funding across the region from consecutive governments in Westminster sits at the heart of this issue and nowhere is this more obvious than in the country’s housing. 

The share of social housing stock across the country has declined since the 80s, but this been felt most acutely across the North of England, with the North East accounting for just 4% of all Affordable Housing delivered in England since 1990, while the South East accounts for almost one fifth of all homes in the same timeframe.

The government’s flagship levelling up policy was launched as a strategy to invest into these communities that have been historically underfunded. Though widely touted by Boris Johnson’s government as the solution to historic disparities between North and South, critics are right to be wary with echoes of the Northern Powerhouse strategy from past governments ringing in their ears. 

In fact, a report released in January has laid bare the limitations of this approach, reporting that in the five years to 2019/20, London received the equivalent of £12,147 per person in public investment, while in the North the figure was only £8,125. If levelling up is to succeed, we need to start seeing words become action. 

New political impetus is vital

A merry-go-round of housing ministers has resulted in a total lack of long-term consistency in housing policy, undermining any real efforts to make lasting change to this country’s housing supply. Successive governments have failed to deliver on housing targets – targets which Michael Gove recently dismissed as arbitrary.   

But far from being arbitrary, these targets correlate with real demand – demand that simply isn’t being met and resulting in at least 30,000 people in England waiting decades or longer for social housing. Two-year waits are now the average in many parts of the country. 

The latest political turmoil and new leadership challenge risks the country and our region’s housing emergency being overlooked once again. The North East cannot afford to wait for a new flagship policy or a new housing minister to get his or her feet under the table. The reality is that we need more affordable homes now. 

The incoming government has a chance to turn the tide on this crisis and address the failure of the governments that came before. If children across the UK are to benefit from the same opportunities, wherever they live, the North East’s housing crisis can no longer be ignored. 

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