Housing is a key foundation for tackling poverty, regenerating our communities and creating a fairer, healthier Wales, writes Mark Isherwood MS.
However, despite being the self-appointed guardians of social justice, Welsh Labour has overseen a Welsh housing supply crisis, which did not exist when they first came to power in 1999.
Successive Labour and Labour-led Welsh Governments rejected repeated warnings that Wales faced an affordable housing supply crisis and tens of thousands of families are currently stranded on ballooning housing waiting lists.
They cut the number of new social homes by over 70 per cent during the first three Assembly terms.
The 2012 UK Housing Review stated, “it was the Welsh Government itself that gave housing lower priority in its overall budgets so that by 2009/10 it had by far the lowest proportional level of housing expenditure of any of the four UK countries”.
Even last year, the highest year for UK new home registrations since 2007, the numbers in Wales fell by over 12%.
Whilst this Welsh Labour-led Government has a target to build 20,000 affordable homes by the end of this Welsh Parliament, it has included different types of housing – and not just affordable social homes – in its target, thereby ultimately failing to meet the housing needs of people in Wales.
That is why a Welsh Conservative Government will commit to launching an ambitious programme of housebuilding, putting housing at the forefront of our plan to level-up Wales, and building back better.
This will include working with the whole housing sector to deliver the housing that people need, recognising the vital role played by the social and private rented sectors, housing developers and housing support providers in housing provision, aiming to deliver a mix of high-quality housing that gives families the choice of a property best-suited to their needs.
Our housing programme will include a target to build 12,000 homes per annum during the next 5 year Welsh Parliament term, including 20,000 new social homes, with 20,000 more social homes in the following term.
We would help hard-working people to buy their first home, scrapping the Land Transaction Tax (Stamp Duty) for first-time buyers on properties up to £250,000.
A Welsh Conservative Government will also legislate to make access to adequate housing a basic human right in Wales, ensuring that housing policy focuses on those most in need and helps solve issues such as a lack of available homes.
We also believe that social housing tenants who have a goal of owning their own home should be enabled to do so.
A Welsh Conservative Government would therefore re-introduce the Right-to-Buy in Wales on a reformed basis, mandating 100% of sales receipts to be reinvested back into new social housing, and protecting any new build social homes from sale for at least 10 years.
Such an approach will increase the number of households with their own affordable front door and is an important part of levelling-up housing across Wales, as well as good housing economics.
Furthermore, we would extend Help-to-Buy to empty properties in need of renovation, helping to bring them back into use as homes, as well as introducing an extensive Welsh Housing Survey to provide more robust data for policymakers on housing demand and housing standards, and thereby support good policymaking.
Local people must also be enabled to access affordable homes in their own communities and we will act to provide local affordable housing that meets their needs. This will include working with local authorities and housing associations to encourage and prioritise the purchasing of suitable empty homes for social housing, as well as developing homes with effective local market clauses attached.
We know that Wales has the oldest housing stock in the UK and that people living in poor housing can have a far higher risk of ill health and educational underachievement – causing cross-generational inequality.
Sticking plaster policies are just not good enough – we need to find the underlying causes and do something to address them.
Prevention is vital if people and organisations in Wales are going to address the major challenges we face and are going to face – taking practical action to stop problems arising in the first place.
We must therefore go beyond existing models of service-user consultation and co-produce public services with users and communities, to better deliver public services to an ageing population, to people facing illness and disability, to the economically inactive, and to those living in social isolation – and acknowledging that everyone is an equal partner.
We need to fully embrace co-production, moving beyond rhetoric and consultation to doing things differently in practice, with service professionals, services users and their communities working side by side to provide solutions.
The recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity to reshape our economy, housing and public services to work better for all of us.
We need a Devolution Revolution which turns pretentious words into real action at last, doing things with people, rather than to them.
Mark Isherwood MS is the Member of the Senedd for North Wales and Shadow Minister for Local Government and Housing for the Welsh Conservatives.