Brandon Lewis MP is Minister for Housing and Planning, and MP for Great Yarmouth.
For my generation, owning your own home was a rite of passage: something you worked hard for, saved up for and was an achievable goal in your twenties. There is something about the day you get the keys to your first home – a feeling that you never forget. Fast-forward to today, and young hard-working people still want to get on the property ladder and feel the same pride their parents did when they put the key in the door and stepped over the threshold into their new home.
That goal is still there – but for too many it’s seen as the impossible dream. For young people who have worked hard and saved up over years, their ambitions have been thwarted by an economic crash that left lenders asking for ever-higher deposits, and builders unable to build. Labour left us with the lowest level of housebuilding since 1923, and it has taken time to rebuild confidence in the industry and the supply lines, and we still have work to do to re build the skilled labour too.
As Minister for Housing, I want to make sure that anyone who works hard and dreams of owning their own home has the opportunity and the help they need to do so, wherever they are in the market. Greg Clark, our new Secretary of State, has also been very clear about his ambitions to ensure we do all we can to build the homes we need in the places in which they are needed, and to ensure that home ownership is achievable for young people again.
Take Lauren in Thurrock, who Greg and I met recently. She and her partner Luke are working hard in good jobs, with a perfectly reasonable aspiration to live near their families in a home of their own. But living with Lauren’s parents, and scrimping and saving, got them no nearer to achieving it.
It’s thanks to Help to Buy that they’re now living in their own two-bedroom flat on a newly-built development. Thanks to that scheme, they only needed to put down a five per cent deposit – a fraction of what is normally required – following in the footsteps of nearly 100,000 new homeowners who have done the same.
This is why we’ve extended the scheme to 2020, enabling thousands more like Luke and Lauren to have the chance to get on the property ladder, along with many others I have met who can buy their first home or move to a larger home for a growing family thanks to the scheme. Already, it has helped to boost housebuilding, with housing starts double what they were in 2009. And this extension means leading developers now have the certainty they need to build more and create jobs as a result.
Now we need to go further. We need to build more homes – well-designed ones that are built to give confidence to communities. Building new homes of good quality will ensure that residents can support development and be proud of what it does for their community, and it means creating jobs and homes in the areas we need them.
Home ownership is the promise that we will deliver through the Housing Bill – that first-time buyers can still realise their dream of getting on the ladder with the help of the new Starter Home scheme. One measure we’re introducing is Starter Homes: newly-built properties available at a 20 per cent discount for young people under 40. Taken together with Help to Buy, it means that someone earning around £30,000 a year can buy their first home. It’s why we’ve committed to building 200,000 of these new Starter Homes by 2020.
We will also open the door of home ownership to 1.3 million housing association tenants. Why should they be shut out from the opportunities afforded to everyone else simply because of who manages their property? It’s time we opened the same door to them that we opened in 1983 to council house tenants through the Right to Buy.
In 2012, we raised the discounts from the miserly levels left behind by the previous Government, and since then over 33,000 social tenants have bought their home. And we introduced a new rule that every additional home sold through the scheme is replaced – in stark contrast to the record under Labour, when between 1997 and 2010 only one in 170 homes were replaced.
Let’s be clear about the difference we have made, Council house building is currently at its highest level in about 20 years, and we delivered more social homes during the last Parliament than the entire 13 years of the last Labour government. The reinvigorated scheme means that homes will be replaced on a 1:1 basis by councils within three years, or government will deliver them.
Those 1.3 million tenants in housing association properties have had little or no assistance, until now.
As matters stand, two families can live next door to each other, shop in the same supermarket, send their kids to the same school – yet one can have a real chance to achieve their aspiration to buy their home, while the other has no chance at all. The Housing Bill will change that, and will mean that all social tenants will benefit from the Right to Buy and the chance to own their own home, rather than have its ownership dictated by whoever happens to manage their property.
We are the party of aspiration. Labour may debate whether it actually exists, but we know what it means. It means the desire to better ourselves and provide more for our families, that and to ensure we play our part in our communities. It’s a key part of our wider belief that we all share the same aspirations for ourselves and for our families – and that everyone should have the same chance to get on in life. For many of us, buying our first home was a huge moment in our life. The measures we’re introducing will ensure that more hard-working people get that same opportunity.