24Housing opinion piece: by Sue Shirt Executive Director, Housing

It’s easy to criticise Budget statements. We can point quite clearly to what could have received more funding in Monday’s Budget, and we can easily articulate where policy attention could have been better focused.

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But the truth is, the issues we’re championing – more affordable homes, better deals for our residents, more investment in social care, and reducing the cost of living – are just part of the wider jigsaw that the government is trying to build.

So how should it all fit together?

Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s focus on Monday was on creating the stability and resilience our economy needs in the run up to leaving the EU on 29 March 2019, whilst also proactively tackling domestic issues and dealing with the long shadow of austerity.

But there was some good news for the housing sector – namely through the strategic partnership funding announcement with Homes England.

Through the funding opportunity, Stonewater, working with Guinness Partnership, will deliver 4,500 new affordable homes by 2022, bringing us closer to our vision of everyone having a place to call home.

It’s true that we could have had more good news for housing, and – yes – perhaps it didn’t go far enough.

We would have liked to see more done to tackle the delays and backlogs in council planning systems, and more air time given to the issue of meeting future housing need.

But the truth is that the real test for the housing sector should be whether the Budget delivered for our residents and communities, and if it provided the right support for hard working families.

Importantly, the Budget did provide some financial relief for our working customers.

Changes to the tax thresholds will lift some residents out of paying income tax entirely, and the £1.7bn injection into work allowances will mean that the £1,000 threshold increase will deliver a £630 boost to low-income families, making Universal Credit more generous for some than originally planned.

Changes in the taper for additional earnings again will be positive news for hard working families, for whom every little helps.
Though this should be welcomed, this extra funding must not be the end of the story. The government must now heed advice on the proposed managed migration process for Universal Credit to ensure that people do not end up in further hardship because of their transition.

However, it was disappointing that the freeze on benefits weren’t lifted. This could have made it a far more balanced budget – for those reliant upon out of work benefits as well as working families.

But elsewhere we saw good news for mental health.

Funding for mental health services will grow as a share of the overall NHS budget over the next five years, meaning good news for some of our most vulnerable residents, who should now have a better chance at accessing the services they need.

But the real headline was that government has administered CPR to social care.

This week’s £650m boost for 2019-20 is a welcome step in the right direction. It’s not nearly enough to solve the underfunding problems, but it marks a step in the right direction.

Without investment in mental health and social care, it becomes very difficult to build resilient communities. And without resilient communities, the demands that those in need place on universal credit increase.

Perhaps, finally, this week’s Budget shows that the government understands that investing in people means investing in health and social care, whilst also investing in homes and communities.

More clearly needs to be done, but it is a step in the right direction.

You can also view 24Housing article at: https://www.24housing.co.uk/opinion/budget-is-a-step-in-the-right-direction/