(Title Image: Which?)
A summary of questions to Local Government & housing Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West).
Affordable homes target still set to be met
Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) noted that with 13 months of the Fifth Senedd left, the Welsh Government was only 6,500 homes into its 20,000 affordable home target. He also thought it was time to reconsider what the target meant in practice.
“I just wonder whether we would be better off moving to a definition now that focuses on social housing, housing for rent. And I think it’s time, as all parties in this Chamber prepare their manifestos for next year’s election, to be looking at realistic but ambitious targets for social housing in the 2020s. And it’s my view that we need to be building in the region of 4,000 social homes a year, or 20,000 over the term of an Assembly, in the 2020s. Do you agree?”
– Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM
The Minister agreed and thought the time was coming to review the definition of “affordable”.
That said, the Minister expects the affordable housing target to be met and it’s already been exceeded in terms of Help to Buy’s share of the target. The focus now is on building social housing because that’s where the biggest shortfall is – though caps applied by the UK Government to local Housing Revenue Accounts are preventing councils from borrowing and reinvesting in social housing.
In a separate question from Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon), the Minister confirmed that the Welsh Government doesn’t keep a national social housing waiting list.
“It’s astonishing that you don’t have, as a Government, detailed national data on the number of people who are waiting for social housing in Wales. Given that this is one of your priorities, namely, providing more social housing, how are you monitoring that your policies are effective if you don’t know exactly what is the position? In Arfon, I know that there are too many people waiting for social housing. They are in inappropriate homes.”
– Sian Gwenllian AM
The Minister accepted that this was a valid point of criticism, but there were other, perhaps more accurate, measures used to monitor social housing demand.
“….the housing waiting list is not an indication of housing need, as such, because people go on waiting lists for all kinds of reasons. For example, they might want to move for a particular reason, but not be in housing need….We monitor, for example, the units let as social housing units. So, at 31st March 2019, Wales had a total of 231,408 units of social housing let. The new lettings increased by 4% during 2018-19 to 21,135 lettings, 61% of those were on the housing waiting list, up 2% on the previous year to 12,863 of those.”
– Local Government & housing Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)
Preparing local government and social care for coronavirus
Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) asked whether the Welsh Government had confidence that local authority would be able to ensure care could still be provided if social care staff became ill? There were also issues about the impact self-quarantine may have on those employed in the care sector.
“Current advice issued by Public Health Wales is that those suspecting they have coronavirus should self-quarantine until a negative test is received. An issue that was raised in the Chamber yesterday was that of zero-hours contracts, but I think that the issue also applies to those who are self-employed or on low wages, where if those people lose shifts, they will also lose wages. We know that many people in the social care sector are on low wages, and are not benefiting from lots of employment protections as we would like to see them benefiting from.”
– Delyth Jewell AM
The Minister confirmed that the impact of sickness on the care sector has been discussed at Cabinet level.
It’s expected that local authority-employed staff would be covered straight away, but for those employed privately or self-employed, the Welsh Government are looking at ways to support them similarly to measures to support businesses affected by recent flooding – though no details were forthcoming.