Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Grant Shapps: We will give social tenants nationwide mobility

For many of us, moving home during our lives is necessary, maybe stressful, but usually quite straightforward.

Your employer announces that they are relocating the company... Your elderly parent falls ill and needs long term support... Your kids have their own children and need help with childcare...

All fairly common scenarios and if you are a private renter or a homeowner, the answer is to move, but what if you're in social housing?

Actually your options are pretty limited.

For council house tenants it's a visit to the housing office to discover that their swap scheme probably only involves a small number of alternative areas.

Meanwhile Housing Association tenants may find things a little easier if the landlord happens to be a nationwide player.
Yet exchanges will still be an internal matter.

The reality of such entrenched limitations means it may not even occur to tenants that moving is a possibility.

... It's just not how social housing operates.

And that's a pity because the knock-on effect is that mobility is drastically reduced in the sector as a whole.

And if the reason for wanting to move is any less extreme than job security or a family crisis... then the chances of contemplating such a move are slim to none.

And get this...

... It means the average private renter is four times more likely to have moved in the past year compared with their social tenant counterpart.

But does any of this really matter?

Actually... it matters a great deal...

For one thing, it's having a big impact on the record waiting lists across the country.

But rather than talking statistics, let's think about real people's lives...

If you are a social tenant, you don't have the same opportunities as other renters or home-owners.

The system means that your aspirations are squeezed ... your expectations lowered... and your horizons limited.

Automatically - if not intentionally - you are being treated like a second class citizen.

So, ironically, social housing is actually polarising society, driving the haves' and 'have nots' further apart.

Of course tenants, understandably, don't want to give up the security of their home to take a chance and move around the country in pursuit of work.

So in areas of economic decline where jobs - particularly in manufacturing - have disappeared, this lack of mobility has hastened the creation of sink estates with unemployment and deprivation all too prevalent.

And it's not just the individual families who are affected... we all lose.

This section of the workforce is too immobile and our economy ever more lop-sided as a result.

For these reasons, it's never been more important that we create opportunities for social tenants to move with security.

And it's clear that we are going to have to be bold...creative...innovative... to find solutions.

Our Right to Move policy demonstrates that we are ready to challenge you guys - the industry - to match our ambition for tenants....

I know some of you are concerned about the idea of allowing tenants the right to demand that you sell their home - in order that they can move elsewhere.

You're apprehensive about the workability of such a scheme and I understand.

That's why I've always made it clear that the Right To Move will start as a pilot scheme involving half a dozen willing partners...

... so that we can work through the detail together... learn the lessons... and refine the policy.

But, in return I ask you to recognise the serious crisis caused by this fundamental lack of mobility...

... and join with us in finding progressive solutions.

And that's why I'm pleased to be able to announce today that your leaders from the social and affordable housing world have agreed to work with us to find new ways to inject housing mobility into the sector.

  • David Orr from the National Housing Federation
  • Councillor Gary Porter representing the LGA
  • Alistair McIntosh from the National Federation of ALMOs
  • Nic, Michael and Terry from the three national tenants' organisations

With input from across the sector and country, I have tasked this industry forum - ably chaired by David Orr - to find yet more solutions to help unlock social housing.

I'm very grateful to them and look forward to their report.

There is however one change that would take place under a Conservative government and I'm ready to announce it today.

You know, the world has changed beyond our wildest dreams.

Remember when communication used to be restricted and expensive?

 ...but now it's possible to have a conversation with a friend on the other side of the planet using Skype, at no cost and for as long as you like.

Where information used to be slow to move around the globe...

...now it can be sent thousands of miles at the click of a mouse with both sides able to view and edit ideas in real-time.

With all these innovations the market has led the way -Amazon, Google, Twitter, eBay...

In this world of internet connectivity, we are able to jump online and buy insurance using Compare The Market.

And instantly we've done the job of the insurance broker by searching multiple databases and finding the most competitive quote. 

With another few clicks we've bought the insurance and saved 50 quid in the process...

... As the Meerkat might say. Simples!

Yet for some reason no-one has yet embraced the internet to inject mobility into social housing.

My local authority who - by the way are an excellent social landlord - are nonetheless typical...

They've just introduced a scheme which means that, for the first time, you can move from Welwyn Hatfield to... two other locations within Hertfordshire.

Great. But we can and must do better than this.

When one of my constituents wants to move from Hertfordshire to Herefordshire... that should be possible too.

Social housing mobility is still stuck in the 20th Century.

Granted, there have been attempts to improve things in the past. Sir George Young and his MOVES programme...

... which was turned into the HOMES scheme, but then collapsed post '97.

Nowadays, with the notable exception of some good work done by budding online home-swap sites, social housing has still largely missed the online revolution.

And as a result...

... Even for those lucky tenants who have moved within the last few years... a third went less than one mile from their old home...

... and just 1 in 10 moved further than 10 miles.

Folks... The time has come to get cracking...

So today I can announce that a future Conservative government will facilitate a nationwide affordable-house-swap programme.

We will introduce an Open Database Connectivity platform to ensure that - for the first time ever - every family in social housing will have the chance to relocate by exchanging their home for another one - anywhere in the country.

Whilst the largest of the current online services includes 500 social landlords, I want to see a truly universal system.

By ensuring that home-swap information is provided in an Open Data format, entrepreneurial businesses will be able to create even more innovative housing-exchange services.

  • Perhaps they'll text you when they find your ideal home-swap.
  • And rather than having to travel to see it you'll immediately be able to take a virtual 360 degree tour of your prospective new home.

... Who knows what great ideas will spring up once we encourage real enterprise and innovation into the house-swap sector.

The government's job is not to build these systems from scratch, nor to construct rival websites to the commercial services already out there...

...instead it is to agree and facilitate a data format which can be used to create a nationwide affordable home-swap programme.

And that's precisely what we will do.

The world is getting smaller... and it's high time that social housing tenants enjoyed the benefits too...

In future society will profit from a more flexible... more mobile population.

And more importantly... thousands of families will see their lives improve and aspirations reached...

Working together we can transform those lives ...

Working together we can truly unlock social housing.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech