Government-funded new social housing has fallen by 97% since 2010, figures reveal

Independent

Opponents slam Tory ministers’ ‘disastrous’ failure to invest in social housing

The number of new government-funded houses built for social rent has plummeted by 97 per cent since the Conservatives took office in 2010, official statistics have shown.

More than 36,700 new socially rented homes were built with government money in England in 2010-11 – the year in which the Tories came to power in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. By the 2016-17 financial year that finished in April, that figure had fallen to just 1,102.

In the same period the total number of so-called affordable homes built with government money more than halved – from 55,909 to 27,792.

The new data comes as experts warn of a huge loss of social housing as a result of current government polices. The total number of social homes already has fallen drastically in recent years: 120,000 were lost between 2012 and 2016 alone, with many converted into “affordable” homes marketed at higher rents.

Instead of socially rented homes that are typically available to vulnerable families at around 50 per cent of market value, the Government has prioritised the building of “affordable” homes for which rents can be charged at up to 80 per cent of market value. Critics say that, in many areas of the country, these rents are not genuinely affordable for people on low and middle incomes.

The Conservatives were forced to U-turn during the election campaign after Theresa May announced the Tories would deliver “a constant supply of new homes for social rent”. The Government was later forced to admit that the new homes would, in fact, be the significantly more expensive “affordable” homes.

According to the latest figures, 20,854 homes at “affordable” rent were completed last year compared to just 1,102 at social rents.

The findings are likely to raise pressure on Theresa May and her government in the wake of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington, which raised fresh questions about the Government’s record on social housing.

Critics have alleged that the tower was built to a poor standard, and pointed to the fire as a sign of what they claim is a disregard for social housing displayed by Conservatives both locally and nationally. Analysis by The Independent reveals that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where Grenfell Tower is located, has built just ten new council-funded social homes since 1990.

The Chartered Institute of Housing has warned that the current fall in the number of social homes is set to continue, and predicted that, by 2020, nearly 250,000 social homes will have been lost in just eight years.

Hundreds of thousands of genuinely affordable homes have also been sold to private owners under the Right to Buy scheme – a process that will be significantly accelerated by the Housing and Planning Act, passed by the Government last year. The legislation extended the Right to Buy, which previously applied only to council-owned properties, to homes owned by housing associations, meaning a further 800,000 properties will now be eligible to be sold off.

Ministers have consistently promised that every home sold under the Right to Buy will be replaced on a one-for-one basis, but currently just one new home is being built for every eight sold.

The Government has also ordered local councils to sell off their most valuable social homes to help fund the extension of Right to Buy. Many are expected to end up in the hands of buy-to-let landlords and private investors. The Local Government Association predicts that almost 90,000 council homes will be privatised by 2020 as a result of this policy and the continuation of Right to Buy.

Forcing councils to sell their most lucrative properties means the social homes that remain are likely to be of worse quality and in poorer areas, including tower blocks like Grenfell Tower. Conservative ministers have rejected calls to ensure that homes sold off are replaced on a like-for-like basis, meaning social houses auctioned off to private buyers are likely to be replaced with far more expensive homes at “affordable” rents.

At the same time as hundreds of thousands of social homes have been lost, local councils have almost completely stopped building new homes. Just 1,890 were completed by the 353 councils in England in 2015-16 – an average of 5 per council. Data suggests the trend is getting worse: only 60 of the new homes that councils started building last year were social homes.

As a result, the UK has become increasingly reliant on private property developers and housing associations to build the homes that the country urgently needs. A large proportion of these homes, however, are marketed at full market rents or slightly reduced “affordable” rents – significantly more expensive than the social rents that have traditionally been applied to council-owned properties.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing minister, said the new figures were “disastrous” for the government.

“These disastrous figures show the Conservative Ministers have washed their hands of any responsibility to build the homes families on low and middle incomes need”, he said. “The number of government-funded social rented homes built has plummeted by 97 per cent since 2010.

“After seven years of failure, the Conservatives have no plan to fix the housing crisis. A Labour government would invest in the affordable homes that the country needs.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Making housing more affordable is an absolute priority for this Government. That is why we have committed £25 billion to get more homes built.

“These statistics demonstrate a step change in the delivery of affordable housing in this country. Through a wide range of affordable products, from Affordable Rent to Shared Ownership, we are helping thousands of people to buy or rent a home that is right for them.”

Disabled woman became ‘recluse in her own home’ after Government cut her benefit despite worsening condition

Trudy Appleby says she has been left relying on food banks after Tory cuts saw her disability allowance slashed despite medical advice

A disabled woman has become a “recluse in her own home” and forced to rely on food banks, after changes to disability benefits introduced by the Conservatives saw her mobility and financial support cut even though her condition worsening.

Trudy Appleby, 57 from Mansfield, developed Degenerative Arthritis and Bursitis in 2013. Last year she was diagnosed with more serious condition Osteoporosis, which weakens bones and makes them more likely to break.

She was initially offered Disability Living Allowance (DLA) on the highest rate and given a car as part of her mobility support — but her benefits were cut shortly after she was diagnosed with Osteoporosis last summer.

The decision was made by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) following an assessment by Capita, a company sub-contracted by the DWP to assess the needs of people receiving disability payments.

The 57-year-old was subsequently moved from the highest level of DLA to the lowest level of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), slashing her weekly finances by £100 and reducing her mobility benefit. It meant her car was taken away.

Ms Appleby, who worked in advertising before she fell ill, was subsequently left unable to leave the house independently. She also had to use food banks in order to get by financially.

She now lives alone in her Bungalow in Mansfield, where she feels unable to venture out because of the risk that if she walks anywhere she will fall over.

“I fell down some steps and broke my shoulder in May, and by June I realised that I couldn’t do anything for myself. I was really depressed, and then they sent me a letter from PIP saying they were going to take the car and the money back,” she told The Independent.

“I was suicidal for that month. I phoned the Samaritans. I told family that I didn’t want to be here, and I was really, really low. I’ve developed anxiety on top of my depression. I don’t understand why they gave me support before, and now have taken it away, when actually my condition has gotten worse. It’s degenerative.

“Before, I used to get out. I got in the car and I went places and did things. I got out and I was seeing people and doing things, and now I don’t. I’d have to walk, and the chances are I’d fall over and hurt myself and break a bone. When I try to do something I end up failing. That’s what scares me the most. It’s a fear now, and it grows every day.

“My sister comes round to see me when she can, but I don’t see many people. I’m a prisoner to my own home. I feel like a recluse. I feel like I’ve been thrown to the back of the queue and neglected and forgotten about.”

Ms Appleby said the cuts to her financial support has put her in a position where she is unable to manage.

“That £100 I had helped me to manage. I’ve been using food banks. The church has also been buying me food and bringing it to my house. My brother-in-law had to take me — it’s about five miles away. I wouldn’t be able to get it myself,” she said.

She sent a number of medical notes to the DWP from her GP urging that an assessment of her disability benefit requirements is undertaken in her home. The notes, seen by The Independent, confirm that she suffers from Arthritis and Osteoporosis as well as a “long history of depression”, and states that her mobility is worsening.

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One letter, signed by Orchard Medical Practice, states: “Trudy is a patient very well known to the practice who has been quite physically disabled since she fractured her proximal humerus… She was subsequently found to have Osteoporosis.”

Another letter from the practice, dated January 2017, stated: “[Ms Appleby] has loss of mobility which has been worse recently and has resulted in her falling when she has been trying to walk outside.

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“She suffers from chronic weakness in her legs which seems to have been a little worse recently… She is struggling to look after herself and attend tto her activities of daily living. I would be grateful if any assessment of this lady could take place within her home environment.”

Ms Appleby said the DWP had informed her in February that an assessor would visit her for an assessment within the next four weeks, but it wasn’t until 1 June, shortly after The Independent had put in a call to Capita about her case, that she was informed an appointment had been scheduled for later in the month.

A DWP spokesperson has told The Independent Ms Appleby requested to be assessed in her home, and that due to delays in her providing the medical evidence required for this service it took longer. According to the DWP, Ms Appleby’s request for an assessment was sent to Capita to be processed on 31 March.

“I don’t think they would have done it unless the media had got involved. There are loads of other people out there like me in the same situation. I know of disabled people who have commit suicide because they’ve been so neglected,” Ms Appleby said.

“Why give someone a car if you’re going to take it off them? Do you know what it does to someone when they do that? At the time I had just broken my shoulder, I’d got very bad depression, and they took the car off me and reduced all my money down.

“I’d love to go out. I’d love to get on a scooter or in a car and just go to the park and sit in the sun. But I can’t. I’ve become a recluse in my own house.”

Ms Appleby is now relying on a small disability charity to fundraise the money required to buy her a mobility scooter. Mobility Trust, which operates only through donations and grants to raise money for people requiring mobility support, has identified her as an individual who requires support to obtain a mobility scooter.

Denise Valentine, Chief Executive of the charity, said there has been a rise in the number of people approaching the charity who have had their mobility equipment withdrawn with the introduction of PIP to replace DLA. The number of people that Mobility Trust have supported in the last year has almost doubled from previous years.

“Although these figures are not a direct response to the changes from DLA to PIP we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people who, like Trudy, had mobility equipment on the Motability Scheme which was then withdrawn from them in the switch over to PIP. That’s obviously hugely detrimental to their independence,” she told The Independent.

“Many of the people who approach us have been housebound for years and have failed to receive any help at all. But then there are those who were managing to lead quite independent lives with their equipment and have now had that equipment removed from them.”

Disability cuts: People with mental health problems left behind as benefit changes take effect

The Mobility Trust has a rigorous process for identifying applicants’ need, requiring professional letters and a GP certificate proving the disability, and then carrying out a full assessment of the individual by an independent occupational therapist, to ensure everyone they support truly needs it.

“It’s not a quick process. We need to obviously make sure we’re helping the right people with the funds that we do have. There are a whole load of people who are being moved from DLA to PIP and the full extent of their illnesses is not being recognised and it’s simply a way to get them off certain types of benefits,” Ms Valentine added.

Alan Meale, Labour MP for Mansfield, has met with Ms Appleby a number of times to discuss her situation, and said the cuts to her support had left her with “no life”, adding that the Labour Party was committed to reversing the cuts.

“When I met Trudy last year, she was in a terrible state. I saw her again a couple of days ago and I have to say, if anything she’s deteriorated even further,” Ms Meale told The Independent.

“If she doesn’t have mobility, she’s got no life. She’s got a front living room and a bedroom. You can’t confine people to that. There is no way that she can have a normal life is her mobility is taken away.

“The Labour manifesto states that in the first year, a billion pounds would be committed to reversing benefit cuts, and high on his agenda is the abolition of PIP. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he wants to get not only the payments back for disabled people, but also their mobility.”

The Government re-designed disability benefit in 2013 to replace DLA, which it called an “outdated” system, with PIP, a system that includes a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews of a claimant’s ability to wash, dress, cook and get around as well as reading and communicating.

But the new system has come under fire on numerous occasions, accused of denying benefits to those who need them, including thousands of people who have been denied Motability as they transfer over from DLA to PIP.

To qualify for the higher level of the mobility component of PIP, which is needed to get a Motability vehicle, a person must be unable to walk unaided for 20 metres, compared with the previous distance of 50 metres under DLA.

The latest figures from the Motability charity show 51,000 people have been taken off the scheme after a reassessment for personal independence payments (PIP) since it launched in 2013 – 45 per cent of all cases.

Conservative MP dismisses disabled woman who tells him ‘tens of thousands of people are dying’

INDEPENDENT

Dominic Raab tells disability activist putting more funding into health and social care is ‘just a childish wish list’ unless there is a strong economy

A Tory MP has dismissed a disabled woman on live television after she told him tens of thousands of disabled and sick people were dying every year due to cuts in health and social care.

Conservative MP Dominic Raab responded to an emotional address from Fiona, a disability activist from Aberdeen, in which she said she had known disabled people who and committed suicide, by saying it was “just a childish wish list” if there was not a “strong economy creating the revenue”.

During the open debate on the Victoria Derbyshire show, Fiona said disabled people were “fleeing” from England to Scotland where she said the devolved parliament was doing more to protect them.

“You’re all talking about numbers and money, and there is an ocean of suffering under that. Oxford University just released research showing that in 2015 in England and Wales alone there were 30,000 excess deaths caused by cuts to health and social care,” she said.

“Tens of thousands of disabled and sick people are dying every year. We are dying. There have been hundreds of suicides. I spent hours after the last general election trying to talk people out of killing themselves, and I didn’t always succeed.

“People are dying here and nobody cares. I have friends who have been helping resettle disabled people in Scotland because at the very least we have a Scottish parliament which is trying its best with limited funds to protect people against the worst of these cuts. People have been fleeing England for their lives.”

Fiona cited a study by Napier University that found the work capability assessment causes deterioration in people’s mental health and can lead to thoughts of suicide, adding: “It kills people. It is an act of violence and we are dying.

“This election is life or death for us. Anybody who votes for the Conservative Party, who are going to further these cuts, they are complicit in those deaths.”

In response to Fiona’s comments, Mr Raab said: “There are plenty of heart-rending stories here, and no one could be anything other than moved by it. We have put in 11,000 more doctors into the NHS, 12,000 more nurses. We have got a renewed focus on mental health and also making sure we’re trying to take the pressure off big hospitals in the manifesto.

“But the real truth is the money’s got to come from somewhere, and I can think of lots of things that I would like to avoid making difficult decisions on and lots of areas like the health service or schools that I want to put even more money in, but unless you’ve got a strong economy creating the revenue, it’s just a childish wish list.

“We’re trying to do our best to get the balance right between responsible public finances and investing in some of those crucial areas you discussed.”

Fiona responded by saying: “So you choose to sacrifice tens of thousands of disabled people, for the sake of that? This is the sixth richest country in the world. It is a choice that people make.

“In Scotland, we have a limited block grant, and they still manage to create a health service which functions, they still manage to create a care service which functions. And you are choosing to sacrifice us.”

It comes after Theresa May refused to rule out making further cuts to disability benefits in the next Parliament if the Conservatives are returned to government.

Asked by The Independent at a campaign event in Mansfield earlier this month whether she would rule out any further cuts to support, the Prime Minister responded: “If you look at what we’ve been doing on disability benefits, what we have done is look at focusing disability benefit payments on those who are most in need.

“In fact, we are spending more on disability benefit payments than has been done by any government in the past.”

A £30-a-week cut to some new claimants of the Employment and Support Allowance came into effect in April despite opposition from more than 30 disability charities.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says the lower rate of cash support will encourage disabled people to find work, but charities say the cuts make life harder for disabled people who face extra costs and mean some people will be unable to afford basic necessities.

The Government was also forced to U-turn on a £4.4bn cut to the personal independence payment (PIP) in March last year after signs of a rebellion amongst its own backbenchers and the resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who said he could not back the policy.