Question: what do UK social housing, Crossrail, wind turbines and the Schools Building Programme have in common? Answer: they are all beneficiaries of EIB (European Investment Bank) funding - to the tune of £6.9 Billion in 2016 alone.
Following the UK’s decision to trigger Article 50 in March, rumour is rife that the EIB has ‘put on hold’ UK infrastructure funding until greater clarity on the Brexit deal is known. Looking at this through the prism of the UK’s turbulent political landscape, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is likely to lead to the shelving or complete re-working of both parties’ housing plans.
With Labour committing to 100,000 new social housing homes each year, and the Tories pledging to boost the numbers of available and affordable homes, the EIB decision has the potential to decimate the ability of respective UK governments to fulfil their promises.
Whichever UK party is in power risks a housing time bomb if access to EIB funds (£1 billion for social housing in 2016) is not sought or guaranteed, and any failure to replace this funding from other sources will only serve to alienate housing associations already footing bills for major developments.
Crisis is a term thrown around a lot. However, recent ComRes research for the housing charity Shelter suggests a direct link between housing quality and mental health: 21% of English adults who have had a housing problem in the last 5 years say that it had a negative impact on their mental health. So, the failure to tackle underinvestment in housing stock may well lead to a further drain on public finances because of its effect on mental health and wellbeing.
Addressing the funding gap from the EIB must be prioritised, not only to avoid a housing crisis, but also to prevent it snowballing into a funding nightmare for mental health care services in the coming years.
Housing is – with some justification - seen as critical to the electoral success of whoever wins the next Election, especially so given the intense political pressure post-Grenfell Tower. Despite the fact that July saw the first month of budget surplus for any UK government since 2002, national debt currently stands at a whopping £65,000 per UK household. Theresa May and her ministers must now be wishing for a magic money tree of their own.