Boris Johnson’s housing plan has been dismissed as “hot air and waffle”, as he seeks to reset his scandal-battered premiership with a speech in Lancashire on Thursday.
As petrol prices leapt to their highest level in 17 years, Britain was warned its economy could be hurt more acutely by the war in Ukraine than any other major country.
Extracts of the speech released by Downing Street saw Johnson vow to “use our fiscal firepower” to help struggling households cope with the cost of living – but contained no specifics.
Reports said the speech would outline measures to let people use benefits to help secure a mortgage.
According to The Times, Johnson will claim that the £30 billion in housing benefit that currently goes towards rent would be better spent helping people become first-time buyers.
But it remained unclear how this would help the on low incomes with lenders who are increasingly worried about affordability criteria.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove said the Government would ensure a “like-for-like, one-for-one replacement” for any social housing sold to tenants under the scheme – addressing one of the criticisms of Margaret Thatcher’s flagship right-to-buy policy which led to a sell-off of council homes.
He also told Sky News the Government was looking at a “savings vehicle” for people to use to build up a deposit.
Speaking in Lancashire, Johnson will commit to detail “reforms to help people cut costs in every area of household expenditure” over the coming weeks.
He will argue that £30 billion in housing benefit that currently goes towards rent could help people secure and pay for mortgages, according to The Times, which first reported the plan.
But the newspaper said his separate desire to give millions of tenants the ability to pay for housing association properties at discounts of up to 70% is likely to be limited to a series of pilots for now, without additional Government funding.
The speech takes place during a cost-of-living crisis, underlined by figures showing the average cost of a full tank for a 55-litre family car has hit £100.
In his speech, Johnson is set to say: “We have the tools we need to get on top of rising prices.
“The global headwinds are strong, but our engines are stronger.
“And, while it’s not going to be quick or easy, you can be confident that things will get better, that we will emerge from this a strong country with a healthy economy.”
Proposals for renters to be able to buy their social homes at a discount are not new, and appeared in David Cameron’s 2015 Conservative manifesto.
‘Hot air and waffle’
Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, told The Guardian Johnson was “going on a jolly to spout more hot air and waffle rather than getting a grip on his government”.
She said: “Johnson’s government is broken. They have absolutely no idea how to help the millions of families struggling with soaring energy bills and sky-high inflation.”
Shadow housing secretary Lisa Nandy said there are “big outstanding questions for the Government” on the practicalities of the plan to allow housing benefits to be used to buy homes.
The Labour MP questioned the Government’s aim to replace homes like-for-like, saying in a 2018 pilot “only around half of the landlords were planning to replace those homes and the homes that they did replace them with were actually more expensive and lower quality than the ones that were sold”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve got a severe shortage of affordable housing in this country, we’ve got a million people on the housing waiting lists.
“By their own reckoning, this will help a few thousand families a year.
“For those families that will be very welcome, but if it makes the housing crisis worse for everybody else, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t come forward with a proper plan that actually starts to increase the supply of affordable housing, cuts costs for lease holders, which is one of the things that we’re proposing today, and get money back into people’s pockets right now.”