Starter Homes: affordable housing at an unaffordable cost?

By James Carson

A report from homelessness charity Shelter has suggested that one of the UK government’s key affordable homes initiatives will be out of reach for many people on average incomes.

The ‘Starter Homes’ initiative was launched in December 2014, offering first time buyers under the age of 40 in England a discount of up to 20% off the normal price of new homes built on brownfield land. During the general election campaign, David Cameron promised that by 2020 200,000 Starter Homes would be built by private builders and sold for no more than £450,000 in London and £250,000 in the rest of England.

The government has claimed that first-time buyers paying an average of £218,000 for a home would save £43,000 under the Starter Homes scheme.

However, analysis of the programme by Shelter suggests that it will not help the majority of people on the new National Living Wage or average wages into home-ownership in England by 2020.

Cheaper homes but not cheap enough

Shelter looked at three typical household formations in each local authority in England earning a range of different salaries to assess whether they were likely to be able to afford to buy a Starter Home. The study found that:

  • Starter Homes for families earning average wages will be unaffordable in over half of local authorities across England in 2020.
  • Families on the National Living Wage will only be able to afford a Starter Home in 2% of local authorities.
  • Single people on low or average wages will struggle to afford a Starter Home in 2020 in the majority of local authorities.
  • London, the South East and the East have the lowest number of areas where affordable Starter Homes under the schemes threshold could be built, despite high demand in these areas.

The scheme is being funded by changes to the planning system, exempting developers from their obligations to include affordable housing in building schemes. The government says that these ‘Section 106’ obligations typically add £15,000 to the cost of each new home being built.

However, even before its latest analysis, Shelter was expressing concerns that the removal of these requirements would lead to Starter Homes ‘cannibalising’ genuinely affordable housing. There are also questions about whether the homes will come with the necessary infrastructure in place.

Government pressing ahead

Nevertheless, the government is pressing ahead with the programme and extending its scope. In August, chancellor George Osborne announced that the Starter Homes scheme would be extended to some villages as part of the government’s rural productivity plan. At the same time, some of England’s major house builders have pledged their support for the scheme, including Barratt, Cala and Taylor Wimpey.

Even if it meets the target of 200,000 new homes by 2020, the Starter Homes scheme on its own will not solve the national housing shortage. Around 250,000 homes need to be built each year to keep up with demand, but in 2014 fewer than 119,000 homes were built in England. As the Shelter report concludes, the Starter Homes programme is no silver bullet for the housing crisis:

“Starter Homes would primarily help those on very high salaries or couples without children, but they are not a good replacement for other forms of affordable housing and will not help the majority of people on average wages struggling to get an affordable, decent home. The government needs to look very closely at this policy before going down the wrong track.”


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The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on housing; to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading*

The home front (interview with Brandon Lewis outlining plans for housing)

Building to order (development on brownfield sites)

A living countryside: responding to the challenges of providing affordable rural housing (CPRE Housing foresight paper no 5)

Housing summary measures analysis

Tackling our housing crisis: why building more houses will not solve the problem

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

What’s driving the rise of food banks?

By James Carson

In 2011, the Trussell Trust, a charity providing food aid across the UK was operating around 100 food banks. By the end of last year, that figure had risen to over 400.

The government standpoint

Food aid has become a divisive issue, largely because of disagreements about what’s behind the increased demand for emergency food aid. Last month, Priti Patel, employment minister at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told the House of Commons that she did not accept claims by researchers that benefits sanctions could drive people to seek emergency food aid:

“There is no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use.”

Her contention is consistent with claims made under the coalition government. In February 2014, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, suggested to the House of Commons that it was not welfare reform but greater awareness of food aid, that was increasing use of food aid:

“Food banks do a good service, but they have been much in the news. People know they are free. They know about them and they will ask social workers to refer them. It would be wrong to pretend that the mass of publicity has not also been a driver in their increased use.”

What does the research say?

The DWP position is at odds with research looking at food banks in an effort to explain their increasing use.

A 2014 report from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) identified a number of factors driving people to use food banks. These include loss of earnings and changes in personal circumstances (such as bereavement and homelessness). But the report highlighted problems with benefits (notably delays and sanctions) as a significant factor causing people to seek emergency food aid.

In addition, first-hand accounts from those managing and working in food banks have strengthened the claim that there is a correlation between welfare reforms and increasing use of food banks.

In 2013, Ewan Gurr from the Trussell Trust told the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee that the number of people using food banks in Scotland had risen from 5,726 in 2011-12 to 14,318 in 2012-13. And he was unambiguous in identifying the main reason for this dramatic increase:

“We are seeing evidence every day, right across our food bank network, that welfare reforms are inextricably linked to the rise in demand for emergency food relief.

In December 2014, the Church of England published its report on food poverty in the UK.

While the report acknowledged that benefits sanctions do not always represent the sole reason claimants turn to food banks, it observed that reduction and delays in benefits has meant families living on low incomes are worse off in the long term:

“There is a clear moral case to address the shortcomings that exist in our welfare system.”

The human impact

The impact of food poverty can be seen in the human stories that are often forgotten in the cut and thrust of the public debate. In March this year, a report highlighted the experiences of people around the UK trying to survive on very low incomes.

In one instance, a 57 year-old man’s benefits had been cut for 13 weeks because he failed to complete enough job applications.

“William came to the food bank in the first week of his sanction. He was given food and didn’t return until weeks 11 and 12. William was apologetic for having to come back again, but said that his tea, sugar and other basics had now run out. We spoke to him, to find out how he’d managed. He said he’d cut down on the amount he ate, and that the mild winter meant he had managed without heating.”

For those of us who thought food poverty was a bitter memory of a bygone era, the very existence of food banks is hard to stomach.  As the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee concluded:

“They are a sign of a Dickensian model of welfare which should have no place in a prosperous nation. Ultimately the necessity for food banks should be eliminated.”

With the exponential growth of food banks across the country, that aspiration is unlikely to be realised any time soon.


The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on poverty and social exclusion – to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading*

How can households eat in austerity? Challenges for social policy in the UK, IN Social Policy and Society

Food bank provision for families in North Nottinghamshire

A survey of food bank operations in five Canadian cities, IN BMC Public Health

The increasing demand for emergency food aid in the UK (SPICe briefing 14/46)

Below the breadline: the relentless rise of food poverty in Britain

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service