Dominic Raab is the new housing minister. So what are his big ideas?

Housing minister Dominic Raab. Image: Getty.

It’s safe to say the housing world has been on a bit of a rollercoaster journey over the past 48 hours. We’ve had rumours about a dedicated housing minister role in the cabinet, quickly put to bed by its integration into the newly named Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (or MHCLG – not an acronym that rolls off the tongue too easily). And finally, yesterday, came the shock news that Alok Sharma is to be replaced as housing minister by Dominic Raab.

So whilst many see the cabinet re-shuffle as more of a re-brand, in the housing sector, we are seeing real change occur. Alok Sharma has certainly been playing a key role in community engagement and consultation during one of the most turbulent and tragic eras in housing to date. I sincerely hope we can still see the legacy of his work.

However, Raab’s appointment has the potential to shake things up a little – and perhaps that’s what we need. After all, you can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. And, let’s be honest, the housing sector has had a bit of a reputation for its ‘traditional’ approach over the years.

So we need a visionary. We need something new and brave to finally get to grips with this housing crisis.

Is Dominic Raab that visionary? Well, if we look back to his 2012 report with the Centre for Policy Studies, Unleashing the Underdog, we can perhaps catch a glimpse of what’s to come. 

Raab pushes for equality – but he sees innovation as key to achieving this. Ever heard of tenants having a “right to own”? This bold concept he talked of in 2012 involved releasing “dead equity” and gifting social housing tenants with a percentage of the capital, “to incentivise home ownership and finance new social housing”.


This report was written over five years ago, but it shows imaginative solutions to housing issues. These are bold concepts and we can work together to shape them into deliverable and practical solutions.

Secondly, this specific “Right to Own” idea sets out a desire to increase ownership opportunities for all aspiring homeowners – not just the privileged few – and he notes just how important homeownership can be in achieving social mobility. This is something that we, as a sector, embrace. Home Group only recently asked its customers if they wanted to own their own homes, and a huge 87 per cent said yes. We also know through recent YouGov research that raising a deposit remains the biggest barrier to ownership.

This is why we launched our own home ownership product, “Deposit Builder”, to respond to the challenge and meet customer aspirations. It shares the same goal as Raab’s “Right to Own” – helping social housing customers into homeownership. It works by enabling customers to save a deposit while they are renting – through a discount on their tenancy, price freezes and match-funding the government’s Help to Buy ISA.

So perhaps through this appointment what we might start to see is much bigger and bolder thinking that inspires the sector in this way. And if Raab does meet barriers along the way, let’s work together to come up with new ways to overcome them.

But better still, if we are led by a visionary housing minister, we might just see that there is a power to remove such barriers for the greater good.

Mark Henderson is chief executive of the housing association Home Group.

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Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.