The government must make apprentice training mandatory to make construction more sustainable
The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians is in a unique position when it comes to social housing. Our members build the homes, maintain the homes and often live in the homes, which is why we are so passionate about social housing and so angry that this government’s policies are making an already difficult situation far worse.
This week UCATT led the debate at the Trades Union Congress in Brighton on social housing, uniting the union movement around clear policies to resolve the housing crisis. The challenge now is to get political parties to sign up to that vision.
It would be difficult to say which one of the government’s many inept social housing policies is the most damaging. Linking social rents to market levels is particularly destructive. By introducing this policy many social housing providers will be forcing tenants into welfare dependency. Setting rent levels at 80 per cent of market levels means that many tenants will be unable to pay the rent. Once immersed in such a benefit trap it will be virtually impossible to escape.
That is why housing providers should be looking at every possible alternative option and minimise rent increases, while applying pressure to reverse this short-sighted policy.
Our calls for a major social house building programme do not just entail stimulating the construction industry and solving the housing crisis. They are also about beginning to solve the problem of construction skills shortages.
Apprenticeship numbers were falling even when the industry was booming and have plummeted since the recession. Without the necessary skills base, construction will struggle to emerge from recession.
House building is an excellent environment to train apprentices. All the different trades are required to build a home. Sadly, due to the casual employment practices of many house builders, house building is not the fertile training ground it should be.
That is why we are campaigning for the adoption of government procurement rules which would require companies undertaking new social house building to train apprentices. Companies that refuse to train would not get work.
The previous Labour government introduced such clauses into its council and social house building plans, only for the present government to ditch them in the mistaken belief that companies would voluntarily invest in vital skills training.
It is clear that such is the extent of the housing crisis and the huge effect it has on society that this area of policy will increasingly come into focus in the coming months. It is essential that we put the continued mistakes of the past 30 years behind us and finally start building the homes people deserve.
Steve Murphy is general secretary of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians