The impact of the pandemic has affected everyone differently. Listening to voices from across the UK is essential in helping to understand others and appreciate their circumstances, making our workplaces and communities more inclusive.
This was the driving motivation behind The Big Conversation – a three-month series of roundtable discussions bringing together local businesses, politicians, elected mayors and business groups from all regions and nations of the UK.
The insights we gathered painted a vivid picture of the resilience on display from people up and down the country, not least from those across London.
Now, those findings have been collated into The Big Conversation: Helping Britain Recover report, a vital resource harnessing the views of business leaders, policy-makers and community leaders.
Through our conversations we heard many shared experiences. However, the clearest theme was the diversity and divergence between local economies across the country.
The overwhelming feedback was that people want a bespoke regional approach to the economic recovery. There can be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.
This was undoubtedly the sentiment shared by my fellow panelists during our own Big Conversation here in London in November.
Local governing bodies, housing associations, property developers, office space providers and other businesses shared their insights and experiences, discussing how the capital’s housing market has the potential to play a significant role in the city’s economic and social recovery following the pandemic.
The discussion focused on addressing the challenges and uncertainties that housing in London faces.
One major challenge is affordability. Renting Beyond Their Means, a housing report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) released in 2020, revealed that nearly five million households in England face a problem with their housing affordability. However, the issue is most severe in London, where households on median incomes are estimated to spend almost two-thirds (61%) of their income on private rent – more than double the average across the rest of England.
In addition, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures – also from last year – found that the median monthly rent in London is £1,425, compared to £700 in England as a whole.
Affordability is closely linked with housing supply, and the panel was unanimous that investment in the capital’s housing stock remains a priority, especially affordable homes.
At Lloyds Banking Group, one of the ways we’re looking to address this, along with Homes England, is through our backing of social impact investor Housing Growth Partnership (HGP), which is working with the regional residential development community to increase the number of new homes built in the UK.
We’re also supporting London’s first-time buyers with our Lend a Hand mortgage scheme, which allows a family member of a first-time buyer to put down 10% of the purchase price of a home into a three-year fixed term savings account, instead of a borrower deposit.
Along with affordability, the panel also stressed the importance of addressing the current skills shortages across every level of housing and construction in London which has been compounded by the twin effects of the pandemic and Brexit.
Our partnership with business campaigning group London First is focused on plugging these gaps and delivering a diverse workforce for the capital with the skills needed to drive economic growth.
And through the Lloyds Bank Construction Skills Centre, in partnership with Lendlease and Newham Council, more than 7,000 school and college students received construction related careers advice, and more than 500 industry-recognised qualifications were delivered, with around 300 young people securing work in the construction industry as a result.
What is clear, is that housing and the broader construction sector can play an important role in supporting jobs, livelihoods and the economy through the recovery.
As London Assembly member Murad Qureshi noted during the London conversation, housing schemes are ‘shovel-ready’ projects and much easier to progress than transport infrastructure, for example.
For all the challenges, including the latest national lockdown, there is hope on the horizon. The roll-out of vaccines, a desire to collaborate and a focus on creating the necessary skills will support London’s economic recovery.
Maintaining a local approach will be essential in making sure that it is effective, but what we’ve seen from the conversation so far is that London has the ambition, drive, and housing sector expertise to make this happen.