“Key workers, including health workers and teachers are critical to thriving, sustainable communities.” So said deputy prime minister John Prescott last month as he announced a £5bn spending spree to drive forward affordable housing plans to enable those same key workers to own decent homes over the next two years.
Key workers are crucial to society but high house prices often drive them away from the neighbourhoods where they work, undermining our frontline public services.
The government's key worker initiative will ensure support is better targeted and tailored to meet the needs of public services. Most assistance will continue to be directed towards priority categories such as health workers and teachers. However, it is also proposed the programme should be widened to include other public sector workers to tackle recruitment and retention problems.
The programme will offer four options to help key workers into home-ownership, upgrade to family homes or rent at affordable levels. There will also be more emphasis on larger homes, reflecting the problems faced by many key workers when they seek to upgrade to a family home.
All well and good but the government's key worker definition means many other key workers will be excluded from the scheme. How can certain categories of workers be classified as key, when others, for example the transport workers that get them to work, are not.
So is there more the mortgage industry could be doing? Lenders have increasingly been doing their bit to help key workers and first-time buyers get on the housing ladder, with innovative products from Birmingham Midshires, Kent Reliance, The MarketPlace at Bradford & Bingley and Bank of Ireland.
But can the industry succeed where the government is struggling? As we explore in our cover feature starting on page 36, there is only so much the mortgage industry can do to help key workers get on the housing ladder. The rest depends on Prescott.