1. Governance
June 22, 2017

The British housing crisis, in five charts

By Jonn Elledge

In this week’s New Statesman, you’ll find a feature on the Greenfell Tower scandal and the housing crisis, written by me. Obviously you all subscribe already, but in the unlikely event you don’t, here’s the link. (Please mention my name when you subscribe. There’s no discount, you understand, it just makes them marginally less likely to sack me.)

Anyway. To accompany that feature, with the help of those nice people at Shelter, we gathered a bunch of stats and made them look pretty. Here’s the housing crisis in five charts.

1. What we build

If you’ve followed this debate at all, you’ll probably be familiar with this one, but it never stops being shocking. It shows that, since the early 1980s, the number of homes we’re building has gone off a cliff.

Total new homes per year build by different types of organisation. Source: English Housing Survey/Shelter.

The big cause is the decline is that grey line: council house building, once the dominant part of the market, has collapsed to all but nothing. Housing associations – charities, rather than arms of the state – have never succeeded in taking up the slack.

The assumption of so much government housing policy over the last four decades has been that the market will provide. This chart shows very clearly that it won’t. The private sector has never got much above 210,000 new homes a year: most experts think we need to be building at least 250,000 to meet demand.

Content from our partners
The key role of heat network integration in creating one of London’s most sustainable buildings
The role of green bonds in financing the urban energy transition
The need to grow London's EV infrastructure at speed and scale

What’s more, every time private building hits that peak, it crashes again. Why? Because when property prices fall, private housebuilders stop building.

2. The return of Rachmanism

All this has fuelled our increasing unaffordable house prices. So has the buy-to-let market, a way for older homeowners to make up for the decline of pensions; in the last decade, have record low interest rates, have been a factor, too.

And so, the proportion of the population living in their own home has gone into decline. It peaked around the middle of the last decade, at just over 70 per cent. Soon it’ll be back under 60, for the first time since the mid 1980s.

Who lives where? How the tenure mix has changed. Source: English Housing Survey/Shelter.

The proportion in council homes has fallen too, thanks largely to Right to Buy.  As a result, the proportion renting their own home has more than doubled in the last two decades, from under 10 per cent to over 20.

3. The young aren’t buying

This chart shows the recent decline in home ownership in more detail. In 2005, more than 25 per cent of the youngest adult cohort – those aged 16-24 – owned their own homes. It’s now under 10.

The percentage of each age group which owns their own home. Source: English Housing Survey/Shelter.

The other age groups are in decline, too: fewer people are getting onto the ladder at any age. Within a few years, a significant number of early middle aged people will be renting.

4. Renting hurts

Which is terrible for them, because the private rental sector is the most expensive option.

This chart shows the average percentage of household income that goes on housing costs in each of the four main tenures.

Housing costs as a %age of household income. Source: English Housing Survey/Shelter.

Those in council or housing association properties both pay roughly 28 per cent. That may seem high, considering such housing is meant to be subsidised – but that probably reflects low incomes as much as high housing costs. This, remember, is the poorer end of society.

Owner occupiers, though, spend an average of under 18 per cent on their mortgage. That average may be misleading – recent buyers will pay a lot more; those who’ve paid off their mortgage will be zilch. But at least they’re building up an asset.

The same cannot be said of private renters, who are paying 35 per cent of their income for housing. Again, lower wages may be a factor here – renters are likely to be younger. But Shelter argues that housing which costs more than 30 per cent of your income should count as unaffordable. This is a problem faced overwhelmingly by young renters.

And they don’t even get the asset at the end of it. Rubbish.

But if the housing crisis hurts renters, it increasingly looks like…

5. It’ll hurt the Tories, too

Among homeowners, according to YouGov, the Conservative party had a clear majority at the 2017 election, 53 per cent to Labour’s 31.

Among renters, the proportions are almost exactly reversed.

Voting intention by housing type at the 2017 election. Source: YouGov.

Under the circumstances, you’d imagine the Tories would be trying to solve this mess, wouldn’t you?

And yet.

Special bonus figures

There are 2,000 golf courses in England. Of those, 142 are in Surrey alone. They take up 150,000 hectares, over 1.1 per cent of all land in England. 

We could fix this mess. But we have chosen not to. 

Thanks to the team at Shelter for their help compiling these figures. The charity’s head of policy Steve Akehurst wrote us this blog, asking: Did renters cost Theresa May her majority?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook

All images courtesy of Leon Parks and the New Statesman production team.

This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.
Websites in our network