The real difference between the haves and have-nots in Britain is house ownership.
A house is an investment that grows and grows. The rich own several homes, the middle class their own home, those on the bottom line someone else’s pockets with rent.
1.7 million households were on waiting lists in England in 2013 and the number is rising. Families fester in B and Bs or live with relatives while they wait for a place. A lucky few are placed in private properties at exhorbitant rents, all because of failure to build social housing over the last twenty years.
Now we hear the economy has not expanded as much as was hoped, partly due to construction output falling by 2.2% this month. Yearly growth is down to 0.7% – its lowest level since May 2013. All this while there is a crying need for housing.
But some tenants of social housing don’t play fair. A reported 160,000 social homes may be unlawfully sublet in the UK and in 2012 The Audit Commission put the cost of social housing tenancy fraud to the taxpayer nationally at £1.8 billion. Some estimates say there are up to 6,000 people in social housing with incomes of more than £100,000 who could afford to buy and free up a house for someone in need.
I can understand someone who says “I love this house, I like my neighbours, my kids are settled in local schools, why should I move?” They should be encouraged to buy and the money ploughed straight into a new social housing unit somewhere else.
But the real scandal is the number of people being priced out of the housing market by soaring prices, a rise fuelled by shortage and a surge in buy to rent. Help to Buy means that buyers only have to find 5% of the purchase price but if that price is £250,000 – in some places the cost of a small semi – that means finding £12,500. If you’re paying an extortionate rent, saving like that isn’t possible. Only those with access to the bank of mum and dad can own and that is not acceptable.
If house prices rise in the next 30 years as they have in the last 30 the average UK home will be worth £1.2 million. A while ago it was revealed that houseowners, who bought for £250,000 in the Nineties, could face a Mansion Tax of £250 per month because of a 690% rise in the value of properties in their area, even though their wage may not have risen correspondingly or they may now be pensioners.
The inescapable fact is that we need to build more houses. Reportedly, the French have built 346,000 homes a year for the past 20 years. By contrast, annual housing completions in England totalled a reported 117,070 in the 12 months to September 2014. Population of the two countries is roughly the same.
Although I’m not against new townships I’d rather see small pockets of new building in towns and cities around the country. What about a bonus for building on brownfield sites or the relief of VAT where a small build loses out on economy of scale?
We need a fresh look at housing in Britain and we need it now.