What led to the housing shortage, and is there a way out?

The housing deficit has now reached four million homes in England alone. How did we get to this situation – and can anything be done?


  • Jan Ambrose

22 July 2019

Previous articles in these pages and reader responses have confirmed that the housing situation in the UK is dire, and offered some proposed solutions from RICS residential surveyors. Of course, Parliament has been obsessed with Brexit but the UK's departure from the EU is a comparatively new phenomenon; conversely the Barker review of housing supply was published in 2004 outlining the problem as it stood and making recommendations to resolve it. So where are we now?

In summer 2018 the National Housing Federation published research by Heriot-Watt University showing the deficit has reached a horrifying 4m homes in England alone. To meet this need and provide for future demand, it says the country needs to build 340,000 homes each year until 2031. Previous pledges by politicians of all parties to build hundreds of thousands of houses annually have neither specified the types of property nor, crucially, whether the proposed developments will include affordable homes.

Added to this, the promised numbers of homes have not materialised. This failure to confront the problem has seen a huge nationwide increase in homelessness, created Generation Rent, the Boomerang Generation – where children return to their parents' home after graduating and remain there beyond the age of 30 – and the bank of mum and dad. Some parents are even taking out equity release on their own homes to help their offspring get a foot on the housing ladder.

"This failure to confront the problem has seen a huge nationwide increase in homelessness"

Another nasty development is the Sandwich Generation; because renting and buying is so expensive, couples in their 30s and 40s who own homes both need to be in salaried employment, relying on their own ageing parents to help with children. If their parents become ill the homeowners have to look after their own children and parents alike, while coping with demanding jobs.

Tommy de Mallet Morgan, managing director of prime and super-prime property agency de Mallet Morgan agrees with other readers that selling off council housing was – and is – a mistake.

He questions whether the bank of mum and dad can continue subsiding their children while saving for ever-increasing care home fees, and adds that the state must subsidise properties, as many renters cannot afford a mortgage.

RICS member Richard Mikula wrote a letter in the Daily Mail of 21 January maintaining that Brexit cannot be blamed for the housing crisis. He wrote: "Social housing has taken a back seat because politicians, town planners and developers have seen fit to turn many of our town and city centres into student bedsit land... Many family homes have been converted into flats while shared houses ... are replicas of Victorian dosshouses with absent landlords cramming in as many tenants as possible."

In other discouraging news, research by construction data analysts Glenigan shows that social housing construction is down by 4% as cash is being diverted to repairs by registered social landlords in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The government's 80-page research briefing published on 12 December 2018 doesn't do much to help either; a lot of the information is covered in existing research that is easily available online, and merely confirms facts of which most people are aware.

Nothing short of a miracle will enable any party in power to keep its promises to build more than 4m homes. There are issues with construction resources, planning, land allocation, funding and development, and skills and innovation that are not going to be settled overnight. But politicians cannot kick this huge and ever-worsening problem into the long grass for another 15 years, and RICS members are obviously mystified by their failure to deal with it. Their suggestions may be imperfect but no one expects an easy or swift answer. Practical solutions are available and positive action is needed now.

Jan Ambrose is editor of the residential section of Property Journal

Related competencies include: Housing strategy and provision

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