The British housing crisis, in five charts

Neeeeever gonna happen, mate. Image: Getty.

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.

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.


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.