Three charts to show why everyone is so bloody furious all the time

People are angry. Image: Channel 4.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

There’s a concept in economics, developed by the American economist Arthur Okun, called the “Misery Index”. It’s created by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate: the combined number, Okun argued, would give a quick sense of how the average citizen was feeling about the economy.

The average British citizen these days is clearly feeling, well, a bit pissed off. It’s difficult to point to commonalities between the results of the Brexit referendum and last month’s general election: both were, from one point of view, shock results, but the demographics and locations of the voters that provided that shock were very different.

What both reflected, though, is that people are pretty bloody frustrated about the state of things – and so, are looking for an excuse to kick the government of the day.

Unfortunately, though, the misery index is pretty unlikely to reflect this. Unemployment has remained surprisingly low throughout the post-crash period. Inflation, too, has only recently started to tick upwards to any significant degree (thanks, Brexit). And yet, clearly, people are clearly annoyed.

So are there any economic stats which might make more sense as the building blocks for a contemporary British misery index?

The following chart shows real wage growth in the larger British cities between 2004 and 2016. Or at least it would, if there had been any: in nearly three-quarters of cities, buying power has actually fallen.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

Counter-intuitively, perhaps, many of the cities where it’s fallen by the most are the South East. My guess is that reflects the decline of the banker’s bonus culture which were distorting the averages, but that is a guess.

Here’s another chart: this one is the percentage change in house prices. These – sit down, this may come as a shock – have continued to rise, even though wages haven’t.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

These things are imperfect measures. For one thing, averages can mislead. For another, an increase in house prices doesn’t hurt everyone: in fact, it’s rather a good thing if you happen to own a house. Both measures disproportionately affect the young.

But nonetheless, they go some way, I think, to explaining the sheer level of frustration with the establishment making the rounds of British politics at the moment. Wages have fallen; costs have increased. Economic life, for many people, is worse than it was a decade ago.

Here’s one last chart, combining the figures from the previous two. In every British city for which we have data, house prices have risen. In fact, in every one of them, they’ve risen faster than wages.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

Why are people so angry? Duh.

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

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Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.