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.


Mayor Marvin Rees' hope for Bristol: A more equitable city that can 'live with difference'

“I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city," Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

When the statue of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn from its plinth and dumped in Bristol’s harbour during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests on 7 June, mayor Marvin Rees was thrust into the spotlight. 

Refraining from direct support of the statue’s removal, the city’s first black mayor shared a different perspective on what UK home secretary Priti Patel called “sheer vandalism”:

“It is important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity,” he said in a statement at the time. “I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”

48 year-old Rees, who grew up in the city, has since expanded on his approach to the issue in an interview with CityMetric, saying “wherever you stand on that spectrum, the city needs to be a home for all of those people with all of those perspectives, even if you disagree with them.”

“We need to have the ability to live with difference, and that is the ethnic difference, racial difference, gender difference, but also different political perspectives,” he added. “I have been making that point repeatedly – and I hope that by making it, it becomes real.” 

What making that point means, in practice, for Rees is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to city governance.

Weeks after the toppling of Colston’s statue, a new installation was erected at the same spot featuring Jen Reid, a protester of Black Lives Matter. However, the installation was removed, as “it was the work and decision of a London-based artist, and it was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed”, Rees said in a statement.

Bristol may appear a prosperous city, logging the highest employment rate among the UK’s “core cities” in the second quarter of 2019. But it is still home to many areas that suffer from social and economic problems: over 70,000 people, about 15 percent of Bristol’s population, live in what are considered the top 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in England. 

In an attempt to combat this inequality, Rees has been involved in a number of projects. He has established Bristol Works, where more than 3,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are given work experience opportunities. And is now setting up a commission on social mobility. “Launching a Bristol commission on social mobility is not only about social justice; it [should not be] possible for a modern city to leave millions of pounds worth of talent on the shelf, just because the talent was born into poverty,” he says.

The mayor is also a strong supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explaining that SDGs offer a way to talk about sustainability within a framework of many issues, ranging from climate change and biodiversity to women’s issues, domestic violence, poverty and hunger.

“What we want to achieve as a city cannot be done as a city working alone,” he insists. “We don’t want to benefit only people inside Bristol, we want to benefit the planet, and the SDGs offer a framework for a global conversation,” suggesting that a vehicle should be launched that allows cities to work together, ideally with organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund involved. 

Greater collaboration between cities would be “beneficial in terms of economies of scale,” he argues, “as cities could get more competitive prices when buying materials for building houses or ordering buses, rather than each city acquiring a few of them at a higher price.”

In an attempt to focus on the long term, Rees launched One City Plan in January 2019, setting out a number of goals for Bristol to achieve by 2050.

Investing in green infrastructure to meet 2030 carbon emission targets spelled out in the SDGs is a key area here, with the mayor noting that transport, mass transit and energy are important sectors looking for further investment and government funding: “The sooner we meet our targets, the sooner we will benefit from them, and invest in sectors that will provide people with jobs.”

Jobs, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, are of paramount importance to Rees. Bristol’s council wants to ensure that any government money given to the city will be quickly passed on to businesses to help prevent redundancies, he says, though given that mass job losses seem inevitable, reskilling options are also being looked into, such as through a zero-carbon smart energy project called City Leap.

Another important area for investment in Bristol is affordable housing, with 9,000 homes already built under Rees’s term of office. “People could build a base for life with affordable housing, [and this would mean] their mental health would be better because they have a safe place,” he explains. “Children in families that have a home that is affordable are more likely to able to eat and to heat, [and they are more likely to enjoy a] better education.”

Taken in the round, Rees’s agenda for Bristol is its own blueprint for shaping history. The Colston statue now lies in safe storage, with a local museum likely to play host to the controversial monument. But the Black Lives Matters protestors were fighting for a fairer, more equal future, and it is here where Rees is determined to deliver.

Sofia Karadima is a senior editor at NS Media Group.