UK home ownership rates are at their lowest for 30 years – and the crisis goes way beyond London

You probably can't afford a house here either, to be honest. Image: Getty.

Handwringing about the housing crisis has become a national pastime. Not surprising perhaps, with home ownership becoming an increasingly unrealistic dream for many younger families.

Housing was once a London-centric issue, but there is growing evidence to suggest the crisis is spreading across the rest of the country – with Manchester and other big northern cities leading the way.

While the fall from peak ownership in the early-2000s has been sharp, the last English Housing Survey offered some hope that overall home ownership rates may have started to level out. No such luck: as the chart shows, the modest apparent uptick in 2014 looks increasingly to be no more than a blip.

And more timely data from the Labour Force Survey suggests that the downward drift has continued into 2016. As a result, English home ownership now sits at just 63.8 per cent – taking us back to levels last seen in 1986.

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Back then, the average first time buyer paid just under £30,000 for their new home. By 2015, the figure topped £150,000. With prices – and deposits – continuing to rise even as incomes have stuttered in recent years, it’s not hard to see why increasing numbers have become locked out of home ownership.

The scariest figures of course relate to central London. The average first time buyer paid just shy of £330,000 in 2015, helping to explain why just a third of households are owned by their occupiers. But inner London has always looked different: even at its peak, home ownership there only just topped 40 per cent. If it’s the decline of the property owning dream that we’re focused on, then we need to look outside the capital.

Indeed, the area with the sharpest drop in ownership over recent years is Greater Manchester. As the next chart shows, ownership there has plummeted 14 percentage points from its peak in the early 2000s. Fewer than six in ten households living in the region own their own home today – a similar level to the London suburbs. Double digit falls in home ownership have also been experienced in South and West Yorkshire, driven by Sheffield and Leeds, and the West Midlands Metropolitan Area.

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One consequence of this trend is the growth in private renting. Across England the proportion of private renters nearly doubled between 2003 and 2015 – in Greater Manchester the proportion has come closer to tripling.

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It would be wrong to assume that home ownership is the be all and end all. The obsession with getting on the housing ladder is a particularly British one, with many counterparts on the continent taking a different approach (although the decline in ownership in this country means that only Germany now has lower ownership levels than Britain across Western Europe).

But for those who don’t yet own, the desire to buy remains as clear as it’s ever been. Data from the English Housing Survey’s First Time Buyers report shatters any notion that renting is a first choice destination. Fewer than one in ten private renters say that they’ll never buy a home, just because they like it where they are; and just 3 per cent actively prefer the flexibility of renting. Worryingly, of those that never expect to buy, two-thirds (65 per cent) say it is because they can’t see themselves ever being able to afford it.


This matters not just because of the frustration it brings for those unable to buy, but because of its impact on living standard too. As we showed a month ago, housing costs have accounted for an increasing share of household income over recent decades. That’s driven by rising costs within tenures, but also by the shift towards private renting – which on average accounts for 30 per cent of income, compared with the 23 per cent figure associated with mortgages.   

Longer-term, this new housing reality also means that younger generations face more uncertain retirements, with less wealth to fall back on and potentially spiralling Housing Benefit bills.

In her inaugural speech Theresa May hinted at these issues. The hope is that, unlike her predecessors, her administration will make real progress in tackling the housing deficit. In the same speech she also made it very clear that she’d like to spread economic growth more evenly across the country. This research suggests that at present it is the housing crisis that is spreading.

Stephen Clark is a policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation.

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.