The signs of housing stress accumulate. On top of established problems of affordability among young people living independently we are seeing increasing numbers of households sharing and a rise in multigenerational households as children find it more and more difficult to leave the parental home.
A sense of injustice about the state of the housing market sits just below the surface of many conversations across generations. It doesn’t take much to trigger some heated words from those who feel they have been shut out of the housing market by the selfish actions of their elders. Something I experienced again the other day.
Allister Heath has a comment piece in today’s Telegraph in which he highlights what he describes as Westminster’s deafening conspiracy of silence over the major policy challenges facing the UK. He highlights three policy areas. The first two are funding the NHS and dealing with the public spending deficit.
The third is the dysfunction of the housing market. Here he argues:
All the parties agree that far too few homes are being built; but the solutions on offer are woefully inadequate, and wilfully misrepresent the true scale and scope of the problem. Britain’s housing stock is of insufficient quality; its new-builds are frequently in the wrong place and are far smaller than those found in other Western countries; and, crucially, prices are far too high and rising, crushing the home-ownership dreams of millions.
That is an analysis that many housing commentators would broadly agree with, even if they are not in the habit of agreeing with Heath’s uber free-market approach to dealing with this – indeed, any and every – problem.
The problem here is typically diagnosed as being that politicians feel constrained to offer relatively modest policy solutions and tinkering round the edges because they fear voters will reject anything more radical. The views of older NIMBY and BANANA voters, seeking to preserve their property values, prevail.
Many commentators call for greater bravery from politicians. There is a need to tell a better story about the benefits of local development. Our leaders need to provide a more convincing narrative about the social and economic benefits of new development in order to overcome local resistance. This was one of the themes of this week’s Elphicke-House report on the role of local authorities in housing supply.
But what if the diagnosis is wrong? Or, rather, what if it is out of date?
This week Shelter have provided some useful commentary based on recent British Social Attitudes data. The argument is that as housing problems have become more acute – more self-evident and touching directly and indirectly on more people’s lives – so the opposition to development has softened.
Indeed, it can credibly be argued that over the last three or four years opinion has swung strongly in favour of more housing development.
Those who primarily focus their attention on the micro-machinations within the Westminster Bubble may well have missed some very important shifts in the broader context. No doubt it will take political bravery to break away from the conspiracy of minimal policy ambition. But it may be that the task is to push at a partially open, rather than locked and bolted, door.