Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Britain’s housing crisis: the facts tell the story

The news that Abbey, Britain's second largest home loan provider, is offering borrowers five times their salary, instead of the usual three, in order to help them get onto the property ladder, is a desperate indication of Britain’s housing crisis. The facts and figures really speak for themselves. Increasing numbers of people are in housing debt, unable to meet their mortgage payments and face losing their homes through repossession. Some 770,000 are estimated to have missed a payment in the last 12 months. Almost seven million people would like to buy a home but can’t afford to because of soaring house prices. The average British home costs £179,000 - 187% more than it did a decade ago – with repayments running at about £1,000 a month. The average price of a London home is expected to reach £400,000 by 2011 as things stand. Some 100,000 homeless households are living in temporary accommodation. Over a million children are growing up in overcrowded, unfit or emergency housing, suffer from serious health problems and poor education. There are 585,000 empty homes in England alone.

Meanwhile, the London Housing Federation is warning: "With London’s population expected to increase by 800,000 over the next decade, London’s housing crisis looks set to deepen. There are already over 300,000 people on waiting lists for affordable housing across the capital, more than 63,000 households are in temporary accommodation and one London home in 20 is overcrowded. The number of new affordable homes funded by the government is still being outstripped by those sold through right to buy: 11,549 affordable homes were sold last year and 6,037 built." LHF head Berwyn Kinsey added: "Londoners are increasingly left with the choice of expensive rental accommodation, living in house shares or with parents, or leaving the capital altogether. Many thousands more are homeless or living in overcrowded conditions as demand for affordable housing outstrips supply."

Research into housing need carried out on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by economist Alan Holmans was published in 1995. Holmans concluded that at least 117,000 new social rented homes per year would need to be provided from 1991 to 2011. He identified a need for at least 90,000 new rented homes per year over 1991-2001 rising to 100,000 per year until 2011, with a further 500,000 homes required to clear the backlog of unmet need. What is New Labour’s record? A House of Commons research paper into housing need, calculates that in the last eight years, the total number of new homes built for rent in England since 1998 is 128,157, or just over an average of 16,000 a year compared with Holman’s figure of 100,000. The Tories actually did better. In the last year eight years of the previous Tory government, more than 192,000 homes for rent were built by housing associations. New Labour’s obsession with home ownership and market "solutions" has helped create a massive housing crisis in Britain. Now the average person cannot afford a mortgage, is highly unlikely to access rented social housing and is left with a private sector that charges exorbitant rents for not very much. Meanwhile, the Bank of England seems certain to raise interest rates shortly, sending even more home owners into debt and increasing the level of repossessions. Who needs the Tories when you’ve got New Labour?

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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