In November last year Cameron, unveiling his master plan to get everyone a mortgage and boost the housing market, proclaimed with gusto: “You always remember the moment, if you’ve done it, when you get the key to your first flat. It’s a magic moment. It’s a moment I want everyone in this country to have, not just the better-off”. That was then, 7 months ago.
Yesterday we were told by the Rowntree Foundation that the number of young people (18-30 year olds) owning their own properties will nearly halve from 2.4m in 2008 to 1.3m in 2020, while the number “living with Mum and Dad” rises will rise over the same period to 3.7m. At the same time Grant Shapps, the anti-housing minister, plans to stop ‘high-earning’ tenants from having a local authority-owned house in order to keep social homes for ‘those most in need’ or, to put it without the spin, to turn Council estates into transit camps for the poor.
To tackle the catastrophe that is housing in the UK, the government is now resorting to sheer fantasy. Shapps says, without it seems a hint of irony, that the government will deliver 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015. The truth is that the supply of affordable homes is dropping like a stone. It fell last year by two-thirds from 49,000 to just 15,000 affordable homes under construction. On that trend, with prolonged contraction of the economy, it will be lucky if a quarter of the government’s figure is built within the next 3 years.
Shapps also pouts about the alleged £4.5bn “building programme set to exceed all original expectations”. What he doesn’t say is that, even if this materialises, which is highly unlikely as austerity tightens, it does no more than restore the £4bn axed from the housing budget in 2010-11.
The terrible truth about the housing situation is that house-building is now at its lowest level since 1923, owner-occupation is falling from three-quarters to below two-thirds within the next decade as rents and house prices are expected to jump by at least 20%, and three-quarters of Residential Letting Agents are saying that demand now vastly outstrips supply.
The unutterable tragedy of housing is that it, uniquely, provides a solution simultaneously to the three most pressing problems in Britain today – job creation, housing that millions need but are currently locked out of, and a kick-start to a dormant economy. So why doesn’t the government do it? It’s because only the public sector can start this process when the private sector flat on its back won’t do it for lack of demand, yet the government won’t touch it because for these Tories the public sector is ideologically anathema and out of bounds.