Housing: A basic human right?

According to the charity Shelter, three million new social homes must be built in England over the next 20 years of which 1.2 million homes are needed for younger families who cannot afford to buy and “face a lifetime in expensive and insecure private renting”. The Government intends to build 250,000 homes by 2022, including homes for rent.

Travelling around the UK one gets the impression that there is more house building going on than ever before gobbling up agricultural land. This is at the time that we are leaving the EU, the “single market” and the “common agriculture policy”. About 30% of all our food is currently imported from EU Countries and for some products it is 100%. In 2016 more than £30.3bn of Britain’s food imports and £12.3bn of its food exports were with the EU, highlighting the scale of economic disruption if the current trade negotiations result in tariffs.

With Boris Johnson claiming he will walk away if trade negotiations are not going well by June, World Trade Organisation rules could impose average food import tariffs of 22% and lead to delays shortening the shelf-life of products. Therefore there will be increasing demand for home-produced food at a time agricultural land is being swallowed up and the Government’s proposed “points-based immigration policy” may deny our farmers the very labour they depend upon.

Since the Second World War, there has been a 65% reduction in the number of farms in the UK and a 77% reduction in the number of people employed in agriculture. Remarkably productivity has increased fourfold.

There are currently 23.07million acres of agricultural land in the UK although it has not been possible to calculate how much land has been lost since the end of the Second World War. What we do know is that the population of the UK was 48.67m in 1945 compared with 66.44m now. During the Second World War, when we could not get food from Europe, people were encouraged to have allotments, which have also declined, to supplement vegetables produced by the then number of farms.

Therefore one must ask how many new homes do we actually need? Statistics published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government put the number of empty homes in England in October 2018 at 634,453 – up 4.7% on the previous year. The number of households grew by 0.9% to 27.8 million in 2019.

Since 2017, an additional 292,000 people aged 16 and over are estimated to live alone bringing the total number of one-person households to just over 8 million in 2018 (15% of the UK adult population). 2.2 million people aged 75 and over are living alone. Older people who live alone are twice as likely to visit A & E. Many of these older people who are in three and four-bedroom houses will wish to stay in the home they know, where their memories are and where their children can visit. Others would downsize if suitable housing were available and if the cost of moving – i.e. stamp duty, estate agents fees, removal costs and legal fees etc. – were not so great. The Government might consider some financial incentive for older people who wish to downsize in order to free up family homes.

With 634,453 empty houses and 8m single-person households, it should not be beyond the ingenuity of the human race to meet the alleged shortfall of 1.2m homes without swallowing up more agricultural land. However, with so much money to be made out of the current system and house building, it is doubtful that this will happen.

* Chris Perry is a former Director of Social Services for South Glamorgan County Council, a former Management Consultant, a former Non-Executive Director of the Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare NHS Trust, a former Director of Age Concern Hampshire and a former presenter of a weekly current affairs programme on Express FM. Now retired.

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13 Comments

  • Land. Value. Tax.

  • there should be no such thing as social rent.
    only morgages…

  • Very good point. In the clamour to build we sometimes forget to utilise the existing housing stock. A similar thought occurred to the Tories who thought that a financial incentive to get social housing tenants out of houses that were arguably too big for them might be a good idea. That one ended in tears.
    And Jock, just exactly how does taking cash off folk who happen to have a nice house (but may be cash poor) put a roof over the most needy heads ?

  • Shelter has been doing good work on land issues https://blog.shelter.org.uk/2018/01/inching-towards-better-land-value-sharing/

    If you are coming to Conference do visit the ALTER stand t find out how Land Value Tax can address the housing shortage.
    Under-occupation of houses is encouraged by the tax system, resulting in 25 million surplus bedrooms. The housing crisis is in fact a symptom of a much wider social malaise: growing wealth inequality, and the growing inter-generational divide in which “the money borrowed by young families” to enable them to buy the smallest new homes in Europe ends up “in the bank accounts of older households” .
    The ‘family home’ is increasingly not occupied by anyone actually raising a family. Furthermore, by the time a family with children can afford to buy a home with enough bedrooms for the kids to sleep in, lenders except ‘the bank of mum and dad’ will soon turn them down for a mortgage. Poorer first time buyers without wealthy parental support are now aged 37 on average: a typical 25-year loan will leave little time left, after its repayment, to save for that pension before retirement comes!
    LVT gives a strong financial incentive for all households to minimise under-occupation and cease to treat their home as a principal store of wealth.
    Despite being priced out of the housing market in so many ways, young people still overwhelmingly aspire to own their own homes. Yet it is estimated that on current trends barely a half of those aged 20 now will ever buy one. Inter-generational
    unfairness in this market is systemic and combines with wealth inequality to create disillusion among young people.

  • Chris Perry 11th March 2020 – 3:30 pm:
    World Trade Organisation rules could impose average food import tariffs of 22% and lead to delays shortening the shelf-life of products.

    WTO rules do not “impose” any tariffs on us. Outside of the EU Customs Union we are free to reduce or suspend any tariff we wish. If we leave on our existing WTO terms the government would likely apply similar tariffs to those in the previously published table which removed tariffs on most foods. Why levy a tariff on citrus fruit when we aren’t a producer? Tariffs on meat and fish were set to maintain current prices, balancing the interests of consumers and farmers. Some protectionist tariffs were to be retained on foods we don’t produce (e.g. cocoa and rice) to protect the exports of developing countries with which we have continuing Preferential Trade Agreements…

    ‘Non-preferential tariff rates and quotas on imports if the UK leaves the EU with no deal’:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/temporary-rates-of-customs-duty-on-imports-after-eu-exit/mfn-and-tariff-quota-rates-of-customs-duty-on-imports-if-the-uk-leaves-the-eu-with-no-deal

    If your goods are not listed on this page, you will not have to pay customs duty (tariff) when importing them into the UK.

    ‘Households could save £8.3bn a year from post-Brexit plan to slash tariffs’ [February 2020]:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2020/02/06/government-says-will-cut-tariffs-benefit-british-consumers-post/

    Scrapping ‘nuisance tariffs’ on imports, such as those under 2.5pc, could cut prices for 27.8m households by £300 a year.
    […]

    Many tariffs will fall sharply, with “nuisance” charges of less than 2.5pc cut to zero in a bid to slash costs for families and manufacturers.

    International Trade Secretary Liz Truss promised radically simpler rules once the UK is free from the European Union’s tariff system.

    This will replace the EU’s Common External Tariff, which has long been criticised for its complexity and protectionism. For example, there are more than 13,000 different duties on 27 types of items classed as biscuits and confectionery under Brussels rules.

  • As you say it can be a very profitable thing. Their is no incentive to be sensible what is built or where…I do go on about modular housing but as they are made like construction kits they can be dismantled transported to where they may be needed. S A city declines people move away houses not needed they can be de-constructed and moved to where the y are needed.Money could be paid to landowners by the govnt for land thus releasing the land .The builder gets his money from the renter or mortgager. charging a lower price cos the land value has been taken from the equation.

  • @ Spider ” The rot started years ago under Labour when mortgage controls were lifted.”

    A more thoughtful offering might have been, ” The rot started years ago under Thatcher when Council housing was sold off for a song”.

    There might also have been an historical query about whatever happened to the ‘homes fit for heroes’ that were going to be built by Lloyd George ?

  • William Francis 11th Mar ’20 – 6:38pm:
    That’s only if we adopt unilateral free trade.

    The government’s previously published tariff table I linked to is not “unilateral free trade”. For example, the retained 10% tariff on motor vehicles does not constitute free trade; it’s the same protectionist tariff as the EU.

  • Rhys Taylor 12th Mar '20 - 1:13pm

    We do have to be mindful of existing stock but the backlog of unmet need, the affordability challenges in the PRS and ownership, homelessness projections and the need to ensure that everyone has access to an affordable home make those estimates necessary.

    Also the idea that there should be no social rent and only mortgages? Seriously?

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