Connor Penman discusses how the housing crisis has been exasperated by Covid-19 and explores solutions to fix the broken housing market.
The system is clearly broken. With the biggest recession in 300 years on the horizon, it’s now the time for Housing Policy in the UK to take centre stage.
Homelessness in the UK is up 50% since 2010, and with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and obvious economic implications, this housing crisis looks increasingly likely to become more severe in the coming weeks and months.
Since the pandemic lockdown measures were introduced we have seen hotels open their doors to the homeless. The Government now faces the dilemma of what will become of these members of society currently occupying hotels when lockdown measures ease further and the hotels need to return to business as usual. Surely the Government who have already pledged to tackle homelessness pre-pandemic will need to shift more emphasis towards tackling the underlying policy issues which this pandemic has clearly exposed. Under New Labour homelessness was on the decline in the UK, however with the 50% increase in the last decade one can only assume this is due to either political choice or poor management
So what is the solution? Whilst I appreciate that Schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act provides renters some short term protection from eviction there is still little plan from the Government beyond September. Labour’s five point Emergency Action Plan clearly offers some pragmatic solutions such as extending the temporary ban on evictions for six months and to provide a temporary increase in housing allowance to help prevent risk of homelessness, however what more can be done to tackle the problems at root?
Why was housing in such a critical state prior to the pandemic? Well the affordability of housing is clearly the number one issue which needs to be confronted head on. Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show the Median household disposable income in the UK was £29,400 in the financial year ending 2019 i.e the amount left after direct taxes such as income tax and council tax are deducted. The average cost of a home in the UK however has now reached £226,798 (gov.uk) nearly 8 times the average average household income. In addition to this the median income for the poorest fifth of people fell by 4.3% per year over the two years up to FYE 2019. These figures clearly indicate that the recent government policy has done nothing to improve matters in fact is has clearly become harder for the poorest in society to own their own home.
This is a simple case of the supply of housing not keeping up with the economic growth of employment within the UK. Year after year insufficient number of new build homes are being constructed. It is time for the Government to take a more in-depth review as to how it can work constructively (pardon the pun) with industry to tackle the problem and ensure more houses are built in a shorter space of time. The government needs to ensure more affordable homes are built and fast. Clearly more young people are moving towards major cities so it is important they don’t just look at a national policy but how regional focus can effect the worst impacted areas.
The UK can also look at countries such as Canada in which the introduction of sale taxes on foreign investments in property has seen prices flatten in areas such as Vancouver and Toronto which had previously been rising at 30% year on year. In addition to this serious investment in socially rented housing and a review of private renter regulation proposals; successive governments have allowed the erosion of such regulation resulting in poorer quality homes and reducing affordability.
Perhaps it is time to re-define ‘affordable living’; with the average age of the first time buyer steadily increasing. Is the next generation expected to stay at home with their parents into their 40’s? It is clear that the housing market has been a serious issue for a number of years in the UK and the current crisis has only shone a spotlight on a broken system which needs to be fixed.
Connor is a Commercial Consultant in the Construction Industry who has worked on a number of high profile projects from the London 2012 Olympics Games to Datacenters in Denmark. He is an avid Labour supporter and actively engaged in Local politics in his Native North East.