In her first speech as Prime Minister, on the steps of No 10,...
The home is most people’s sanctuary, where they can relax and recover from the stresses of daily life, raise a family and invite family and friends. The reality that we don’t have enough homes for everyone is a serious matter. Population growth through immigration, people living longer and family breakdown have increased demand for housing not matched by the building of sufficient new houses.
It is estimated that up to 300,000 new homes need to be built every year to meet the demand, but last year only 146.400 were built. There is a cumulative shortfall of up to three million properties. This has severe social consequences.
First, house prices have risen so that young people have to wait longer before they can afford to buy a house. The average house price in June this year was £214,000 and it is much higher in London. The average age of a first time purchaser is now 38 and expected to be 41 by 2025. For some that creates a problem of finding a job and may mean postponing marriage and having children. For some it may even mean delaying retirement until the mortgage is paid off. Renting is the alternative to buying a home but rents take a large slice of one’s income making saving for a deposit for a mortgage more difficult. Tenancies can be short term making frequent moves necessary, some properties are sub-standard and some landlords are rogues.
All this makes housing a major policy issue for Government. Since the Thatcher Government the public sector does not build houses itself and looks to property developers and Housing Associations to do that. The building industry is dominated by a few large firms who have been accused of hoarding land with planning permission until house prices rise in order to maximise their profits. They in turn blame local authorities for their slowness in granting planning permission which Town Halls say is the result of cuts in their grants from Whitehall. Another factor is sometimes the pressure exerted on local authorities by nimby’s (not in my backyard) to deny planning permission for affordable social housing projects to preserve their own property values.
Christian values about the dignity of everyone made in God’s image and Jesus’ teaching about loving one’s needy neighbour will make resolving the housing crisis something that needs to be a top priority for the Government between now and the next election.
So what can Government do to tackle this problem? In 2013 the Cameron Government introduced a Help to Buy scheme that enabled first time buyers to put down a 5% deposit on a property worth less than £600,000 and get a Government backed mortgage. The 5% deposit on a £172,000 property was £8600, not the £43,000 a standard 25% deposit would have required. 86,000 houses were bought under this scheme, but the May Government is scrapping the scheme at the end of this year.
The present Government is opening a £3billion Home Builders Fund to encourage SME builders to build more than 225,000 homes. Secondly, they will make Government-owned land available and partner with contractors to speed up house building, setting a target of another 15,000 homes by 2020. Thirdly, they are encouraging more building on brownfield sites. A White Paper is promised before the end of the year including a target of a million new homes by 2020. Critics want the Government to make it easier for local authorities to partner with housing associations, borrowing funds whilst interest rates are so low, to build more social housing.