Our prime ministers aren’t building houses – that’s why there’s a crisis

Cameron built the fewest houses of any leader since 1923

Image: Number 10

Home ownership in England has slumped to a 30-year low, a new report by the Resolution Foundation confirms today. From its 2003 peak of 71 per cent, home ownership has retreated as the country’s most prolific tenure, with 64 per cent of households in England now owning outright or with a mortgage.

These are levels of home ownership not seen since Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy council housing scheme shifted into top gear in 1986.

The housing and affordability crisis in London is well documented. But the Resolution Foundation reveals that cities in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine have experienced between 10 and 15 per cent falls in home ownership from their peak years of about a decade ago.

A review of home ownership affordability exposes why the tenure is out reach of the majority of earners, despite a range of subsidies put in place by Cameron-led governments since 2010.

The ratio of the median house price to earnings in England has increased from 3.6 to 7.6 over the last twenty years, and today is greater than at the high point of the housing boom in 2007.

In inner London, the average house price is now 13.4 times average income – up from 5.2 in 1997.

In some inner London boroughs the unaffordability of home ownership is even more pronounced – the average house price in Kensington and Chelsea is 39.7 times average earnings for the borough and in Westminster it is 24.2.

As the Resolution Foundation points out, the North and the Midlands are not immune from deepening affordability problems. Greater Manchester has an average house price to average earnings ratio of 5.2 compared with 2.8 back in 1997.

The West Midlands conurbation has seen the affordability ratio worsen from 3.0 to 5.4 over the same period.

The decline in home ownership tracks back to the long housing boom from the mid-1990s to 2007, with house-building failing to keep pace with demand, so rapidly inflating housing prices.

And subsequent poor construction performance post-2008, when the international financial crisis hit, and stagnant earnings, have stoked affordability problems in the home ownership sector.

Research by the Human City Institute has shown how a chronic lack of new housing supply has created the current housing crisis and contributed fundamentally to the unattainability of home ownership and its associated decline.

John Healey MP, former Housing and Shadow Housing Minister, and a key supporter of the save social housing campaign group SHOUT, has recently published figures showing the average number of homes built annually by prime ministers from Baldwin in 1919 to Cameron in 2015.

Cameron achieves the lowest average for almost a century with under 124,000 homes built yearly. This contrasts with almost 290,000 homes provided annually by prime ministers from Churchill to Callaghan. Even Thatcher achieved an average 191,000 in the 1990s.

Our research, illustrated in the chart above, builds on Healey’s by taking into account the growing national population between 1919 and 2015 and calculates the average prime ministerial house-building performance per 1,000 people. This shows an even more lamentable house-building performance in recent times.

Cameron achieved just 2.2 homes per 1,000 people in England and Wales whereas the annual achievement in the Churchill – Callaghan era averaged 5.9 to 7.5 homes. The chart illustrates that the last four prime ministers – Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron – all failed to achieve the number of new homes since Baldwin in 1923, and even fall short of Attlee’s feat in the wake of the Second World War.

The result is more young people pushed into an expensive and insecure private rented sector, increasingly controlled by buy-to-let landlords, with a resultant ballooning housing benefit bill and widening wealth gap with older home owners.

Kevin Gulliver – @kevingulliver – is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, is former Chair of the Centre for Community Research, and part of the SHOUT save social housing campaign, but writes in a personal capacity.

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