“When will the Government get a grip on the housing crisis affecting young people?” asked 18-year-old Kyle from Ealing on BBC1’s Question Time.
“Prices around here are extortionate. Why don’t young people get the same chance as their parents to own their own home?”
And It’s a very good question. One the Housing Minister (the 15th since 2010), Rachel Maclean struggled to answer.
Perhaps that’s not too surprising because her boss, Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, recently admitted that in his view, the housing model in the UK is ‘broken’.
And yet his boss, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, did not include housing among his five priorities for this Government.
But one thing is apparent – slowly but surely, the housing crisis is edging its way up the political agenda. And judging by the reaction of the people of Greenford, Ealing, in the Question Time audience, people are becoming increasingly concerned about it.
Rents at record levels, house prices unaffordable, mortgage rates too high, ability to save for deposits out of reach for too many.
Mr Gove took an opportunity to tell the truth as he sees it.
Writing the foreword for a collection of essays on housing for the Conservative Think Tank, Bright Blue and the charity, Shelter, he wrote that the Government was determined to build the new homes the country so urgently needs.
He said the ‘need was undeniable’ and ‘the current housing model – from supply to standards and the mortgage market – is broken.’
Quite the admission after 13 years of Conservative Government. And he promised that measures contained in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – currently going through Parliament – would help increase supply and put local communities more firmly in control.
But will they?
Governments in the UK (on both sides) have failed to build enough houses for decades. The target figure– which last stood at 300,000 homes per year – has now been abandoned.
Think Tank, Centre for Cities, claims that even if that target number was achieved, it would take 50 years to fill the 4.3million housing backlog.
The 300,000 target has not been achieved since the 1970s. Currently, around 220,000 homes a year are being built.
Gove believes – and many agree – that at least part of the blame lies with developers who are sitting on large chunks of already approved development land, delaying the start of construction while land values rise further.
Others, like Centre for Cities, point to the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act which laid down the rules by which planning authorities still, largely, operate.
They say that housebuilding rates in England and Wales dropped by more than a third after the Act from 2% to 1.2% and called on the Government to introduce a rules-based, flexible zoning system similar to those used in other European countries.
But according to house builders, the problem is even more complex and they point to a labour shortage in the construction industry.
And it is claimed that because of additional work like cladding removal and retrofitting homes to meet the Government’s net zero target, the industry needs to recruit 950,000 workers by 2030.
In 2022, just 11,000 construction apprentices completed courses – many of which did not enter the industry.
England and Wales currently has a home ownership rate of 65%. In London it is 47%.
Ryan Shorthouse, the chief executive of Bright Blue, said: “A Conservative government, now in power for 13 years, needs to make genuinely affordable and appropriate housing – of all different types of tenure – accessible to a much wider proportion of the population, especially younger generations and those on modest incomes.”
But perhaps we should leave the last word to Mr Gove as contained in his foreword to the publication: “Every single person in this country, no matter where they are from, what they do or how much money they earn, deserves to live in a home that is decent, safe, secure and affordable. Along with the campaigners and political colleagues who have contributed to this thoughtful collection of essays, I am more committed than ever to building a modern, radical and successful conservative housing policy that works for everyone, whether they rent or own.”