By Tony Sutcliffe
In 1951 the population of the UK was 50.2 million, in approximately 12.4 million households, an average of 3.2 people per household. By 2011, the population had grown to 63.2 million, a growth of about 25% in 60 years. However, the number of households in 2011 had increased to 24.8 million, with an average of 2.3 people per household, almost double the previous figure. This has been due to a number of changing demographic factors; smaller numbers of people within households, an aging population, and more people living on their own. (Source: ONS)
The figures show that from 1951 to 2011 the population growth has been comparatively steady, although between 2011 & 2016, the estimates seem to indicate a slight upward trend in both population and in the number of households. But at no time has this been matched by a growth in the amount of housing stock being built or replaced; and in some years the shortfall has been particularly severe.
Figures from the NHBC & NHF indicate that with the growth in population, combined with the change in household sizes, an average of between 220,000 & 250,000 houses were needed to be built during the period 1951 and 2016. However, the only year in which the UK came close to meeting that figure was in 1977 when 217,000 houses were built. The average number per year built throughout the 60 year period was just over 160,000; a consistent shortfall that has put increasing pressure on the housing market that is now really becoming a major problem for the country.
The current government has set out some ambitious plans for housing development, but there is very little indication that they will be able to achieve these numbers or even anywhere near the numbers. There is a shortage of suitable land for building, and a considerable amount of speculation is taking place; as potential sites are identified, there is a scramble to purchase the property, as once outline planning permission is granted, the land value increases substantially, and fortunes can be made just on the transfer of land.
However, even when suitable sites are identified, there is a significant problem with the actual development process. The major players are aggressively challenging any requirements for them to include the appropriate infrastructure to go with the houses that they build. Failure to include roads, shops, schools and other facilities means that the taxpayer then has to pay for these items to be added at a later stage; and often at an increased price.
The argument usually made is that the developer cannot include these items and still make a profit; a claim that would seem to be unsupportable, as all developers in the last 5 years have reported substantial profit increases and made generous bonus or dividend payments to their senior managers.
A key Liberal Democrat policy is that everyone should have a place that they can call home. This might be one they own or are purchasing with a mortgage, or it might be rented, through some form of the social housing structure, or even from the private sector. However, whatever the legal status, it should be fit for human habitation.
Too many people in the UK are struggling to find somewhere to live. The number of rough sleepers has increased in the last few years, and far too many families are technically homeless, living in temporary accommodation. Amongst those buying their homes, 1 in 3 are just one mortgage payment away from losing that home according to a report by the housing association Shelter last year; a total of 8 million households. A recent report has also identified that more than a million households renting from the private sector risk being evicted in the next 3 years due to increasing rents.
It’s time for a change.
Tony is a passionate local activist in Taunton and has a Masters in Computing for Commerce and Industry.