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Crisis? What crisis?

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John Stewart
Written by John Stewart

It has been described as one of the biggest threats to the UK’s financial stability – so why is it only now that people are taking the UK housing crisis seriously? RLA policy manager John Stewart asks why the issue of housing has been marginalised for so long. 

The UK is in the midst of a housing crisis. Statistics show that the supply of new housing is falling far short of demand. It is estimated that some 250,000 units are required annually.

The government is targeting 200,000 completions, but only 150,000 were built last year.

Average house prices continue to rise, costing up to seven times the average wage, as the numbers of those choosing, or forced to rent go up, with rents taking up an increasing proportion of monthly earnings.

Coupled with this, supply of land and reactionary opposition to new development create an inert planning regime.

Yet until now it has been hard to identify anyone treating housing as a priority, or giving it the profile the rhetoric would appear to warrant.

Take national government. Housing is tucked away in a Cinderella department – Communities and Local Government – with the agenda set too often by the wicked stepmother of the Treasury, supported by the ugly sisters of Work and Pensions and Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy.

Policy is characterised by a series of unconnected announcements, spread across government departments, with little sign of joined up thinking.

Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to policy in the private rented sector.

From Treasury tax grabs to DWP benefit freezes, BEIS wading in with environmental standards and consumer protection, and Home Office immigration checks, DCLG is buffeted from all sides. It’s a wonder they’ve managed a housing and planning act at all.

Looking beyond government departments, there’s no place in the National Infrastructure Commission for housing. Transport, energy supply, telecommunications are all considered nationally important infrastructure, but ensuring we provide somewhere to live is not. But it’s not just government that fails to give housing its place. A quick run through of the BBC News website will give you headline sections on Business, Science, Technology and Entertainment. Maybe housing is tucked away in Business? Only if it involves a developer or build to rent. Or Politics? Usually a local planning story.

It’s little better in the printed media. The Guardian, Telegraph, Times, FT – none have a front page link to housing issues. Again, there’s the finance pages and occasional features in lifestyle sections. And plenty of stories about how dreadful private renting has become, featuring the very worst of the sector and ignoring the millions of tenants who are satisfied with their home and landlord.

Given the British obsession with home ownership, shouldn’t our national broadcaster be able to give a bit more then Homes Under the Hammer? Could we ask that encouraging investment in homes across all tenures is a national infrastructure priority? Would it be so bad if housing took its seat at the Cabinet table, with its own Secretary of State?

Rather than tinkering with help to buy, right to buy, build to rent incentives and yet more unenforceable initiatives for the PRS, why not introduce a dedicated government department able to take a long-term, co-ordinated, cross-departmental overview?

In short, can housing be given the priority that the statistics, headlines and experience suggest it deserves?

This article is taken from the March/April 2017 Edition of Residential Property Investor, the RLA’s official members magazine, which is provided free to members. To read more join the RLA here or visit the RPI website here

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About the author

John Stewart

John Stewart

John is the Policy Manager for the RLA. He has over 20 years experience working in politics, as a successful election agent, MP’s assistant, local councillor and council leader, and is a former charity chief executive.

He oversees RLA policy work across all levels of government – central, devolved and local – working to ensure that landlords’ views are represented and officials, MPs, Assembly Members and local councillors have key information and evidence about the PRS before they take decisions.

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