The annual compendium of housing facts and figures was published yesterday by the Chartered Institute of Housing*. Now in its 23rd edition, it pulls together all of the key housing data and presents it in a digestible format, with lots of tables and diagrams. The analysis is particularly strong in linking housing activity to broader economic and fiscal trends and to welfare reform.
The added value of the document is the excellent commentary on the data provided by authors Steve Wilcox, John Perry and Peter Williams. I was going to summarise what I thought were the key points to emerge from their articles, but I can’t do better than Jules Birch in his quick fire blog.
Of particular importance is the huge shift that has taken place under the Coalition from financial support for affordable housing to financial support for private sector activity. This is also a shift from grant to loans and guarantees, including schemes such as Help to Buy, Build to Rent, and the PRS Guarantee. As Jules says, “The scale of these financial instruments entails state intervention in the housing market that would have been unimaginable before 2007.” Not that it seems to have done much good if you look at the other facts and figures in the Review.
As the Election approaches, the most challenging chapter for all of the political parties is John Perry’s ‘Ten unresolved issues for the next government’. What an agenda it is:
- How do we double the numbers of homes built each year?
- Can we ensure the supply of more land available for housing?
- Can we meet the housing needs of different generations and income groups?
- Can we recognise the role of housing costs in feeding the growth in working age poverty?
- How do we provide additional social housing without making rents unaffordable?
- Can the tax and regulatory systems help create a more equitable housing market?
- How do we raise the standards of new housing?
- Can we address the problems of an ageing housing stock?
- How do we stop people falling out of the system into homelessness and destitution?
- Can we develop a long-term housing strategy?
On the last point, the Review highlights the ‘come today gone tomorrow’ nature of the Minister of Housing job. It lists all 35 people to hold the role since 1945, contrasted against a chart showing housing output. Of course, some Ministers were members of the Cabinet, others not, and some held the job as part of a much larger portfolio (like Aneurin Bevan).
The abiding question is how a much poorer country managed to produce vastly more homes 60-70 years ago than we do now, and a much larger percentage of it was affordable. If the experience then can’t be repeated, at least the ambition could be. As the chart so neatly shows, the difference lies in the collapse and disappearance of public sector output in the late 1970s and early 1980s that has continued since, a deliberately created shortage in supply that has never been balanced out by an equivalent increase in private and housing association output.
From 1945-54 the Housing Ministry changed hands only once, from Bevan to Harold Macmillan. Their success can be seen in the figures. But less famously, the most productive Housing Minister of them all was Richard Crossman in the 1960s. And he had the collapse of Ronan Point to contend with.