It’s only a matter time before the government has no other option but to liberalise planning regulations so that more housing can be built. No amount of minor tinkering around the edges of the problem with policies such as ‘Help To Buy’ will solve the housing crisis. The problems of the UK housing market is not a consequence of foreign buyers or immigration. Even with both of these factors out of the equation there still wouldn’t have been enough housing. Housing is expensive because there is not enough of it. This problem is caused by pure government failure.
For too long, housing policy has been made on a false assumption that we are running out of green space when less than ten per cent of this country is developed, and that figure includes parks and gardens. Initially these regulations were designed to protect the countryside and prevent urban sprawl. The government failure of housing regulation was designed to prevent a future *possible* market failure. This is government regulation that was designed to stop something that hasn’t happened and may never have happened. Instead a real, acute government failure has occurred in the name of fending off an imagined market failure and a whole generation of Britons will suffer because of policy based on a misconception.
Contrary to popular misconception, the UK isn’t short on social housing. By European standards, the UK has a relatively high level of social housing. The problem arises from the fact that unprecedented demand for social housing is from middle and working class people who, a generation ago, would never have had to rely on social housing. A decline in home ownership will eventually have a knock on effect for economic growth as people won’t own homes to use as collateral to get business loans and are already saving and investing less in pension funds. Another adverse effect is that people won’t have a home to sell in order to pay for their care when they reach old age.
The human misery that results from pure policy failure in regards one of our most basic human needs, shelter, is incalculable. My grandfather paid the mortgage and fed and clothed a family of four on a single working class salary. What does it mean for families and relationships, when both parents have to work and commute long hours to afford a mortgage? Everyone in my generation now knows a couple who moved in together when they really shouldn’t have, but were tempted by rising housing costs to do so. This means there’s no choice for men and women who would prefer a traditional family. For children, this means being shuffled from child minder to babysitter and seeing their parents less.
Proponents of the Greenbelt say it is designed to ‘protect the environment,’ however, pushing commuters further into the countryside means more traffic and more emissions not to mention the inconvenience of having to commute for hours upon hours. I predict that eventually one government will be so inundated with the consequences of refusing to tackle the housing crisis, a large housing construction boom will occur all over the Greenbelt just like the post-WWII prefab building program. Building moderately on the Greenbelt now could mean saving it from development you like even less in the future. Although, prefabs are nicer these days.
In every other way, our lives are so much better than our parents, but because housing is such a fundamental need, the housing crisis has impeded our ability to enjoy our unprecedented consumer choice and freedom. Where would we be without government nobly stepping in to save us from the horrors of urban sprawl? If you’re in your late 20s and 30s, the answer is: ‘more likely to be living in a comfortable suburban home you own.