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Why does the UK have a housing crisis?

A shortage of affordable homes and surging prices are keeping people off the housing ladder

The UK is embroiled in a housing crisis.

Surging prices and a shortage of homes means it is difficult to get on the property ladder to buy a home and renting is the only option for many and that, too, can be unaffordable.

The result means more people are living in poverty as they struggle to pay housing costs that eat up large proportions of their income, meanwhile others face eviction and homelessness if they are unable to keep up with rent.

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And that’s before taking into account the rising cost of living with inflation and energy bills both starting to bite.

So how did we get to a point where house prices and rents are rising as quickly as any time on record? Let The Big Issue explain.

What is meant by the term housing crisis?

To put it simply, a chronic lack of homes that are available and affordable is described as a housing crisis.

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There simply are not enough of the type of homes people need and that can lead to homelessness, people trapped in temporary accommodation or stuck paying over the odds for housing and that can force people into poverty.

When did the UK housing crisis start?

The housing crisis in the UK is not a new phenomenon and can be traced back more than 30 years.

The building blocks of the current housing system were largely put in place at the end of the World War I, which ushered in an era of social housing.

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But the introduction of Right to Buy in the 80s saw much of the UK’s social housing stock disappear into private hands and since then successive governments have failed to build enough to replace the properties being lost. 

Meanwhile, some homes that are described as “affordable” are not actually tied to local incomes and are actually out of the price range of people looking to buy them.

What is the main cause of the housing crisis?

There is just simply not enough affordable housing to go around.

That means there is a scarcity of genuinely affordable homes that has driven up prices and seen less people able to buy their home, now more than four million households are in the private rented sector in England.

Many renters could be paying a cheaper mortgage but are unable to save up for a deposit or get a mortgage because high rents are eroding their savings.

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The results are there for all to see – both rents and house prices are surging.

Private rents have risen by two per cent in the 12 months leading up to January, according to the Office for National Statistics – the largest growth rate since 2017.

Meanwhile the statistics body also said the average UK house price increased by 10.8 per cent in the year up to December 2021.

Iain McKenzie, chief executive of The Guild of Property Professionals, said: “For thousands of people that were looking to get onto the property ladder before the pandemic, this could have put their first house out of reach.

“With mortgage approvals increasing, and demand remaining resilient, it is unlikely we will see a dramatic shift in the direction prices are going in the short term.”

Why does the UK need more houses?

It’s not just a case of replacing houses that need to be demolished or are sold off into the private sector – more homes are required because the UK’s population is also slowly growing.

There were just over 67 million people living in the UK in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics’ latest estimate. This was a rise of 284,000 in a year and has followed the trend of recent years where the population has been slowly creeping up, though it is currently growing at the slowest rate for two decades.

More houses are needed because of climate change too. Some of the UK’s 29 million homes are situated in coastal areas that will become inhospitable due to rising sea levels while others are so old that it will be difficult or costly to retrofit them with more climate friendly insulation and other changes.

How can the UK housing crisis be solved?

Building houses is the simple answer, particularly more affordable homes for people to buy and rent.

The Westminster government has been targeting building 300,000 homes annually in recent years but is yet to hit that mark. There is also an £11bn Affordable Housing Programme to build 180,000 affordable homes in the next five years.

Meanwhile, Scotland is targeting 100,000 more affordable homes by 2032 with at least 70 per cent described as social rent – the most affordable tenure of housing.

The Welsh government met its target of building 20,000 affordable homes in the last Senedd term and plans to build another 2,500 homes in the next five years.

But with historic shortages, question marks remain over whether hitting these targets could end the housing crisis.

Housing charity Shelter has called for 90,000 good quality social homes to be built every year. 
“We have been losing social homes to sales and demolitions far faster than we’re building new ones. Last year we built less than 6,000 new social homes and that just isn’t good enough. We need serious investment from the government for a new high-quality generation of social housing, or we will continue to see homes disappear while waiting lists grow,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter.

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