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Housing

Renting is up and home ownership down since 2011, according to latest Census data 

In further evidence of the yawning inequality in the UK and near-permanent housing crisis, new data has revealed that home ownership has dropped over the last decade in England and Wales while the number of renting households has increased.

The latest figures from the 2021 Census focus on the housing sector and confirm what anyone with a passing familiarity with the UK housing market has known for a while.

Over the past decade, the percentage of households that own their own home has decreased by 1.8 per cent, to almost two-thirds of households, and the percentage who rent has increased by 3 per cent, to just over a third.

Evictions from rental properties are one of the biggest causes of homelessness, and recent figures show evictions are on the rise. But millions of Britons have it cosy, with more than 17 million households saying they have more bedrooms than they need.

The number of people living in flats or maisonettes increased by more than half a million, and there has also been a decrease in the proportion of households that lived rent free, from 1.4 per cent in 2011, to only 0.1 per cent in 2021. 

Samuel Hughes, head of housing at the Centre for Policy Studies, a centre-right think tank, called today’s Census data “dismaying but unsurprising.” 

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“Britain has an intense housing shortage because we don’t permit enough new homes to be built. This shortage makes it harder for people to buy and drives up rents,” he told the Big Issue. “For a whole generation, home ownership is becoming an impossible ideal.”

London had the lowest level of home ownership among regions in the survey, with less than half (46.8 per cent) owning the property they lived in. The south west and south east of the country had the highest levels, where around two-thirds of people own their homes.

Boris Johnson’s 2019 Conservative manifesto pledged to “continue to increase the number of homes being built,” and said that it would “rebalance the housing market towards more home ownership.” However, data reveals that for many people, home ownership is getting further out of reach. 

In 2021, full-time employees could typically expect to spend around 9.1 times their workplace-based annual earnings on purchasing a home in England, up from 7.9 times in 2020.

In Wales, a full-time employee could typically expect to spend around 6.4 times their workplace-based annual earnings on purchasing a home, up from 5.8 times the previous year.

Adam Hawksbee, deputy director of conservative think tank Onward, told the Big Issue that a decrease in home ownership should worry the government. “Too many people are struggling to get on the housing ladder, particularly aspirational young families that have historically voted Conservative. Ministers need to accelerate plans to build more homes and increase access to the housing that already exists.” 

Anny Cullum, policy and research officer at renters’ union ACORN, said that a lack of social housing is forcing more people to turn to the private rental sector to meet their housing needs. 

“It is essential that this Government brings forward the long-awaited Renters Reform Bill and a Decent Homes Standard for the private rental sector, to make sure that the growing number of renters in this country have the security, protection, and good standard of homes that we all need,” she said.

“With runaway rents and more people struggling with mortgage payments as the cost of living crisis bites, we also need immediate action from this Government to address the unaffordability of housing and to avoid rent debt, eviction and homelessness.” 

Daniel Pryor, head of research at neoliberal think tank Adam Smith Institute told the Big Issue that both the Conservatives and Labour will need to set out a package of planning reforms that incentivises house building if they want to win over drifting aspirational voters. 

He said, “The decline in the proportion of households which own their own home should be of major concern to the Government. It is clear that hard-working Brits are being priced out of the market, and the increased number of renters are being equally pummelled by soaring costs.”

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

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