As politicians fiddle, home ownership collapses

The new English Housing Survey is out today, the last of this Parliament. And if you want to understand why housing has become a top 5 issue for voters heading in to the election – or why, despite an improved economy, families remain gloomy about the future, take a quick look at it.

It shows that the shortage of homes is having a profound effect:

  • Homeownership has declined again, reaching its lowest level in 29 years . The clock on the great ‘home owning democracy’ has been turned right back.
  • Looking under the bonnet, overwhelmingly this is being driven by a collapse in ownership with a mortgage, specifically among those aged 25-34. Only 33.7% of 25-34 year olds now own with a mortgage, compared to 53% in 2005 – an astonishing drop of 20 percentage points in under a decade.
  • Largely because of this decline, private renting has exploded – 11 million people now rent, more than double what it was a decade ago. Over a third of these people are families with children.


That’s a lot of numbers. But the top line is this: pollsters will tell you one of the things that really resonates with mainstream voters is the next generation’s prospects for owning a place they can call their own. It’s intimately wrapped up in their psyche with a wider anxiety about their children’s future. And yet every year, those prospects are getting worse. Every year, the prospect of an entire generation consigned to life in their childhood bedrooms or unstable expensive private renting looms larger.

At Shelter we don’t privilege any one tenure. Everyone deserves a safe and affordable place they can call their own, whatever the tenure. But you have to admit it’s an astonishing turn around for a country that prides itself on homeownership to now have a rate of homeownership below the EU average.

Most importantly, it’s a damning indictment on the policies of successive governments. Remember this has happened in the face of billions of pounds being pumped into endless mortgage schemes and piecemeal measures by all main parties, the latest being Help to Buy.

All of these have sought short-cuts round the real solution: fixing the shortage of affordable homes. That solution is perfectly do-able, and it is increasingly accepted by voters locally – there are surely now no excuses for politicians to just get on and do it.

This of course requires political commitment, but the sheer number of people now hit by the housing crisis (in lots of different ways) means it will be worth it. Other solutions not only haven’t worked, they haven’t eased anxiety and they will not fool voters.

Finally, the figures once again show the huge opportunity still open to any party which wants to own this issue properly in the election campaign.

Despite it rising up the political agenda in recent years, thus far the campaign hasn’t found too much room for housing. We also know from polls that the public aren’t paying much attention to the campaign. If politicians are looking for a new way to cut through with anxious voters from now to May, they can do a lot worse than pay attention to the huge housing shifts happening under the feet of British society.