We’re well on the way to becoming a nation of renters

The housing crisis affects people in many ways, but one of the most obvious shifts we’ve seen is the number of us who can’t afford a home of our own. The large deposits required to buy are only a pipe dream, whilst we live in the expensive private rented sector, or stick at home with our parents. The impacts hit hardest for younger people.

We’ve seen a dramatic decline in home ownership for 25-34 year olds over the past decade, matched by a sharp increase in renting. There were once 1.8 million households in this age group on the property ladder: that has fallen by a third to 1.2 million. At the same time, the number of us renting has risen by 137% to over 1.6 million households. Ten years ago only one in five young households rented, now it is almost half.

Household tenure, 25-34 year olds, England
table 1
Source: English Housing Survey Annex Table 1.4

So what next? Where are we headed? Well, the future is extremely difficult to predict. But we can make projections based on certain assumptions to see what the future could look like. What if recent trends continue? How will housing tenure change between now and the end of the decade under that scenario?

We have run the numbers based on trends in tenure for 25-34 year olds over the past five years, continuing till the end of the decade. The picture the numbers paint isn’t a pretty one.

Projections of household tenure to 2020, 25-34 year olds, England
chart 1
Source: English Housing Survey Annex Table 1.4, DCLG Live Table 401, Shelter Analysis

The number of owner occupiers would almost halve by the end of the decade to around 600,000 households, whilst private renting households would increase by almost 50% to almost 2.4 million. This would mean less than 20% of households in that age group would own their own home, whilst almost 70% would be renting. Compare these figures to a decade ago, when almost 60% of households owned their own home, and 20% rented privately, and the shares of overall tenure will have roughly switched around.

Projections of household tenure, 25-34 year olds, England
table 2
Source: English Housing Survey Annex Table 1.4, DCLG Live Table 401, Shelter Analysis

So what does this all mean?

These projections show us what could happen if nothing is done to address the housing crisis. They highlight the urgent need to find a solution.

More people living in the private rented sector isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as long as the sector is affordable, stable, accessible, and decent.

But unfortunately we can’t say any of these things about our current private rented sector. And if it is going to accommodate another three quarters of a million households in this age group alone by the end of the decade, these problems are going to get worse before they get better.

The projected drop in home ownership shows how much harder it will become for young people to get onto the property ladder. Even more young families will find themselves priced-out, with home ownership nothing more than a dream.

These families will be left with little choice but to rent privately. How many more young couples will delay starting a family as a result? How many more children will be brought up in unsuitable homes? Hopefully, these are questions we will never have to answer.

Given the decline in home ownership we’ve already seen, it is little wonder that housing was amongst the top four issues concerning voters in the lead up to the election. If this scenario plays out, and we continue to become a nation of renters, then fixing the housing crisis will be even more important to voters.

Those voters will be looking for strong leadership from government, to put an end to the housing crisis once and for all. And luckily – we’ve come up with a solution: a programme of reform for the new government to boost housing supply, improve renting, and protect the housing safety net. It’s a bold plan. But, it’s a plan that will work.

  1. And yet each time a govt brings in another measure to ‘help’ first time buyers (but in fact devised to make property even more unaffordable) Shelter is always amongst the first to cheer it on and see it as a success.

  2. First time buyer incentives along with a lack of the right housing in the right areas are driving up house prices, plenty of housing in places where people can’t or don’t want to work. Private letting business are cleaning up old properties and bringing them back into use but can only in part house the amount of people requiring their own accommodation.
    What is needed is more local authority investment into ‘Council houses’
    Its still not home ownership but will go a long way into dealing with affordable housing.

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