Leading article: Only bold measures will stop a housing shortage turning into a crisis

Behind the emotion, the fact is that Britain does not have enough suitable homes

Share

With evidence of a housing crisis mounting on an almost daily basis, Britain's chronic lack of affordable, good-quality homes is threatening to become a defining issue for this government and the next.

The latest assessment of the situation, reported in this newspaper today, makes grim reading. Not only are the conditions in the UK among the worst in Western Europe, but poor housing is adding an extra £7bn to the nation's annual bills, thanks to the extra burden on social services, the NHS and the education system.

The problem is far from new. Successive governments over three decades have presided over a national housing policy which has been striking for its lack of coherence. But it is only now – as long-unaddressed concerns from ballooning property prices to stalemate debates about planning laws come together – that the storm is threatening to break. Worryingly, there is little sign that politicians of any party have comprehensive answers.

Tempers are already fraying. Recent debates about squatting have seen, on one side, the Government mooting plans to criminalise the offence of taking over someone else's empty home; while, on the other, a judge maintains squatters perform a service to society by putting empty properties back into use.

Then there is the fracas over planning, with the National Trust warning that the Government's proposed reforms are "fundamentally wrong", while the relevant minister, Greg Clark, branded the charity's intervention as "nihilistic selfishness".

Behind the emotion is the fact that Britain does not have enough suitable homes. The population is rising, people are living longer, divorces are splitting existing households, and yet house-building has slumped to its lowest level for 90 years. Prices have rocketed, leaving an entire generation of young people facing the prospect of never being able to buy their own home.

With buyers priced out of the market, pressure grows in the rented sector, pushing up rents and creating opportunities for unscrupulous landlords. More than a million people already live in sub-standard privately rented accommodation, and there is disturbing evidence that the problem is spreading, particularly in London.

In tackling the housing crisis, there is a long list of options which warrant examination. The Pro-Housing Alliance, a pressure group, suggests reining back proposed cuts to housing benefit, improving the business environment for house-builders, reforming land taxation, or using the Big Society Bank to promote community land trusts to buy the land for low-cost homes. As the debate over planning reforms becomes increasingly incendiary, the Government also needs to look more intelligently at the use of the Green Belt in its forthcoming planning reforms.

But it is not just about building new property, it is also about making better use of what we have. There are an estimated 300,000 homes in the UK that have been empty for longer than six months, many of them currently too run-down to be used.

The shortage in Britain's housing stock needs to be addressed with bold and innovative thinking. And we need it quickly.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

John Rentoul
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...