While Brexit and immigration topped public concerns in 2016, one thing the public agrees on is that there is a housing crisis. In August, Ipsos MORI’s Issues Index saw concern about housing reach its highest level since the 1970s, so perhaps it was unsurprising that party conferences and cabinet reshuffles have led to a raft of housing policy releases in September and October. The suggestion from Gavin Barwell, the government’s Housing Minister, that the solution might lie in making new-build homes smaller, raises a question which we know is important to the public: what kind of housing should we be building?1http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/housing-crisis-gavin-barwell-flats-smaller-pocket-a7344061.html
Our new research on behalf of Shelter gets to the heart of this issue.2Shltr.org.uk/ds4 In 2016 we used in-depth research to ask the public to help to define a ‘Living Home Standard’ for all people in Britain, generating a list of 39 attributes within five domains; Affordability, Decent Conditions, Space, Stability and Neighbourhood.
We then put British homes to the test against this new standard. The results were alarming. Our survey revealed that 43% of householders fail the Home Standard, with key differences emerging by region, tenure and age group – affordability being a key problem.
Discussions about the housing crisis rarely fail to mention young, private renters, and those living in London. The new standard highlights the difficulties that these groups are facing – 34% of London homes fail the affordability domain and another domain, compared to 13.7% nationwide. Private renters, who this year outstrip buyers for the first time,3https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/17/property-rentals-to-outstrip-sales-for-first-time-since-1930s are the worst hit; they are more than four times more likely to fail affordability and another domain compared to those who own their home (28% vs. 6%). This group is not only paying through the roof for their housing, they are also paying for housing that is sub-standard in some way.
But it is not just young Londoners struggling with housing issues. Squeezed-middle parents, regional issues in Wales and the Midlands, and a stark urban-rural divide were features of the housing crisis highlighted in this report, though they often fail to achieve the same level of media coverage.
On the face of it, Gavin Barwell’s focus on expanding the affordable home market, and Sadiq Khan’s promise for a London Living Rent make sense.4http://www.sadiq.london/homes_for_londoners Twenty-seven per cent of homes fail the affordability dimension of the Standard, with 14% failing solely because housing costs are too high. This has an impact on the day-to-day lives of house-holders: they may be unable to save, have to cut back on social activities, or struggle to meet costs for everyday items like food and heating. It is no wonder that concern about housing is so closely linked to shifts in house prices.
However, while these findings tend to support the dominant narrative of housing as an affordability crisis, our findings suggest that the story isn’t quite that straightforward. Indeed, we know from research we’ve previously undertaken that, while affordability is central to the public’s perceptions of housing in the UK, quality, energy efficiency and the area surrounding homes are also important.5https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3147/RIBA-Housing-Survey.aspx
Our research on behalf of Shelter found the public adamant that a house is a ‘home’ not just somewhere to sleep. Participants spoke about the lived experiences of their home; of fears of mould damaging their children’s health, how they felt about closing the front door and shutting out the outside world, and how a lack of security of tenure impacts on their lives.
So what does this mean for housing policy in 2017 and beyond? Despite media reports of a slump in foreign investors buying luxury properties,6http://www.wsj.com/articles/london-luxury-house-prices-keep-falling-after-brexit-vote-1470229733 in most parts of the country the housing crisis continues unabated, with Brexit showing relatively little impact at this early stage. Regardless of the impact Brexit has on affordability, the Home Standard tells us that the public are unwilling to compromise on the elements that make a property feel like home. We want space to share with friends and family, to be confident we can stay in a property long enough to build links to the local community, and to be able to live close enough to friends, work, and amenities. While the government has a lot to contend with over the next two years in particular, they, in partnership with developers and planners, would do well to remember that smaller houses might be more affordable, but they won’t necessarily make the house a home.
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