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Young people and people on lower incomes paying the price for our broken housing market

Young people and people on lower incomes are paying the price for the UK’s broken housing market according to a new report.

The extent to which housing is driving inequality and disadvantage is laid bare by the UK Housing Review 2015, published today (Monday 9 March) by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).

The report, which is sponsored by Orbit Group and other housing organisations, shows that levels of homeownership are collapsing among young people but increasing among older people. In England, 66.5% of 25-34 year olds were homeowners in 1991 – a figure that dropped to 36% in 2013-14. Over the same period, the percentage of 65-74 year olds that own their own home has risen from 62.3% to 77.1%.

There is also an extraordinary gap between homeownership rates for different groups of people. Across Great Britain, lone parents or single people under pension age are least likely to own a home, while more than 80% of couples with no dependent children or over pension age are homeowners.

Rising house prices mean that net housing wealth in the UK has grown by £1.22 trillion (58 per cent) since 2003 – and more than a third of property-based wealth is held by households where the household reference person is 65 or older. This increase in wealth for older people has fuelled the growth of the buy-to-let market – with older households looking to supplement their pension income by buying more property, aided by access to interest-only mortgages which are denied to most first-time buyers.

This is creating a perfect storm, with older and already privileged homeowners buying more homes to rent out to those who are unable to compete in the housing market. In 2013-14 almost half (48%) of all households aged 25-34 in England were living in private rented homes – a proportion that has more than doubled from 21% in 2003-4. The trend looks set to continue, with some 1.5 million extra people aged 30 or under ‘pushed into renting’ by 2020.

And the problem is not just about access to homeownership - after housing costs are taken into account, rates of absolute poverty are rising for working age people, both with and without children. As the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has pointed out, during 2010 to 2015 rising rents and mortgage costs have pulled an extra 1.4 million children into relative poverty.

CIH interim chief executive Gavin Smart said successive governments have failed to put in place a joined-up, long-term strategy to tackle the housing crisis. The review makes the case for a fundamental review of housing policy. It calls for co-ordinated, sustained action over at least a decade – including putting targets and incentives in place for new house building of all tenures (ownership, shared ownership, private rent and social rent).

Gavin Smart said: “The UK Housing Review is a stark demonstration of the divides that housing is opening up in our society. For decades, we have failed to build enough new homes to keep up with our growing population, and the gap between the haves and have nots is getting bigger all the time. For many young people, a home of their own is a distant dream – and in the meantime they find themselves renting in a sector where, in many places, rents are equally unaffordable.

“People on low incomes are being dragged into poverty because rents and mortgage costs are rising, wages are failing to keep pace and benefits are being cut through welfare reform.” 

Read a blog about the report findings by Orbit’s Chief Executive Paul Tennant here

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