Earlier this year I was a panellist for Any Questions, and a young man in the audience asked what could possibly be done to make it easier for Britons his age to buy currently unaffordable property. I said what none of my fellow panellists was foolish enough to venture on the radio: scarcity always raises prices, and the UK’s housing shortage is overwhelmingly caused by high rates of immigration. Reduce newcomers, ease the problem.
I’ve appeared in enough public forums to read the room. A sudden pin-drop silence followed by murmurous resettling in chairs conveyed shock, then palpable unease. Clearly I had just broken a fierce social taboo. Once upon a time, taboo-breaking entailed saying something incorrect, tasteless or immoral. Nowadays, you horrify an audience by saying something true.
UK fertility has been below replacement rate for a startling 50 years. That helps explain why over the course of 25 of those years, 1973-1998, the population only grew from 56 million to 58.5 million. But in the next 25 years, UK population rose to nearly 68 million: 9.5 million new people in a generation, all while Britons were themselves under-reproducing? This demographic surge can only be down to immigration, and these new inhabitants must live somewhere. Half of the social housing in London is occupied by immigrant-led households. In my heavily council-owned neighbourhood, the students who flood the pavements on weekday afternoons are nearly all ethnically Asian or African.
This week, a government impact statement estimates that within three years the bill for housing asylum seekers is on track to multiply by five times to £30 million a day, or £11 billion a year. Indeed, one of the biggest pull factors drawing migrants from Calais is that France doesn’t provide uninvited visitors housing in the way that Britain does.