You're probably sick of hearing that Britain is in the midst of a housing crisis – we've all heard it said so many times. Over the last few months, Theresa May has been focusing on the topic; claiming that our housing market is ‘broken’, promising to take ‘personal charge’ of the problem. ‘We must get back into the business of building the good quality new homes for people who need them most,’ she said yesterday.
On the face of it, the latest figures released by the ONS seem positive. They show that housing supply in England saw a net increase of 217,350 last year; a 15% increase on the previous year’s numbers, and the highest figure for ten years. That still isn’t enough; it’s estimated that we would need to build 300,000 new homes every year in order to meet demand.
Even if we are building more, how much of what's being built is actually ‘affordable’ to the younger generations who are desperately trying to get on the housing ladder? It’s all very well building huge blocks of luxury flats across London, but walk around these new blocks in the evening and you'll see that so many of the windows are in complete darkness – property bought by foreign investors which the owners will probably never visit, let alone live in.
At the same time, figures from the TUC show that the daily commute continues to rise; in the last ten years, the average commute has increased by 5 minutes, to 58 minutes. If you live in London, you’re in an even worse predicament: the average commute is now 23 minutes longer than average, at 1hr 21 minutes. The number of people travelling for over two hours to get to work every day has increased dramatically, too – by 34% in the last decade.
Yes, public transport systems can be blamed for the increase in commuting time, as well as property prices. But it’s difficult to claim that property prices have nothing to do with it. People are commuting for hours a day to get into London because they have to: that's where their jobs are, and where their homes are not. I don't think they're doing it because they enjoy squeezing onto the District line at 7.15 every morning.
What we need, then, is cheaper housing in areas where people want to live; near their work which – by and large – means close to our largest cities. Simply building more housing isn’t enough – it needs to be both affordable and in places where people want to live. And until the government comes up with drastic fix for our broken housing market, the likelihood of that happening seems pretty low.