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Fighting on the home front – Brian Hall

by: Brian Hall
  • 11/08/2014
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Fighting on the home front – Brian Hall
With new housebuilding continuing to struggle, The Model Works founder Brian Hall asks: why are we not fixing the housing problem?

Current trends will cause millions to be hundreds of thousand of pounds worse off. The aggregated individual losses, in terms of spending and saving power, will be around £1trn.

The knock-on-effect, with respect to increased housing benefits and long-term care costs to the taxpayer, will be several times this amount. A child could do the maths. It is that simple.

Increases in home building will have a negligible impact, because of the scale of the problem, and initiatives like Help to Buy may actually be making things worse.

I get the impression the Bank of England is doing its best to define and resolve the problem but, to be effective, their actions need to be combined with co-ordinated government action, across several departments, and this isn’t happening.

Over the past several months I have been riding a motorcycle around Australia. I am currently passing through Queensland, the ‘Sunshine State’. This beautiful state is seven times the size of the UK but has a population of just five million, compared to over 64m in the UK.

Their resulting population density is only 1.1% of that in the UK. In Queensland you can simply buy a plot and build a home. Because those that want to buy can, market forces make renting cheaper.

I also looked at Germany, which never had a housing boom and bust, like the USA and UK and this again confirmed the extent of the dysfunction in the UK.

Which brings me back to my original question. Why are we not fixing the housing problem? Is it that policymakers don’t recognise we have one or do they know and are sticking their heads in the sand, rather than addressing the essentials?

Perhaps we need to put the problem into perspective. It is now 100 years since the First World War started. Historians believe that the enormous reparations, levied on Germany and its allies after this war, created an environment of national humiliation which then resulted in the Second World War. These reparations were 269bn gold marks, around 100,000 tonnes in pure gold, or around £13bn in 1921.

If we put these numbers into the Bank of England inflation calculator we find this amount is around £686bn at today’s value. This is significantly less than the cost of our housing problem and a small fraction of the ultimate cost to the taxpayer.

It begs the question how can the next generation of voter/private sector tenants respond to our poor management of the housing market? It has created millions of ageing, property-owning, paper-millionaires, while disadvantaging the majority of young people.

Please don’t say this money will ultimately be passed down, as the result is a lottery where one’s ability to buy is linked to one’s parents wealth.

What would previous generations think? I am publishing my grandfather’s memoirs this month. He fought in the trenches in World War One and was at Messines, 3rd Ypres, German Spring Offensive and final breach of the Hindenburg line.

He spent his 21st birthday, wounded, in a field hospital. His first battle was to extract himself from a reserved occupation, so he could ‘do his bit’, such was his commitment.

I am sure he would be crestfallen to witness how his great-grandchildren and their children will have to struggle just to put a roof over their heads. Why can’t the policymakers responsible for the homebuilding and homebuying sectors ‘get stuck in’ and solve the problem?

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