There's a conversation I keep having with friends. Each time it follows the same path. They begin by talking about their housing struggles: the lucky, plusher-of-pocket and coupled-up ones about how terrifyingly large their mortgage on a two-bedder in zone three is; the unlucky ones about how much of their income goes on rent. Then comes the anagnorisis: “We’ll never have what our parents have.”
The baby-boomer generation — or rather the lucky ones who bought their tall London townhouses for a few thousand quid and some gummy bears back in 1982 — don’t seem to grasp the plight of the young. They imply that the housing crisis is all down to a childish inability to stomach sacrifice. “Save up!” they say, delusionally. “And you’ll get to share our home-owner dream.”
One of their fellow boomers, Chancellor Philip Hammond, will deliver his Budget this week. He is expected to pledge to build another 300,000 new homes every year and announce an inquiry into land-banking by property developers.
Because that’s what we need: another target for the Government to miss and an inquiry that won’t report until next spring! How many reviews and inquiries does it take to build a home? This is fiddling instead of the big fix needed: the housing market equivalent of the nice folk who pour buckets of water on beached whales. It’s not exactly “Build, baby, build!”
Which isn’t to say there can be no benefit from investigating the housing market — you can’t offer solutions until you understand a problem. It needs, though, to delve deep. As property experts will explain to you at mind-addling length, the land markets are complex. It’s easy to blame developers for holding land speculatively as empty plots, but it takes time to negotiate the construction of new developments.
As many Conservatives do realise, June’s general election was in part a cri de coeur from the young and rent-burdened. An unspoken deal has been broken: since the end of the Second World War every generation was wealthier than the one before — until now. A report by the Resolution Foundation found that baby boomers were 50 per cent more likely than millennials to be paying a mortgage on their own home by the age of 30. The average first-time buyer in London now needs a deposit of more than £90,000 to mount the bottom rung of the property ladder.
That is why Sajid Javid, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, wants the Government to borrow £50 billion — taking advantage of low interest rates — to fund a new government housing programme. This seems unlikely from Hammond, who has said there is “no single magic bullet” to fix the market. He also feels he has little wriggle room to address an expensive problem.
There is, however, a chance that Hammond’s rabbit-out-of-the-red-briefcase will be a stamp-duty holiday for first-time buyers. Those hoping to buy a home will obviously welcome this — who wouldn’t? — but it isn’t an elixir. Stamp duty, as it should, hits those higher up the housing ladder much harder. It isn’t that much of a consideration for those hoping to own a one-bedder in Croydon — more if your first home is a one-bedder in Borough. The problem is one of affordability: that earnings have barely risen as house prices soared.
What would be in my fantasy budget? Local authorities would be given more powers to borrow and build. The 300,000 target would actually be met. So be bold, fiscal Phil — your children will thank you for it.
Kezia should be well versed in fending off the vipers
The Labour Party is back to its default setting: all of its national leaders are men. At the weekend, Richard Leonard beat Anas Sarwar to become the top dog in Scottish Labour, giving a full-house to the Y-chromosomed again. Leonard’s predecessor, Kezia Dugdale, did manage to overshadow his victory, though — by taking a self-granted sabbatical from Holyrood to head to the Australian jungle for I’m A Celebrity (loosely defined)... Get Me Out of Here. She wasn’t on screen last night but is expected to be on set come Tuesday.
As strategies for job-handovers go, Dugdale’s is ingenious. She has ensured the country’s attention is on her instead of her successor, thrown him into the quagmire on day one and left everyone wondering if her colleagues are such brutes that it would preferable to eat ostrich anus, lie in a locust-stuffed coffin and sit by the campfire with a woman who calls herself “Toff” than spend another second with them.
Most politicians risk humiliating themselves on I’m A Celebrity — but Dugdale seems to be made of tough stuff.
She has already been in the vipers’ nest, so should surely triumph at snakes in a drain.