Back in 2001, over 72% of Britons owned their own home. In the subsequent decade, this figure has fallen back to 67% and, by 2021, is expected by the National Housing Federation (NHF) to decline further to below 64%. The NHF also expects that, by next year, more Londoners will be renting homes rather than actually owning them. Does this trend matter – and why is it taking place?
Part of the explanation for the latter lies in the increased level of renting, due mainly to financial reasons but also due to more enlightened rental legislation. However, it is the far lower level of new house-build that is of major importance to the housing market. Compared with the previous Labour government’s ambitious target of 250,000 new houses per year, just 105,000 new houses were built in England during the last financial year; this was the lowest figure since the 1920s when ‘the land fit for heroes’ pledge proved to be illusory.
Britain’s leading house-builders are still struggling, most noticeably the highly indebted Barratt Developments and Wimpey. But for them and others, including market leader Persimmon, it is the challenge facing potential buyers to secure mortgages that is pivotal. Having lived though the era of high Loan-to-Value mortgages – epitomised by Northern Rock’s 125% much-maligned Together promotion – banks are understandably implementing far more cautious lending policies especially as property prices – outside London – are not expected to rise appreciably.
In all probability, it will take many years for the property market to recover fully although the NHF’s figures suggest a long-term decline in property ownership despite the popularity of the 1980s ‘right-to-buy policy’. Given the undoubted freedom that property ownership – within sensible financial limits – confers, this would be a retrograde development in furthering the concept of the property owning democracy – a policy that MPs from across the political spectrum have endorsed for decades.