If only Britain had done what Germany did we'd have beaten homelessness

Lynsey Hanley tells us all how appalling the rise in homelessness in Britain is. Apparently it's all entirely the Tories who actively desire the poor, addicted and mentally addled to suffer. We think that might not be the whole and entire truth to be honest.

One little part of this analysis did catch our eye though:

As long ago as 1993, researchers at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in a report tellingly titled Making It Happen: Finding the Resources for Social Housing, noted that 600,000 more homes would have been built in Britain during the 1980s had we invested the same proportion of GDP in housebuilding as West Germany did during the same period.

It's entirely true that West (or as is now, all of) Germany has a rather different structure to the housing market. And calling forth more investment into housebuilding doesn't seem a bad idea to us at all. So, how is it that they've done it? 

Well, the first part is that the planning system is generally, even if not quite exactly, "can build." If you own a piece of land then the presumption is that you may build upon it. There are certain things you may not do, of course, but the generally underlying idea is that within those constraints one may. That is, instead of asking permission to build the system is much more sure, you can build, but not this or this.

The second part is that there is a much larger rental sector. No, not a much larger social rented sector, a much larger rental one. Much of which is (page 5) small landlords with one or three units rented out. Or, to translate that into the British vernacular, buy to let landlords. Even the IPPR has been known to note these things.

So, let us indeed take that example of Germany, a place which has built, as Hanley says, sufficient housing for the populace. They've done it by never having the Town and Country Planning Act and by not just allowing but encouraging the petit bourgeois (even haute bourgeois, if you prefer) idea of private landlordism.

All of which might be something of a clue as to how to deal with Britain's problems. Except, of course, for the sad fact that everyone shouting about the problem, including the very Hanley who draws our attention to Germany, insists that those are the very two things that we must not do. That is, having pointed to a solution they are insistent that we must not apply that very solution they are pointing to.

Politics is a funny thing, isn't it?