Shelter has assaulted the airwaves and front pages today with an insistence that four in ten British homes are not up to standard. There is something of a problem with this claim:
More than four in 10 homes in Britain do not reach acceptable standards in areas such as cleanliness, safety and space, housing charity Shelter says.
Shelter's Living Home Standard covers affordability, decent conditions, stability, space and neighbourhood.
The problem being that this standard is a newly invented one by Shelter:
A new standard for housing designed to be the equivalent of the living wage has been launched by the charity Shelter – and it said four out of 10 homes in Britain were failing to meet it.
The “living home standard” gives 39 criteria that flats and houses have to meet in order to provide an acceptable home that secures the occupants’ wellbeing. It was drawn up during nine months of consultation with the public, who came up with the criteria in five areas: affordability, decent conditions, space, stability and neighbourhood.
The underlying method of creating this standard is fine of course, based as it is upon Adam Smith's linen shirt example. Not being able to afford a linen shirt does not make you poor. But if you live in a society where not being able to afford a linen shirt is taken as a signifier of poverty then not being able to afford one will see you being regarded as poor in that society.
So, as with the living wage calculation, what is it that people think you should be able to do in order not to be poor? Or as here, what do we all think makes decent housing? As a basic idea it's obviously fine but then as with the living wage we do go rather overboard. The latest calculation of that starts to claim that a four person household not paying higher rate tax is in poverty or damn near it.
This is the problem that Shelter has fallen headlong in love with the creation of this standard. The full report is here. It's an aspiration of what would be nice for all to enjoy. It is not a description of anything like the minimum that we should be expecting people to gain.
For example, it is possible to read the statement about space and sleeping.living arrangements to insist that no bedsit can possibly meet these desired standards. For the definition of a bedsit is that the sleeping and living spaces are the same place and the report insists that separate areas should be available.
In reality the vast majority of what is being talked about here is simply that housing is too expensive in Britain. Something we've been known to shout about ourselves. Of the 43% of homes that fail this new "standard" 27% do so because it's simply too expensive. A further 18% don't have decent conditions and 11% not enough space. All of which are again about the cost of housing.
Or, as we repeatedly insist, the price of the permission to allow housing to be built upon a piece of land. That thing which is bureaucratically limited to the impoverishment of us all. For, clearly, if land to build upon is gargantuanly expensive then small dwellings will be built without decent conditions and they will be eyewateringly expensive. The solution to this being to increase the supply of land which may be built upon and allow (as, again, current law does not) larger dwellings to be built.
One way of looking at this report is in fact that the general public, when asked about what people should be able to live in, insist upon rather larger homes than current building regulations insist must be built.
The solution therefore is as we've been saying for some time now. We must blow up the Town and Country Planning Acts and once again allow the market to build the homes that Britons both want to live in and which Britons think Britons should be able to live in.
Oddly, Shelter's report doesn't mention that but no doubt they'll get around to it, eh?