Unemployment, home-ownership and accommodation vouchers outside London

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In a much earlier post, Tim Worstall pointed to the findings of Blanchflower & Oswald (2013), which is particularly important when considering that increasing home-ownership is something that the government has been encouraging. They showed “that rises in home ownership lead to three problems: (i) lower levels of labour mobility, (ii) greater commuting times, and (iii) fewer new businesses.” Alarmingly, they found that “rises in the home-ownership rate in a U.S State are a precursor to eventual sharp rises in unemployment in that state… a doubling of the rate of home-ownership in a U.S. State is followed in the long-run by more than a doubling of the later unemployment rate”. They also postulated that since “the time lags are long”, this could explain why “these important patterns are so little-known.” This means that the “negative externalities” felt from housing policy in this time-period may be felt further down the line and that future generations may be in for a nasty unemployment shock. In the UK, we have lots of council housing but still, we supposedly don’t have enough low-cost housing. Milton Friedman famously suggested that, if we want to continue funding education in a way whilst ensuring that it is of a higher quality than what is currently provided by state schools, we should introduce education vouchers. Analogously, if we insist that society should house those who cannot house themselves, why don’t we introduce accommodation vouchers or housing vouchers which people can spend either on an extremely cheap mortgage (though, admittedly, the claim is that we’re short of low-cost housing) or on going towards rent for another place.

If current tenants of council housing are given the choice between vouchers and their current unit, we may see enough people move out for the council housing itself to be sold to real-estate developers which would, therefore, enable development of more accommodation over and above pre-existing units. This would help plug some of the government’s budget deficit, possibly increase the amount of low-cost housing and ensure dispersion rather than concentration of relative poverty (this last possibility would enable effective local, communal altruism).

Of course, such a policy may not be feasible in London where rents are already very high (due to the government’s ridiculous land-use policies) since accommodation vouchers may only serve to increase them further. However, in the rest of the country, rents are far more reasonable and haven’t grown as quickly as they have in London.

Ultimately, the provision of accommodation vouchers in regions outside of London and the sale of council houses could raise some much-needed revenue and lead to reduced house cost and increased labour mobility at the cost of higher rents.