Denise Robertson: It is a scandal that so many people are being priced out of the housing market

Journal columnist and TV personality Denise Robertson on why house ownership is the real difference between the have and have nots

Rui Vieira/PA Wire A housing estate
A housing estate

I am becoming more and more convinced that the real election issue is housing.

Last week an expert blamed it for rising inequality. Top salaries have reportedly risen by 44% while the lower paid received an 8% increase.

But the real difference between the haves and have-nots is house ownership. The rich own several homes, the middle class own their own home, those on the bottom are condemned to line someone else’s pockets with rent. That’s if they’re lucky enough to find a property to rent.

1.7 million households were on waiting lists in England in 2013 and the number is rising.

Families fester in B&Bs or live with relatives. A lucky few are placed by councils in private properties at exorbitant rents, all because of failure to build social housing over the last 20 years.

But some tenants of social housing don’t play fair. A raid on one Paddington housing block revealed 75% of housing benefit claimants were not living in their registered properties and were illegally subletting them for thousands of pounds a week. A reported 160,000 social homes may be unlawfully sublet in the UK and in 2012 The Audit Commission put the cost of social housing tenancy fraud to the taxpayer nationally at £1.8bn.

Some estimates say there are up to 6,000 people in social housing with incomes of more than £100,000 who could afford to buy and free up a house.

A way round this would be to abolish lifetime tenancies. Every ten years your situation should be reassessed and, if your circumstances have improved and you could afford to buy, the house should be made available for someone in need.

Money from Right to Buy, if it remains, should immediately be put to new build. There are reports of foreign buyers snapping up tracts of land all over Britain. They’re not doing that to rent or sell moderately priced homes.

But the real scandal is the number of people being priced out of the housing market by soaring prices, a rise fuelled by shortage, too much housing finance coming from abroad and a surge in buy to rent.

Help to Buy means that buyers only have to find 5% of the purchase price but if that price is £250,000 - in some places the cost of a small semi - that means finding £12,500.

If you’re paying an extortionate private rent, saving like that isn’t possible. Only those with access to the bank of mum and dad can own instantly. If house prices rise in the next 30 years as they have in the last 30 the average UK home will be worth £1.2m and home ownership in the UK is now reportedly lower than in Romania and Bulgaria.

Last week it was revealed that some houseowners, who bought for £250,000 in the Nineties, could face a Mansion Tax of £250 per month because of a 690% rise in the value of properties in their area, even though their wage may not have risen correspondingly or they may now be pensioners.

Unless politicians bring an end to rising prices the outlook is scary. One thing that would help is to build more houses and build them now.

Reportedly, the French have built 346,000 homes a year for the past 20 years. By contrast, annual housing completions in England totalled a reported 117,070 in the 12 months to September 2014. Population of the two countries is roughly the same.

Next month Homes for Britain will hold a rally and wage an advertising campaign to bring home the message that action is needed. I hope they include social housing in their demands. For many people, that is the only route to eventual home ownership.

:: Whoever coined the phrase “three parent babies” did a dis-service. The technique now approved by Parliament will not give a child three parents. That child will have a mum and dad and eventually learn that a good person supplied the ark that carried it safely into the world. Some risks may appear, although eminent scientists have laboured for a long time to ensure this doesn’t happen.

If we don’t have the courage to go forward the certainty is that there will be more children leading short and pain-filled lives and more sorrowing parents.

:: A friend took me to task for suggesting billing anyone who wound up in a drunk tank. ‘Would you fine other self-inflicted injuries?’ he asked.

I hadn’t seen the bill as a fine, more a wake-up call. Filming binge drinking in a northern city, I gazed at an A&E full of comatose young people. ‘Never mind’ I said to the sister-in charge. ‘They’ll have learned their lesson when they wake up.’ She gave me a withering look. ‘This lot are regulars.’ she said.

Reportedly, 20% of A&E visits are alcohol related, rising to 70 to 80% at weekends. Would £100 bill make sure you drank cautiously next time?

:: This week has been full of ironies. While we are trying old men for abusing under-age children we are also supplying contraceptive implants to ten year olds.

The country which gave most of the world its legal system is having to borrow a judge from another country to carry out a public inquiry.

And, while Russian nuclear bombers are flying along our coastline and a UK court is hearing just how Russia allegedly deals with those who displease her, people are flocking to join a political party which wants to abolish our defences.


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