A Blame Culture looks for Scapegoats

There was a flurry of media activity last week in response to headline figures from the latest English Housing Survey which revealed yet another fall in the level of home ownership and rise in private renting amongst younger age groups.

Unfortunately, it was very much a case of adding up 2 and 2 and making 6. A quantified, considered analysis of the shortage of housing stock, the rise of buy to invest/let driving up house prices and making them unaffordable for the majority of younger people (who want to buy a home to live in it), combined with reduced access to affordable mortgages for first time buyers in the wake of the new Mortgage Market Regulations would have been helpful in taking forward a debate about solutions.

Instead we had headline’s along the lines of ‘older people own most of the homes, they ‘under occupy’ and therefore ‘they’ are the ’cause’ of younger people not being able to get onto the housing ladder’. Somehow, this analysis implies, if everyone ‘older’ moved home in some giant rubik cube manoeuvre we would solve the housing crisis.

I am not sure where all of these empty one bedroom (don’t forget anything more than this is under occupied even for a couple), ‘more suitable’ homes for ‘older’ people are located. Nor how many people are queuing up to move into them. And I have come across even fewer older people who are not deeply concerned about the housing prospects for the younger generation. Most are keen to help their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

A third of homes are lived in by people over retirement age ie c 9 million properties. The majority of the UK housing stock is made up of two and three bedroom modest dwellings. Most people are happy where they currently live .Most older people make good use of the space they have, many looking after grandchildren who sleep over, not to mention offering places for friends and family to stay both socially and when times get tough. What most want is to be able to look after that home, adapt it if and when they need to and to know that there are specialist housing options should they ever need them.

There is undoubtedly a minority who would like to move and an unmet demand for better designed housing for ageing, particularly for the ‘older old’ and also the more affluent who really do live in large properties. But flawed analysis and overstatement of the need for specialist stock is not helpful, and neither is pitting one generation against another. The housing problem is far more complex and requires a more sophisticated debate with regard to housing tenure, finance, market intervention and possible solutions than anyone at the moment seems willing to contemplate.

Reflections by the CEO of Care & Repair England, Sue Adams, [March 2015]