The United Kingdom has faced a chronic housing shortage since the global financial crash of 2008. Since then, the economics relating to properties has spiralled out of control. Liam Halligan’s Home Truths: The UK’s Chronic Housing Shortage — how it Happened, why it Matters and the Way to Solve it takes an in-depth economic and political look at the much-discussed hosing scarcity and what can be done about it.

Shocking Home Truths

It is shocking to see how much house prices can vary for different parts of the country. It is a fact that the price of renting, buying, or both in some cases, has increased faster than wages and income. According to Full Fact, the average real wage fell from the start of the global financial crash of 2008 until mid-2014. However, as Halligan notes, the average UK home costs eight times someone’s annual earnings. In this case, the cost of living is not being matched with people’s wages. In Bridgwater, where I was born and still live today, the average rent price for a two-bedroom house is around £725 per month. In most parts of London, the same type of property will cost you in excess of £1500 per month. Bridgwater is a town in rural Somerset on a commuter route between Taunton and London, whilst London is the capital city. That is their primary difference between the two locations when it comes to pricing.

One of the defining housing policies of the Thatcher era was the Housing Act of 1980. This gave five million people in England and Wales the right to buy their council homes. A Conservative government held power in the early-to-late ’90s with Norman Lamont and Sir Ken Clarke as Chancellors, until New Labour took over in 1997.

Halligan provides some interesting statistics to mull over for this period. For instance, during the early 1990s (the decade I was born in), up to 36 per cent of people aged between 16-24 earned their own home. House prices in the ’90s were low enough, so young people found it easier to get onto the housing ladder faster and cheaper. One of Halligan’s more interesting observations is that homeownership among this age group has plunged tenfold, resulting in housing insecurity.

NIMBY: Home Truths and Local Issues

There is much talk about NIMBYISM (Not In My Back Yard-ism) in the book. A prime example of this is the Notaro group, which is based in Bridgwater but also has offices in Weston-Super-Mare. The Fallout with Notaro began in 2014 when most Somerset villages saw some of the worst floodings they had ever seen. This was the moment when it became evident that the Notaro family only cared about themselves. No one knew the lengths the Notaros would go to in order to protect their house. So, when they built a dam around its perimeter to safeguard the property from rising floodwaters, residents didn’t object until it was too late. The Notaros saved themselves whilst leaving the villagers of Moorland behind. Fast-forward to 2017, despite being in property development, the Notaro group was named the ninth fastest growing business in ‘healthcare’, because they have a number of care homes attached to hospitals in Somerset. 

An entire chapter of Halligan’s book is dedicated to the fact that when people say there is no housing shortage, that is entirely false. In Bridgwater alone, there are at least four different housing estate building projects on the go with Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey. On average, people in Sedgemoor district are having to wait up to four years for a house in their banded system owing to the chronic shortage of social housing in this conservative stronghold. Interestingly, the council and EDF Energy were pleading for spare rooms for Hinkley Point C workers and were willing to offer up to £700 a month — above-average rent for Somerset. The request was successful, which begs the question: why were EDF workers fast-tracked and given housing while others on the housing list had to wait years? The same land that was used to build accommodation for the workers could have been used to build flats for the people on waiting lists. 

The book for you?

Readers that want to get an economic perspective on the housing crisis will find what they’re looking for in Home Truths with its carefully researched facts and eye-opening statistics. Looking at Britain’s housing crisis from an economic perspective is immensely useful. What we get is a numbers-driven exploration of how monetary factors often impede and exacerbate this ongoing problem.

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