The tenure trap

New official figures show stunning changes in housing in England. Here are a dozen examples of what’s happening. We already knew that the number of people who own their own home has shrunk rapidly, that the number of private renters has soared and created Generation Rent and that private renting has overtaken social renting. However, the first results from the English Housing Survey 2013/14 show that these trends are not just continuing: they are accelerating. Everywhere you look in the report and the accompanying tables there are stunning new comparisons to be made:

  • More people now own their home outright than are buying one with a mortgage. The split between them is not available going back very far but I reckon this must be for the first time since the 1930s, when the inter-war mortgage boom was in full flight. Here are the main tenure trends since 1980:


  • Look at the graph and note the direction of the lines. If the trends of the last six years continue, there will be more private renters than mortgagees by 2020 (ok that’s a big if given what’s happened since 2008 but even so)
  • The proportion (as opposed to the number) of households buying with a mortgage is now lower than in 1981 – when Mrs Thatcher had just launched her dream of a home owning democracy. That’s not a lot to show for millions of homes lost to the Right to Buy and billions paid out in housing benefit. The overall ownership rate is 63.3 per cent, the lowest since 1985, but that will inevitably fall further.
  • For all the coalition’s talk of helping people to buy, there were 764,000 fewer households buying with a mortgage in 2013/14 than when it took power in 2010. That is a bigger fall in four years than in the 10 between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses.
  • If buying with a mortgage accounted for the same share of tenure as in 2009/10, there would now be 1.1 million more mortgagee households. Given that most new buyers are dual-earner households, the ownership dreams of two million people have been delayed, perhaps indefinitely, under the coalition.
  • The boom in private renting is accelerating rather than slowing down. The increase in 2013/14 was a huge 10.6 per cent or 421,0000 households.
  • There are now 4.4 million private renters, the same number as in 1961, the year before the Rachmanism scandal broke. As a proportion, I reckon private renting is now at its highest level since the early 1970s.
  • Private renting became the biggest tenure in London in 2013/14, up from 13.6 per cent to  29.6 per cent of households in just 10 years. The proportion of Londoners who are home owners fell from 61 per cent to 48 per cent. The graph’s here:


  • The rise of private renting is still about Generation Rent. The graph below on tenure for 25-34 year olds looks appalling and got much worse in 2013/14:


  • However, the detailed EHS tables indicate we are becoming not just Generation but Nation Rent: 2013/14 saw an increase in the number of private renters across all age groups. Tenure trends are moving up the age groups: the number of home owners shrank even among 45-54 year olds last year.
  • It’s important to remember that it is the number of home owners that has fallen rather than home ownership. The rise of private renting goes with the rise of buy-to-let landlords, which in turn reflects the rise of multiple home ownership.
  • For reasons I confess I don’t understand, this year’s EHS shows a 236,000 increase in social renting in 2013/14, reversing the decline in 2012/13. This makes no sense to me but it will enable the coalition to claim that it is the first government to increase the social housing stock since (I reckon) the 1970s. That will be scant consolation for the Conservatives and their claims about home ownership.

All of this gives us an opportunity to hold the government to account for its record on housing going in to the next election. However, the government has just finished a consultation on its plan to publish the English Housing Survey every two years rather than annually. One reason it’s such a terrible idea is that we will lose this chance at the next election.

The implications of these shifts are huge and I don’t think I am exaggerating. They should prompt a fundamental rethink of housing policy and they go well beyond housing – but they are beyond the scope of this particular blog too. I’ll be coming back to them soon.


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