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Houses Crisis in the UK Causes Political Divide

It is general knowledge that the UK faces a housing crisis, and that the subject has become a contentious political topic. The solution to the problem continues to be widely disputed.

Prime Minister David Cameron recently told his party conference that housing was “unfinished business” in the British economy and he wanted housebuilding to become the focus of a national crusade. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told his own party conference that housing was a major priority and vowed to instigate that biggest programme for council housebuilding since the 1970s. Both the Conservatives and Labour agree that the supply of available housing needs to go up, but a divide exists on the subject of what to build.

The Tories emphasise steps to promote home ownership while the opposition values homes for social rent. Homeowners are over twice as likely to vote Conservative, while residents of social rented homes are twice as likely to vote Labour. There’s also a generational factor: according to the last census, over 80% of the over-50s own their own homes. The majority of under-35s are in the rented sector. In the last election, twice as many pensioners voted Conservative.

The impact of the housing crisis is felt most acutely in the south of England, especially in the city of Oxford. Council leader Bob Price says that Oxford is now the country’s most unaffordable place to live, and that it’s consequently facing disaster. Mr. Price says that Oxford University is unable to secure key people, the hospitals don’t have enough doctors and nurses, and high-tech industries are unable to get the workforce they need. At present, the shortage of affordable homes has resulted in over 46,000 people commuting into the city daily, some from as far as Birmingham and Swindon.

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In Oxford, the average home price is over 16 times average earnings. Rents are high and an income of at least £70,000 is necessary to get a mortgage on a mid-priced semi-detached. As a result employees have to travel further to get to work, which means a higher salary and consequently higher bus fares. Oxford can’t expand because it is situated in a ‘greenbelt ring’ that makes it impossible to build homes. In Mr. Cameron’s Witney constituency there is strong opposition to the government’s efforts to make more homes available.

New planning laws introduced by the Conservatives requires local councils to boost housing supply and commission a SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Assessment) to determine how many homes are required in their area. The SHMA determined that to meet demand, Oxfordshire would have to come up with 5,000 new homes every year for the next two decades.

The assessment calculated that West Oxfordshire should supply around 660 homes. The district council refused the assessment, stating those numbers were too high. It concluded that 525 a year was more reasonable, but some parish councils argued that even this number was too high. The housing situation causes homeowners to face off against renters and pits urban expansion against rural preservation. The politics of housing is complicated and solutions to suit everyone can be hard to reach.  

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