Home ownership in England at lowest level in 30 years as housing crisis grows

Calls for government to build more homes as growing gap between earnings and house prices sees ownership fall across the country and people forced to rent

Home ownership in England has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years as the growing gap between earnings and property prices has created a housing crisis that extends beyond London to cities including Manchester.

The struggle to get on the housing ladder is not just a feature of the London property market, according to a new report by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, with Greater Manchester seeing as big a slump in ownership since its peak in the early 2000s as parts of the capital, and cities in Yorkshire and the West Midlands also seeing sharp drops.

Home ownership across England reached a peak in April 2003, when 71% of households owned their home, either outright or with a mortgage, but by February this year the figure had fallen to 64%, the Resolution Foundation said.

The figure is the lowest since 1986, when home ownership levels were on the way up, with a housing market boom fuelled by the deregulation of the mortgage industry and the introduction of the right-to-buy policy for council homes by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.

The Resolution Foundation’s analysis highlights the scale of the job faced by the prime minister, Theresa May, who has pledged to tackle the housing deficit. May warned last month that unless the issue was dealt with “young people will find it even harder to afford their own home. The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing.”

The report, based on analysis of the latest Labour Force Survey, showed that in early 2016 only 58% of households in Greater Manchester were homeowners, compared with a peak of 72% in 2003. In outer London, the peak in ownership came earlier, in 2000, but the fall was also from 72% then to 58% in February. The West Midlands and Yorkshire have also seen double-digit drops, driven by declines in Sheffield and Leeds.

Home ownership chart

Stephen Clarke, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “London has a well-known and fully blown housing crisis but the struggle to buy a home is just as big a problem in cities across the north of England.”

In the early years of the millennium, homeownership levels rose as buyers able to take out mortgages with no deposit scrambled to get on the ladder before prices became unaffordable. At that point the average cost of a UK property was £122,748 and growing at a rate of 20% a year, according to Nationwide Building Society, and banks and building societies were keen to lend.

But numbers started to drop as properties became less affordable and the downward trend continued as the housing market crashed after the credit crunch in 2008. The return of mortgages for borrowers with small deposits has brought first-time buyers back to the market, but the analysis underlines how great the struggle is to meet today’s new high house prices. According to Nationwide, the UK average had risen to £196,930 in February – a 60% increase in 13 years.

Lindsay Judge, an expert on housing at the thinktank, said the problem was one of affordability. “House prices began to outpace earnings in the early 2000s,” Judge said. “When the market fell so did earnings – house prices began to come down but so did people’s pay, or it was stagnating at best, so few people were able to make the most of falling prices.”

The analysis showed that across England levels of private renting almost doubled from 11% in 2003 to 19% in 2015, while in Greater Manchester the figure more than trebled, from 6% to 20%.

The Resolution Foundation said this shift in tenure could mean problems in the future, as individuals would need to find a way of funding their housing in retirement, or may need to turn to the benefits system for help. Clarke said: “The shift to renting privately can reduce current living standards and future wealth, with implications for individuals and the state. We cannot allow other cities to edge towards the kind of housing crisis that London has been saddled with.”

Anne Baxendale, head of policy and public affairs at the housing charity Shelter, said house prices were now “completely out of step with average wages”.

She added: “Sky-high rents are leaving many families struggling to make ends meet each month, let alone save up enough for the deposit on a home. Far from being the stepping stone it once was, many young people and families are now facing a lifetime stuck in expensive and unstable private renting.

“The new government has a real chance to give hope back to these families by tackling the root cause of the housing crisis and building genuinely affordable homes that people on ordinary incomes can actually afford to rent or buy.”

Dan Wilson-Craw, policy manager at the campaign group Generation Rent, said saving up for a deposit was becoming harder for would-be homeowners, especially those in insecure work. “Renting in the private sector is the only option for many, and 12-month contracts mean their homes are insecure too,” he said. “Everyone needs a stable home, whether or not they can afford to buy, so the government must look at reforming tenancy law.”

Grahame Morris, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for communities, said the research showed the government had failed to deliver on its promise to build homes. “Building more homes is part of the solution that involves increasing the housing mix we need to deal with the chronic housing crisis we face today,” he said. “The report highlights that we have the lowest level of new builds for generations. At the same time more and more people are being forced into the private rented sector, paying higher rents with little protection from unscrupulous landlords.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government said more than 300,000 people had been helped into homeownership through government-backed schemes since 2010.

“On top of this, latest figures show that for the first time in 20 years, first-time buyers have borrowed more than home movers,” a spokesman said. “However, we know there is more to do, which is why we’ve set out the most ambitious vision for housing in a generation, including delivering hundreds of thousands of homes exclusively for first-time buyers.”


Hilary Osborne

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