Sorting by

×

‘I never imagined crisis would be so bad in 2024’

Tony Blair’s former housing guru has revealed she never expected the housing crisis to be as serious as it is nowadays, and has pledged to bring experts together to help address the “urgent” need for change.

Dame Kate Barker is a business economist, known for her work as a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) from 2001 until 2010.  

During this time, she led two major policy reviews for government, on housing supply, published in 2004, and on land use planning, published in 2006.

Speaking exclusively to i – 20 years since her landmark housing report was commissioned – Dame Kate said she is committed to bringing together housing experts to form a cross-party commission.

Dame Kat admitted she feels “tremendous regret” that so many children are living in unsuitable temporary accommodation today, adding that she wonders if there are things she could have “talked about a little more” 20 years ago.

The commission, put together by the centrist think-tank Radix, will consider planning policy, infrastructure delivery and social housebuilding.

The experts will then publish housing policy recommendations for whichever party wins the general election, she explained.

When the Barker Review of Housing Supply published its findings in 2004, it recommended that between 70,000 to 120,000 new homes should be built in England every year.

Blair’s government took on Dame Kate’s recommendations, and in 2006 almost 200,000 new homes were started – the highest number for two decades.

The housing crisis in 2024

Fast-forward to 2024, rough sleeping is up – the latest figures reveal the number of people rough sleeping on a single night in England in 2023 rose by 27 per cent from the year before.

It comes as buying a home is increasingly unaffordable for many. According to the Office for National Statistics, in the 12 months to March 2024 average house prices increased in England to £299,000 (1 per cent), Wales to £214,000 (1.3 per cent) and in Scotland to £192,000 (6.7 per cent).

In 1991 the number of homeless households living in B&Bs, hostels and other temporary emergency housing hit 13,550. That figure fell to less than 5,000 at the end of 1993 but began to rise again after 1996, prompting concern from Blair’s government. Numbers began to fall again in 2003.

Last year, Government data revealed that the number of households in temporary accommodation in England is now at the highest level since records began.

‘Tremendous regret’ over current state of housing

At the end of 2023, a record 145, 800 children were living in unsuitable temporary accommodation. These are emergency homes where, as i has reported, unexpected child deaths occur because the housing is often unsafe and unsuitable.

Dame Kate told i that she feels “tremendous regret” about this.

“Sometimes I look back and wonder if there are some things I should have talked about a little bit more,” she said.

However, when she published her original report “it wasn’t a time when everyone talked about a housing crisis,” she said.

“I don’t think any of us expected this to still be such an issue in 2024.”

Dame Kate Barker is a business economist, known for her work as a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) from 2001 until 2010

From 2011-2020, Dame Kate was a non-executive director at Taylor Wimpey, in 2014 she published a short book called Housing; Where’s the Plan? She has also served on the board of the mortgage lender Yorkshire Building Society.

In 2022, then-prime minister and Housing Secretary Michael Gove dropped planning reform that included compulsory housebuilding targets to avoid an embarrassing backbench rebellion.

Before that, the Conservatives had a housebuilding target put in place by David Cameron of 300,000 a year. In 2022 just 151,120 new homes were completed. In 2023 just 131, 213 were completed. A decline of 12 per cent.

Labour say they will build 1.5 million new homes over five years and create new towns across the country if elected.

Lack of new homes ‘at the heart’ of crisis

Dame Kate said it might “seem trite” to say the lack of new homes is the reason for Britain’s housing crisis. “But that does lie at the heart of [the crisis],” in her view.

“This isn’t an obvious point,” she said. “There are more or less as many housing units in England per 1000 households as there used to be but how these are distributed has shifted.

“People who are better off can buy larger homes and second homes but those who are less well-off cannot buy.”

The next government needs to “get housing supply above their target” to insure against future downturns, Dame Kate said.

“These economic cycles are inevitable,” she added.

“We must work out how to manage around them, what tools to use to brake the housing market if it runs very hot (by making changes to mortgage conditions) and how to support it when it’s running cool like it is now (more social housing supply).”

Dame Kate told i one of the big questions she wants to tease out is whether more national oversight of planning and housebuilding is needed.

“The issues around housing supply are very hard to deal with at a local authority level,” she said. “Local authorities aren’t really big enough.”

Call for more social housebuilding

Dame Kate wants to see more social housebuilding and thinks it is “really regrettable” that the Conservatives made the “mistake” of not using the ultra-low rates of the 2010s to borrow to build affordable homes.

Social housing should not just be for the lowest income households, she added.

“Social housing has become too residualised,” she said. “Compare with the Netherlands, where [social housing] houses a wide range of incomes and carries less stigma.”

Anti-housebuilding sentiment, or Nimbyism, forced Michael Gove to water down his planning reforms as housing secretary and has prompted Labour to declare itself the “party of the builders, not the blockers.”

Dame Kate thinks it is “disappointing” that new development, whether housing or infrastructure, often “arouses opposition” in Britain. She wishes “more was made of the case for new housing – the need to help families form and the benefits [new homes] can add to a place.”

However, Dame Kate told i she is a fan of the contentious Cameron-era Help to Buy policy for first-time buyers, which boosted housebuilding.

“Since leading the housing supply review for government an unbelievable 20 years ago, I have been unable to shake off a deep concern about the whole topic of housing,” Dame Kate said.

“We are looking for fresh and implementable ideas, and they certainly won’t all come from me!”

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button