The causes of why millions of people in Britain are far less well off now than they were a few years ago are well documented. Brexit, the Ukraine war, soaring oil prices, food price hikes Covid and the latest – ever rising interest rates – are never far from the headlines.
But there is one other massive problem which has hit Britain far harder than most other countries and, sadly, is seldom talked about and that is the soaring price of housing in Britain. A modest family home costing anything between a quarter and half a million pounds is just plain bonkers.
There is nothing more important than securing a permanent roof over your head. Without it it’s a life on the streets, with all the hardship that brings.
There are many ex-pats reading this now who know only too well the sad fact that the value of your home in Spain has not kept up with rocketing prices of bricks and mortar back in Britain.
My wife and I sold a small bungalow on the south coast 15 years ago, lured into a comfortable and relaxing retirement in the Costa Blanca. We bought a quad on an urbanisation and it was great – people of the same age and circumstances quickly became friends. But over the years some have returned to the UK, some have died, and with Brexit complications on top, life is nothing like as interesting and fun as it was.
Luckily we were prudent enough not to put all our eggs in one basket and bought a park home on a holiday site, which we can return to each year to escape the summer Spanish heat. But we are restricted in its use and would have to vacate for some weeks in winter, and anyway, living in it through the winter would not be my idea of fun.
Each year, when we have a look at UK estate agents’ windows for likely properties we are increasingly disheartened. There is absolutely no way we could afford to buy a property where we used to live with the cash we would get from selling our Spanish home, and the value of our park home has depreciated to next to nothing. Inflation may have increased the value of our Spanish home by some 50,000 pounds if we’re lucky, and we would have to pay capital gains on that, while in the UK house prices have all but doubled. Cross the Channel to Normandy and you can buy a lovely property at half the price.
And what has caused this misery in Britain? A total lack of control of the property market and absolute greed.
The rot started with Maggie Thatcher. She introduced the right for tenants of council houses to buy the property they were living in at big discounts. No problem with that, it put many thousands of people on the first rungs of the property-owning ladder.
But what she didn’t do was to ensure that every penny in the sale of those council houses was ploughed back into the coffers of councils with legislation requiring them to build new council housing.
The result was that far fewer council houses were built and an ever-increasing number of people who couldn’t afford a mortgage were forced into renting in the private sector and it was then that pure greed took over.
How many of you watch the TV programme Homes Under the Hammer? Time and time again modest houses are put up for auction to be snapped up, not by first time buyers, but by buy-to-let landlords increasing their property portfolios at an ever increasing rate.
You would see one landlord bidding against another, pushing the price far above that which could be afforded by the first-time buyer.
And what did the government do about it? Absolutely nothing. In fact Tories were delighted it was happening because it meant that those people who were a few rungs up the property ladder were seeing the value of their homes going up and up. And who are these lucky people with an ever-growing nest egg? Tories of course.
And if that was not bad enough, we have another typically British phenomenon at work – in the shape of Nimbys (the not in my backyarders). Nimbies may tolerate a new large four or five bedroom quality house or bungalow in their picturesque village, but starter homes or council homes? Oh dear me no, they would fight tooth and nail to block planning permission for those.
So, we have an ever-growing housing shortage, a government shedding crocodile tears while watching richer people in their own homes getting richer, immigration into Britain making the situation even worse, rich people buying second homes in lovely holiday villages to use just a few weeks a year, happy in the knowledge that the value of those homes will go ever upwards.
But today the smelly matter has really hit the fan because mortgage interest rates have gone through the roof. Those people who are only a few years into their mortgage are facing increases running into thousands on top of all the other price rises they are facing. People trying to get their first home are simply priced out and those greedy buy-to-letters are being squeezed between rising buy-to-let mortgage rate rises and an increasing number of renters simply unable to afford rising rents.
The only people sitting pretty are those who have paid off their mortgage and are living without that millstone around their neck. And now they are being targeted by annoying equity release companies offering cash so the home owner can continue a lavish lifestyle. The only snags to that are that compound interest is paid on the loan and there is less money to pass onto the next generation.
There is an even more serious problem over this housing crisis. It is causing an ever-increasing divide between the haves and have nots and unless something is done to rectify the situation quickly, growing discontent could bubble up into real trouble.
What is needed urgently is a price correction, so that house prices take a tumble. Yes, that would put some people into negative equity but mortgage lenders should be required to ensure such people still had a roof over their heads.
Perhaps companies and individuals with multiple buy-to-let properties and owners of bricks and mortar holiday homes should face a higher tax burden, encouraging them to sell up, and, if it was reasonable for Maggie Thatcher to introduce the right to buy at big discounts for council tenants, why not for privately owned rented properties too?
There are still houses which have been left empty for years. Councils should have the legislative power to take over those properties without compensation and put tenants in them regardless of what the owners think. After all, those anti-social property owners could and should put those properties on the market.
Greed has dictated the UK housing market for far too long and is now causing misery for far too many people. We desperately need a government which will rectify it.