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How to tackle the housing generation gap? This, your lordships, is where to start


Did anyone know that the House of Lords has a Committee on Intergenerational Fairness? One of the least visited webpages on the internet can be found here.

At 11.40 this morning (Committee Room 4A of the House of Lords) they will quiz senior officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on the impact of housing policy on different age groups and ‘how the Government can promote fairness between generations in housing and community policy’. The session is open to the public. See you in the queue . . .

Actually I feel sorry for everyone on this committee. Does anyone – even its members, their supporting officials, or the senior civil servants summoned to speak – believe anything will come of this session? Hand on heart? Of course not. It’s a talking shop and everyone involved knows it.

The country has a housing crisis which has been reported on ad nauseam. Because of escalating property prices against average income levels, the ‘dream of home-ownership’ is slipping out of reach for many younger people. Here is the most recent data. The problem is worse in the South and South East and at its very worst in London. So looking at this measure alone, the situation is unfair for younger people; we know that already. We also know of many ways in which we can address the problem. The Government needs to act, not talk.

Here are two places it could start:

The release of public land for housebuilding

The scale of the opportunity is significant. This 2016 report by Savills and Telereal Trillium estimated that 6 per cent of all freehold land in England and Wales was owned by public sector organisations. The Government has targets for the release of this land for home-building. But here is Oliver Letwin, in his book Hearts and Minds, talking about the difficulties of prising this land from the big departments, in this case Network Rail.

‘We would sit around my table, solemnly pondering a map of some piece of land that was quite clearly of no use to the railway at all; the railway people would begin yet another litany of reasons why this particular patch of earth either (a) couldn’t be got at or (b) wouldn’t be attractive to any developer or (c) might at some later date be used by the railway for some purpose that they couldn’t quite yet put their finger on or (d) was subject to certain legal restrictions that they didn’t themselves understand but which it might take their lawyers a long time to find out about or (e) was in fact too small to be of interest or (f) was in fact too large to get planning permission or (g) was something that couldn’t be sold for some reason they couldn’t remember but which they would go back to their office and find out about . . . don’t call us, we’ll call you (not).’

The easing of stamp duty to increase housing supply

Housing supply is not just increased by the building of new homes. It is also increased when people who would like to sell their homes feel motivated to do so. Roll up George Osborne to deliver the precise opposite with his stamp duty increases in 2014.

The higher end rates of 10 per cent of property sold for more than £925,000 and 12 per cent on sales above £1.5million represent very significant percentages of what is often a family’s most important form of wealth and security. For those looking to downsize – making a larger home available for another family – or to release capital to enable their children to buy homes, these large sums create a significant disincentive to do so. The evidence is in: as a result of Osborne’s move, the housing market has slowed and the stamp duty take is actually down.

It is clear that we need to reverse Osborne’s changes and go further to reduce stamp duty and remove the disincentive on home-owners to sell.

Funnily enough, the remit of the House of Lords Committee also covers loneliness. I have met elderly people who live a long way from their children. They would love to sell up and move closer. But at the back of their minds is the significant reduction in the family’s wealth if they do so. Adult social care instead?

The House of Lords Committee on Intergenerational Fairness could send the Prime Minister a quick memo on these two issues. And then go out to lunch.

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Caroline ffiske
Caroline ffiske
Caroline ffiske is a former adviser to the New Zealand Government, served two terms as a Conservative councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham and is currently a full-time mother. She tweets as @carolinefff

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