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The Analysis Comment

Britain set for worst decade of house building on record

The UK is building new houses at a rate that is low compared to the past few decades, and there is no one clear reason why

Robert Colvile Director, the Centre for Policy Studies

The Prime Minister has described solving the housing crisis as ‘the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation’. Yet our analysis shows the full scale of that challenge. With one year to go, the 2010s will see

house-building figures in England come in below any decade since the Second World War – part of a 50-year pattern in which each decade has seen fewer new homes built than the last (see Figures 1 and 2).

No one decision This is not a problem that can be blamed on any one decision or policy, minister or government. It is the result of decades in which building new homes moved steadily down the national priority list. There have been encouraging signs recently,

roughly the equivalent of one home for every 14 people over the decade. In the 2010s, that ratio was one to 43, more than three times higher. The figures are improved somewhat when

you factor in conversions of existing properties, which push the total up. But even then, the total of net additional dwellings (the yardstick for overall housing supply) is likely to be lower this decade than last. Across the United Kingdom as a whole,

but despite the government’s recent efforts to boost construction, new-build housing completions in England between 2010 and 2019 are set to be approximately 130,000 per year. That is well below the 147,000 of the 2000s or 150,000 of the 1990s, and half of the level in the 1960s and 1970s.

Population size The picture becomes even worse when you factor in population size. In the 1960s, the new-build construction rate in England was

Figure 1: Housing completions by decades

But even then, the total of net additional dwellings (the yardstick for overall housing supply) is likely to be lower this decade than last

the pattern is broadly similar, with house building falling from a peak of 3.6 million new units in the 1960s to 1.9 million in the 1990s and 2000s, with the 2010s set to come in lower still.

Blighting lives The housing crisis is blighting the lives of a generation, and robbing them of the dream of home ownership. But as this analysis shows, this is not just the consequence of the

financial crisis – it is part of a pattern stretching back half a century, in which we have steadily built fewer and fewer new homes. The government has rightly promised to focus on this issue, and

there are encouraging signs house building is picking up. But ministers need to take bold action in 2019 to ensure the 2020s become the decade in which we break this hugely damaging cycle. CCR

Figure 2: Total number of housing completions by year


February 2019

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