Housing Lies, Property Damn Lies, and Statistics about Flats

The Department for Communities and Local Government published the English Housing Survey (EHS) Headline Report 2009-10 on Thursday 24 February 2011. This has been widely and thoughtlessly commented on in the media, so I thought that I would comment in a more questioning manner:

  • A decrease in the number of owner occupied households from a peak of 14.8 million in 2005 and 2006 to 14.5 million in 2009-10. In contrast the number of households renting privately has risen by 1.3 million since 2001, from 2.1 million to 3.4 million in 2009-10.

  • Is this good bad or indifferent? It is generally presented as a dramatic change towards rented accommodation, and that we are becoming a nation that no longer owns it’s own homes (a Bad Thing). Yet at the beginning of the 20th Century 90% of us rented, in the 2nd half of the 20th Century 50% of us rented, and in 1988 the last Conservative Government was so concerned that the economy was being hindered by the immobility of labour (the jobs available weren’t where the people lived) that they brought in the 1988 Housing Act to try to encourage more renting. Is it surprising that a Government Policy actually worked?
  • Historically home ownership was less common because mortgage availability was more difficult, that is of course the current situation. The phrase REVERSION TO THE NORM springs to mind.

  • Some 6.7 million homes (30 per cent) were non-decent in 2009, down from 7.4 million (33 per cent) in 2008. Overall, social sector homes were in a better condition than private sector homes with 23 per cent being non-decent compared to 31 per cent.

  • A third of all homes (and over 40% of privately rented homes) aren’t decent and yet there is no public outcry? Something wrong somewhere I think. The report says “This is the number with one or more of the 26 hazards covered by the EHS since 2008″ – yet the Housing Health & Safety Rating System itself says – “some hazards, however, are necessary or unavoidable, and others are considered desirable or expected because the perceived benefits outweigh the risks. For example, electricity is hazardous but considered necessary; stairs (however well designed) are hazardous but necessary in any multi-storey dwelling”. I can’t help but conclude that there is a serious error in either the Government’s statistics, or the way hazards are measured.

Council house in Haggerston. Some of the windo...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m grateful to the Blog Unlocking the Potential of Empty Homes for more examples of the lies/statistics which are pushed out by interested parties, and tend to be accepted & repeated by a media unwilling to question and challenge the press releases which they copy and paste into news articles:

There is an undersupply of housing;

In 2008 there were 22,398,000 dwellings and 21,731,000 households in England a surplus of 667,000 dwellings.

Note to self – a “surplus” is NOT “undersupply”.

There is a growing shortfall in housing;

The growth in the number of dwellings in the UK has outpaced the growth in households every year since 1971

There are 5 million people in housing need waiting for social housing;

There are 1.76 million households on council housing registers in England which equates to about 5 million people. Many of the households that are on them are in housing need, but others have a desire for subsidised housing rather than a need. Anybody can register and some register in several council areas. Housing registers are a measure of demand for social housing. They are not a measure of housing need.

Homelessness is increasing;

Last year 40,000 households were accepted as being homeless by local authorities, 25% down on the previous year and a third of the number in 2003/4

Social housing is in decline;

Not only been an increase in social housing every year, but since 2003/4 the rate of increase has gone up every year. Last year 33,120 new socially rented homes were added to the stock.

Housing Policy is Based on Rumour

One thing that seems to become clearer over the years is that the Housing Policy of all governments gets based on the flakiest of figures. I’m not arguing for a particular policy here, just saying that next time you read that prices are too high, rents too low, homes in short supply, a glut of housing …… look very carefully at who is telling you this, and why they are saying it. Look at the figures that they use to substantiate their argument, and how robust those figures are.

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One Response to “Housing Lies, Property Damn Lies, and Statistics about Flats”

  1. Richard says:

    Nick that’s a great blog.

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