03/05/2016

More than two in every three Britons (69%) believe the country is in the throes of a housing crisis – with people who live in cities significantly more concerned than those who live in the countryside, according to a poll for Guardian Cities and the Observer. David Tiger for http://www.the guardian.com

UK housing crisis: poll reveals city v country split on who to blame

The city v countryside split was even more pronounced when respondents were asked to rate the most important issues facing the country. Nationally, housing rated fifth in the poll, behind immigration, the NHS, European Union membership and terrorism – but housing was the biggest concern for people living in London.

The poll showed that opinion on the existence of a housing crisis was much more shaped by where respondents live than the age group they fall into. Nationally, the percentage of people who feel Britain is in crisis increases to 81% if we exclude those who ‘don’t know’. Drilling down into the data reveals that view is held by 88% of city-dwellers, compared with 73% of those who live in the countryside.

Countrywide, more than half (54%) of those who agree the UK is in a housing crisis believe that immigration has been the largest contributor, with foreign investors next in our sights (51%). But people living in the countryside are far more likely than city-dwellers to blame immigration (60% to 40%).

Government help-to-buy schemes fare well; in fact help-to-buy is believed to be least likely to have had an impact on the housing crisis. This is slightly at odds with the view of homeless charity Shelter, who believe that owing to an insufficient increase in housebuilding volumes, help-to-buy is exacerbating the crisis by further depleting the pool of property available.

When the question is rephrased to focus on solutions to the crisis rather than its cause, ‘more social housing’ (58%) scores more highly than restrictions on immigration (47%), some consolation for those with liberal attitudes towards our border controls. But, on the whole, we are more hung up on applying restrictions than investing in construction.

Rural dwellers are far more likely to be in favour of restricting immigration (57% to 34%). Londoners are a lot more relaxed about immigration to the cities with only 36% citing the option as a preferred solution (compared to the 48% UK average). In fact, as a whole, Londoners tend to be more supportive of increasing housing density and relaxing planning permission.
One thing everyone does tend to agree on is the need for more affordable housing in the UK. If we take out the 18% who don’t have an opinion on the matter, then 81% would support a governmental policy to build 250,000 affordable homes a year for the next four years.

This is an issue all appear to agree on regardless of age. Looking across the regions (at least where we have sufficient sample sizes), the need to build more affordable housing is felt particularly strongly in London (91%) and Scotland (91%). As we might expect, those living urban areas are much more likely to support the policy (89%) than their rural counterparts (72%).

When it comes to Britain’s cities specifically and the matter of tackling the problems of housing shortages, the most preferred solution is building on brown belt land; 60% of Britons think we should do so. By contrast, green belt land remains untouchable in the eyes of many; with only 9% believing we should build on it to boost the supply of housing.

This research was conducted only five days after the Panama Papers stories began to break – their revelations included how a substantial portion of London’s most expensive properties are owned by foreigners via offshore companies.

Even more damaging perhaps were the links to corrupt individuals, which provide more evidence to suggest that laundered money is artificially driving up the cost of housing in the capital. We may see ever growing hostility to foreign investment in property.

When it comes to the specifics of restricting ownership of British properties, only 27% would want to see a total ban on foreign ownership, with the top choice (71%) being to stop foreign buyers purchasing British properties as investment vehicles.

Those in favour of Right to Buy, introduced shortly after Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, argue that it has given an aspirational working class the ability to own their own home Its opponents argue that it amounts to selling off public assets which in turn has distorted house prices.

The British public are pretty much split on the issue, although home ownership does slightly win out. There appears to be some conflict in the public psyche between the importance of home ownership and a decent supply of quality social housing; as increasing the latter is the preferred solution to tackling the crisis.

On the other hand, buy-to-let, which has flourished in recent decades, is less of a divisive issue – 70% think of Britons consider it fundamentally unfair that some individuals are able to profit from owning multiple properties while others are unable to afford one.

Across the UK, Londoners are the group least likely to think that buy-to-let is a fair system (58%). This is consistent with the difference of opinion we see between those living in urban and rural areas; (59% of the former think it is unfair versus 65% of the latter).

As many as 89% of 18-34s have aspirations to buy their own home one day, with only 3% showing no desire to get on the property ladder. However, whether you would consider them realistic or plain pessimistic, just over a quarter of them (26%) imagine a future without the possibility of ever owning their own home. It is also widely accepted that without help from the family it is increasingly difficult to buy property.

What’s notable is that the UK’s infatuation with home ownership is still very much alive, despite market conditions making it increasingly difficult. Two-thirds of British non-homeowners would like to like to buy their own property one day.

Most millennials think that their standard of accommodation is or will be about the same as their parents (32%), . Baby boomers, many of whom may have benefitted from steady growth in property prices, are much more likely (44%) to feel as though they have it better than the generation before them. Only 9% believe themselves to be worse off.

Britons’ experiences of gentrification vary hugely by region. Unsurprisingly, those living in London are much more likely to have been affected in one way or another. If we discount those who ‘don’t know’ (21%), only 33% of Londoners say their area has not been gentrified, compared to the national average of 61%. Still, many claim that the effects have been positive, either because of improvements in the local area (21%) or an increase in the value of their home (19%). By contrast, only 16% have been affected negatively in some way.

This suggests that while some feel passionately about the negative consequences of gentrification – recall the Shoreditch Serial Killer Cafe protests from last September – they are currently a minority voice. However, this minority voice may grow louder as gentrification appears to be becoming a creeping concern for a much more significant minority of the population. 42% agree that they have some worries about the current or potential impact of gentrification. It seems to be no more of a concern to Londoners, despite being far more affected, than it is for the average Briton, suggesting that many are embracing the positive effects of the changes in their city.

Methodology: Opinium Research interviewed a sample of 1,004 UK adults aged 18+. Interviews were conducted using an online panel and results have been weighted so that they are demographically representative of the total UK adult population

Source: The Guardian

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