Why the UK must address the housing and migration crisis simultaneously

Bright Blue, an independent think tank for liberal conservatism has published an article outlining why the UK must deal with housing and migration at the same time.

It can be seen here, and in summary says that the housing and migration are two of the most pressing and divisive issues in British politics today. The high cost and low supply of housing, alongside growing concerns over migration, are central to ongoing social and economic debates. While some, like former Housing Minister Robert Jenrick, have attributed the housing crisis to high levels of migration, the reality is more nuanced. Migration is indeed a contributing factor, but it is not the sole cause. There are comprehensive policy solutions that can address both issues simultaneously.

The Housing Shortage

The UK faces a significant housing shortage, with an estimated deficit of roughly four million homes according to the Centre for Cities. The gridlocked planning system is a major contributor to this crisis. The current system involves case-by-case reviews by councils, where political considerations and slow deliberation result in permissions being granted at a slow pace. Consequently, developers buy up available plots for future builds, pushing smaller developers out of the market and leading to a practice known as “land banking.”

Key Statistics:

  • The top ten house builders in the UK build over 40% of all new homes and hold more than one million plots of land in reserve, nearly all of which remain undeveloped.
  • Of the approximately 350,000 permissions granted since 2010, only 200,000 resulted in construction, which is about a third below what the government estimates is needed.

Impact of Migration on Housing

Increased levels of migration have added pressure to the UK’s already strained housing stock. In 2022, net migration to the UK hit a record 764,000, while the average annual construction of new homes was only 234,000. With an average of 2.36 occupants per home, this level of construction is insufficient to accommodate new arrivals, exacerbating the housing crisis.

Migrants often face challenges such as lack of financial capacity, cultural and linguistic barriers, which can lead to dependence on substandard housing. This issue is compounded by a slow bureaucratic resettlement and accommodation process, leading to prolonged stays in temporary accommodation. In 2023, the UK spent approximately £3 billion on housing migrants, highlighting the financial strain on the system.

Migrants also have significantly higher rates of living in rented and overcrowded homes compared to local-born residents. This trend has led to tensions between new arrivals and established residents, which can fuel divisive political discourse.

Proposed Policy Solutions

Addressing both the housing crisis and the pressures of migration requires a multifaceted approach. Here are two key policy solutions that can help:

  1. Reform the Planning System:
    • Mandate Delivery Contracts: Ensure that purchased plots of land are developed within a specified timeframe to prevent land banking.
    • Streamline Approval Processes: Introduce a more predictable and consistent planning permission regime to reduce the number of idle building sites.
  2. Innovative Social Housing Models:
    • Community-Focused Development: Local populations should have a say in the design and purposes of new builds. Projects should aim at integrating migrant and local-born communities.
    • Incorporate Best Practices from Abroad:
      • Singapore: Known for its successful social housing model, Singapore combines private investment in shared facilities with streamlined planning restrictions, leading to substantial construction and greater homeownership. Housing ranges from emergency accommodations for new arrivals to larger residences for families, all centred around community facilities to promote integration.
      • South Africa: Post-apartheid mixed-income housing projects with central economic nodes have promoted social integration.

Implementing these reforms could revolutionize social housing in the UK by encouraging investment in both private and public sectors, enhancing social integration, and reducing migration-related tensions. More effective social housing would not only alleviate the pressure on the housing market but also foster greater community cohesion and civic engagement.

By addressing both the housing and migration crises through these comprehensive policies, the UK can move towards a more sustainable and integrated future, reducing social tensions and improving the quality of life for all residents.

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