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Housing divide between young and old widens due to Covid-19

Words: Laura Edgar
Housing / iStock_000074406885

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated housing inequalities between the young and old, according to recent research.

The Intergenerational Foundation highlights that younger generations have lost jobs and homes, with some suffering mental health issues, while the older generations “have stockpiled space”.

Stockpiling Space: How the Pandemic Has Increased Housing Inequalities Between Older and Younger Generations says that between 2011 and 2020 there has been a ‘significant” increase in second homes, up by 50 per cent to 5.5 million. One in 10 people now own a second property and these are primarily older owners.

The think tank found that 52 per cent of owners now under-occupy their homes, with “housing assets and space passing from renters to owners and from younger generations to older generations”.

England, it concludes, now has “two housing nations”.

“Those living in the first nation – well-housed, often well-off and with space to work and self-isolate – have found the experience bearable, in some cases enjoyable. Those living in the second housing nation – in cramped flats with no access to outside space, or in shared houses – have suffered the most,” the report states.

Home ownership, it finds, has held steady for those over the age of 55 and increased for the over-65s. The percentage of the younger generation owning their own home has declined since 2003.

The pandemic has seen older and well-off people buying larger and more expensive properties in larger numbers, the think tank explained. London tops this trend, with purchases of second homes outside the capital up 309 per cent over 2019.

Colin Wiles, report author, commented that as well as a housing affordability crisis, there is an under-occupation crisis. “The failure to build enough new affordable homes for the young, combined with government policies that prevent the release of land, tackle the green belt, or build retirement homes for the old, have conspired to choke supply, push up prices, and encourage older generations to put off downsizing.”

Recommendations in the report include:

  • The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) should require local authorities to plan for housing needs rather than demand, and require the housing mix in new schemes to reflect local demographics.
  • Local plans should include specific targets for retirement housing, providing quotas within larger schemes, in the same way that quotas for affordable housing are set.
  • The NPPF should include a new requirement for local authorities to assess the degree of under-occupation within their existing housing stock and include measures in local plans to provide bespoke retirement housing, and other measures to incentivise downsizing.
  • The government should ensure that the proposals in the planning white paper are followed through to make the planning system simpler and more transparent. It should explore ways to open up the system to a wider range of views, both for strategic planning and for individual planning applications, using new technologies and other methods that will reach out to under-represented groups, especially the young.
  • The government should reconfirm a target of 300,000 homes a year in England and use all available policy levers to stick to it.
  • The government should commit to a programme of 100,000 social rent homes each year and provide funding and land to make this happen, diverting funds from help-to-buy and other failed policies where necessary.
  • The government should commission a parliamentary review into the state of the housebuilding industry to assess whether it is meeting the nation’s needs.
  • The government should seek to support smaller housebuilders, and encourage new entrants to the housebuilding industry, by a package of fiscal and other measures, including measures to reduce bureaucracy and make land available to smaller providers.
  • Permitted development rights should be scrapped. All proposals for change of use from commercial to residential should be considered within the normal planning procedures, open to local democratic scrutiny.

Stockpiling Space: How the Pandemic has Increased Housing Inequalities Between Older and Younger Generations can be read here on The Intergenerational Foundation website (pdf).