Britain’s squalid housing crisis

Nov 24, 2022 by

by Mary Harrington, UnHerd:

The Tories have betrayed Beveridge’s dream of decent social housing.

The Conservatives are doomed. But it won’t be Brexit that destroys the party in its current form. That’s ultimately a symptom of a far larger problem: a slow but inexorable collision between voters’ desire for ongoing growth, and voters’ desire to conserve, well, anything at all. The flashpoint for this insoluble dilemma is one of Beveridge’s Five Giants: “squalor”. Or, rather, an increasingly despairing sense that modern Britain has betrayed Beveridge’s hope that every citizen would be able to escape “squalor” for decent, healthy, affordable housing.

The “housing crisis” has been with us for at least a decade, and house prices an obsession for the best part of two more. Today, the demand for housing so radically outstrips supply that young people can’t afford to buyRough sleeping has increased by 165% since 2010. One in ten British families now lives in overcrowded housing. Already by 2016, four in 10 British houses were reported to be below an acceptable standard. Last year, 2,300 people died while languishing on the waiting list for social housing, which, once you get through the door, is often profoundly grim.

Given the scale and disastrous social consequences of this crisis, then, it should beggar belief that the latest Tory Prime Minister has already balked at addressing it. Rishi Sunak pulled a vote this week on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, after around 50 Tory MPs tabled an amendment scrapping Liz Truss’s compulsory house-building targets.

But Sunak’s central, intractable problem is that the great leap forward in living standards was never going to continue indefinitely — because it was, in fact, a great economic Ponzi scheme, powered by an extractive approach to human populations, that is now running up against multiple structural limits. And the reigning political consensus on how to keep that scam running is itself contributing to the housing crisis, as well as worsening squalor and social conflict at the bottom of the social ladder, while leaving the Tories unable to effect change without also attacking the interests of their core electoral base.

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