High house prices are putting off couples from having children

Shelter research shows 63 per cent more families are feeling the squeeze.

It’s a sad reality that in Britain we get used to putting up with the impact that the high cost of housing has on our lives. We accept having to spend an hour getting to and from work every day as we can’t afford to live any closer to our jobs. We think of the family homes we grew up in with nostalgia rather than aspiration, accepting we are unlikely to live anywhere similar. We pay half our salaries to keep up with our rent or mortgage, leaving little over for the rest of our lives.

However this week another impact has come to light that has serious implications for both individual families and for society as a whole. New research we have carried out at Shelter has identified a staggering 63 per cent increase in the number of people putting off having children because of the lack of affordable housing. Over a million people are delaying having a family because of housing costs. And we’re not just talking for a few months – one in four of those delaying said they have been doing so for more than five years.

Being in my mid-thirties, this is a picture I can identify with. I have seen numerous friends wanting to start families but unwilling to do so until they can buy their own home, not seeing their rented flat as a suitable place to raise a child. Others have had to move away from their families to be able to buy a home and start a family, having to give up the support networks and childcare options that are so important for young families. Some have had one child and stopped there, not out of choice but because they couldn’t afford to live anywhere that could accommodate more children.

And these are all people who work hard, who save, who do everything they can but who still can’t achieve the security and stability that was a given for previous generations.

So what can be done?

Clearly the high cost of owning your own home is not going to change overnight. So the million families renting (a number which has almost doubled in the past five years) need to ensure a rented place can feel like a suitable home to start and raise a family in. Landlords can evict them or raise the rent at any time. When you have children to consider, particularly if they are school age, for many this is just not a workable option.

Longer term we need action to bring down the cost of buying a home. Decades of underinvestment have left the supply and demand for affordable homes completely out of kilter. Earlier this month we saw levels of housebuilding fall yet again, down almost a quarter over the past year. When people’s lives are being put on hold in this way, this is simply not sustainable. We must see more homes being built that families across the country can afford so we can put a halt to this deeply concerning trend.

Children gaze down the stairwell of a 1950s slum; but poor family housing isn't consigned to history. Photograph: Getty Images

Anna is the head of press at Shelter.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.