The UK housing crisis in numbers

Public spending cuts could put 1.25 million more people on waiting lists for affordable housing

As the two main political parties compete to say who can cut what fastest, the National Housing Federation (NHF) has joined the chorus of voices calling for their sector to be protected. It warned today that the government will fail to meet even half its target of building a million affordable homes by 2020 if the housing budget is not exempted from public spending cuts.

So just what is the story with the housing crisis?

Well, to start at the beginning, the UK has a severe housing shortage. Even during the boom, we were unable to build houses at the rate they were required. The population is swelling because of immigration and higher birth rates, while the number of households is rising even faster than population because more people are living alone and more people have second properties. The government has stated in the past that we would need 240,000 extra houses a year to meet demand. The current rate is just 125,000.

So, in 2007, Gordon Brown pledged to build three million houses by 2020. Of these, one million were to be "affordable" homes. The dearth of low-cost rental properties is the most contentious and worrying aspect of the housing situation. Back in 2007, Jon Cruddas warned that it was "feeding political extremism". Add to this the hardship caused by the recession, and there is a heightened risk of alienating those on lower incomes and pushing voters towards the populist posturing of the far right, which (inaccurately) racialises the housing shortage.

A substantial number of people are affected. There are now a record 4.5 million people on waiting lists for affordable housing. The NHF predicts that a further 1.25 million could find themselves in the same situation if spending cuts go ahead.

The NHF projection is based on cuts indicated in December's pre-Budget report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that unprotected government departments would face budget cuts of 17.98 per cent. Judging by this figure, the number of affordable homes actually built by 2020 will be 440,000 -- less than half the million planned.

A complicating factor is that the construction industry is always first to be hit in a recession. In fact, the picture looks even bleaker: the NHF estimates that, with these cuts, 278,000 jobs or apprenticeships will either be lost or not be created over the next ten years.

In response to the NHF warning, the housing minister John Healey said:

The Tories not only opposed us, they also proposed a £1bn cut in last year's housing budget that would have seen 9,000 fewer homes built and the loss of many jobs in the construction industry. Taking this as a clear indication of Tory priorities, the NHF would do well to consider the threat a Cameron government would pose to affordable housing.

Attacking the opposition is the default position for both parties in the run-up to the general election, but it is singularly unhelpful here. The tit-for-tat adding of notional numbers to the mix will do nothing to tackle the deepening crisis.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war