A child waves the Union Jack as runners pass during the London Marathon yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The rise of a quieter British patriotism

A new generation is averse to forms of patriotic expression which are either too demonstrative or too angry. But there is no shortage of pride in British identity. 

Most people take a quiet pride in their British identity, being more likely to say that they are "somewhat proud" to be British, while the number of people who say they are "very proud" to be British has fallen over the last decade, according to new data from the 2013 British Social Attitudes survey. 

Eighty two per cent of people are at least somewhat proud to be British, with the number saying they are "somewhat proud" to be British (47 per cent) overtaking those who are "very proud" (35 per cent) over the last decade, signalling an apparent preference for softer forms of patriotism over noisier versions of it.  As the "very proud" figure has fallen eight points in a decade, from 43 per cent to 35 per cent, the "somewhat proud" statistic has risen by a similar margin, up from 39 per cent a decade ago. 

Being "somewhat proud" to be British would feel to many people to be a rather British way for many people to express their sense of national pride. Many people see saluting the flag or pledges of allegiance as perhaps a little bit American, yet most of us enjoy putting out the bunting for national celebrations like the Olympics and the Jubilee. (Even the republican minority held a dissident street party of their own to protest it.)

The Sunday Times report revealing the findings suggests the survey shows British pride falling to an "all-time low" for British pride, but the findings certainly don’t suggest any crisis of pride in British identity.  The findings do capture several ways in which national identity is changing in a multinational United Kingdom, but they show that a healthy degree of British pride and patriotism remains in place across England, Scotland and Wales. Just 10 per cent say they are not proud to be British, compared to 12 per cent a decade ago, with 2 per cemt saying they are no proud at all, and 8 per cent declaring themselves "not very proud". Young people were particularly likely to prefer being "somewhat proud" to being "very proud", suggesting that they are more comfortable with a quieter form of national pride. 

Perhaps it is a generation which could recognise a warm sense of national pride in Danny Boyle’s story of what makes us British but tends to see the flag-waving as something for high days and holidays. They may perhaps see being "very proud" as being a little over the top, and have an aversion to forms of patriotic expression which are either too demonstrative – such as wrapping yourself in several flags and a union jack top hat at Last Night of the Proms – or which can be associated with being angry at change. Their generation which finds little sense in the claim that Britain has become unrecognisable – in fact, large, robust surveys show our sense of belonging, both to Britain and to local areas have increased over the last decade so it may be that younger people find that declaring themselves to be "somewhat proud" feels more comfortable.

But the BSA figures also show that there is certainly still quite a lot of pride left. Eighty seven per cent are proud of Britain’s history – with most (53 per cent) being very proud. Fifty three per cent are very proud of the armed forces, with another 30 per cent being somewhat proud. Eighty six per cent are at least somewhat proud of Britain’s sporting achievements, with 35 per cent being very proud of this, and 11 per cent not very proud or not proud at all (2 per cent). 

Sixty seven per cent are at least somewhat proud of Britain’s "fair and equal treatment of all groups in society", though the "very proud number" falls to 19 per cent, and 26 per cent are either not very proud (21 per cent) or not proud at all (5 per cent) of this. Perhaps surprisingly, 69 per cent say they are at least "somewhat proud" of the way democracy works, with the 17 per cent who say they are very proud of this being not much smaller than the 22 per cent who are not very proud (20 per cent) or not proud at all (2 per cent).

This has been a decade in which Scottish and Welsh identities have become more prominent, with people in England responding by being increasingly likely to see themselves as more English too. Being British is the shared civic identity of a multi-national state - and the drop in being very proud reflects that it is often the secondary identity, rather than the primary one. However, the scale of pride in British identity picked up in the BSA survey shows that most people do not see their national and British identities as a zero sum choice.

The BSA found that Scots in 2013 were a little more likely to say that they were "very proud" to be British than the English or the Welsh. The proportion in Scotland saying they are very proud, at 38 per cent, had not fallen since 2003, and so was no higher in 2013 than the proportion saying this in either England (35 per cent) or Wales (34 per cent). The sample sizes are small, so caution is advisable in making much of narrow differences in the national scores. What can be said with confidence is that the proportion saying they are at least somewhat proud of being British is broadly similar across the different British nations: 76 per cent in Scotland, 74 per cent in Wales and 73 per cent in England. 

The referendum choice may have led many Scots to value their British identity strongly, perhaps precisely because the independence debate feels to them as though it puts that into a question in a way that isn't currently the case in England and Wales.  Almost all of those voting Yes and No on independence this autumn will have an equally strong sense of Scottish pride, while British identity is more politically contested. 

The BSA findings again capture the breadth of engagement with some form of British pride in Scotland – which is why it certainly makes sense for Scottish nationalists to talk about their committment to a "social union" and an independent Scotland retaining its Britishness, even if this matters least to the "Scottish not British" core among pro-independence activists. However, many among the third of Scots who are "very proud" to be British would still fear that their Britishness would be diminished if the nion were to be rejected this autumn.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.

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Has Brexit burst the British housing bubble?

The fall in value of the pound is having a negative impact on property prices.

The high cost of housing in the UK has almost nothing to do with supply and demand. What matters is political control. Rents are high because landlords have gained the upper hand politically. The consequences are vividly illustrated in Ken Loach’s new film focusing on inequality in Britain, I’ Daniel Blake.  As a student in the 1980s I paid £9 a week to rent a room in a shared house in Newcastle upon Tyne. Private rent was low because for decades before then rents had been regulated. It was the lifting of that regulation that meant rents could rise so that now students have to borrow vast sums of money just to have a place to live. Today’s students pay many multiples more in rent than I ever did, and millions of families with children are also struggling because they have to rent privately.

Because rents have been allowed to rise as high as landlords can get away with, the landlords have been encouraged to buy up more and more properties that were once social housing or lived in by a family, who had bought the property with a mortgage. The number of people renting privately doubled between the last two censuses of 2001 and 2011. That has never happened before. It was the end result of years of deregulation and the withdrawal of our government from representing our interests in housing. Well-regulated private renting is a benefit, but without rent regulation it becomes a social evil.

Housing prices are not determined by supply and demand because you do not have a choice about needing to be housed. Allow an unregulated market to develop when social housing is also being cut and there is no choice not to buy what is on offer, other than sleeping on the streets. Prices will go sky-high. The purchase prices for mortgage borrowers also rise to astronomical levels as first-time buyers are competing with landlords to buy properties, and so have to be able to secure a mortgage equal to the amount a landlords can wring out of people desperate for a home.

In the first blog in this series on affordable housing published by Taxpayers Against Poverty, Stephen Hill, director of C2O Futureplanners, explained: “There are over one million less affordable homes than there were in 1980. The population has grown by nearly nine million people. Incomes at the median level are flat, and secure employment is increasingly scarce.” He is correct, but the situation is even worse than that — it is not lack of housing that is the problem. Each annual census in the UK records the amount of housing that exists at each point in time. It does this by recording the number of rooms in homes over a certain size. The number of rooms per person has risen at every census since 1981.

The 2011 census was the first to count bedrooms and found that in England and Wales there were 66 million for a population of 55 million (21 million of whom were married or in a civil partnership). So even if we make the ludicrous assumption that only married people share a bed and no children use bunk-beds, there were at least 22 million bedrooms empty on census night 2011. We have not been building a huge number of new houses or flats in recent years, but we have been adding extensions on to our existing homes and so we now have more housing than we have ever had before, per person and per family. We just share it out more unfairly than we have ever done before.

If housing prices were about supply and demand then our surplus of bedrooms would result in falling prices, but this is not a free market. You are not free to buy a flat that has been left empty in London to appreciate in value by its owner. They do not want to sell, or sometimes even rent it out, and you almost certainly would not have the money even if they did.

It is in the housing market that the majority of investments are made in the UK, housing is where most wealth is held. As we become more and more economically unequal it is through housing that we most clearly see that most of us are losers while just a few (who own multiple properties) are winners. Recent UK governments have been allowing wealth and income inequalities to rise and rise.

As Fred Harrison explained in the second blog in this series, government has not only withdrawn from regulating housing rents and profits to avoid this winner-takes-all-economics — it is now even prepared to provide £2bn to buy properties that home builders can’t sell so that they don’t need to lower prices even if landlords and first-time buyers will not buy their properties. The government sees renting-seeking as a social good, and believes that the market in housing should be regulated less and less with each year that passes, other than intervening to keep prices high and rising. Meanwhile, street homelessness rises, evictions rise, the debt of mortgage holders rises, housing prices rise and a small minority of the population become richer. So how will it end?

You might have thought that prices would stop rising when landlords stopped buying properties because the return on their investments in terms of rent would not making it worth their while paying, say, one million pounds for a three-bed house in a part of London near a tube station. Suppose that the most a family could pay was £20,000 a year in rent. The landlord’s “return” on their investment would only be two per cent a year, ignoring wear-and tear and anything else that they might be able to off-set against paying tax. If the forces that were actually at play were “supply and demand” then surely prices have to stop rising when people can no longer afford the rents?

However, landlords have another return: the escalating value of the property itself. If the property is rising by five per cent a year in value then they are making a seven per cent return when they rent it out, even if annual rents are just two per cent of its value. The rise of five per cent a year is due to speculation which is itself partly fed by a belief that the government of the day will do all it can to protect their investments, but it will only do that up to a certain point.

Because it needs to raise taxes a little given the state of the national finances, the UK government is now withdrawing its support of reckless profit taking by smaller landlords. In October 2016 a group of buy-to-let landlords lost their appeal in the courts to try to continue to be able to claim their mortgage interest payments as a business expense. From 2017 only the largest of landlords who set up companies to rent out their properties will be able to continue to do that.

The government knows that the housing market is in trouble. That is why Philip Hammond, the current Chancellor, announced that their “Help to Buy” scheme (which was aimed at the very best-off of potential first time buyers) will end in December 2016. The government knows that with the risk of falling house prices in future it cannot afford the guarantees that “Help to Buy” created. “Help to Buy” schemes were the previous Chancellor, George Osborne’s biggest spending commitment. They were designed to help inflate the housing market and keep prices rising, but eventually every speculative bubble has to burst.

On 21 September the first reports of a stalling market were released under headlines that included: “Q2 UK house sales at an all-time quarterly low says Land Registry”. UK Land Registry figures now show housing prices to have fallen in London by 7% so far in 2016, with the number of sales roughly halving. Investors have stopped buying; if a recent investor wants to sell they have to do so at a loss. Nationally prices fell by 4.5%.

So what happened to the magic-money-tree? In short the pound fell in value and it has been continuing to fall ever since the UK voted to leave the EU. There was always going to be “the event” that triggered the end of speculation and it is looking more and more likely as if Brexit was that event. Once the pound begins to fall in value then any overseas investor knows that if they buy property in the UK, even if its value in pounds does not fall, it will be worth less to them in future.

Suddenly UK housing is not a safe asset. Suddenly prospective landlords actually have to try to rely on their tenants’ rent to pay back their borrowings. Suddenly housing prices change despite no great alteration in supply or demand. Suddenly the whole edifice looks unsafe, not just for the majority of young and almost all poor people in Britain, but for the large majority of the population.

It was never “supply and demand” that determined our housing costs and profits. Relying on that belief did not result in greatly improved cheaper housing for most people, but it was easy to claim that somehow tomorrow would be better if we just left it to the market — until we left it to the ever more unregulated market for too long. Housing costs, prices and supply are determined by governments, including those that shirk their responsibilities and have too much concern for the economic fortunes of the affluent few.


This is part of a series of blogs on affordable housing published by Taxpayers Against Poverty. You can read others in the series on their website http://taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk/ or sign up to attend their seminar in Parliament on the 16th November here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/taxpayers-against-poverty-affordable-housing-seminar-tickets-28329123170