No place called home: terraced housing in Greenwich, London. Photo: Getty
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Leader: A short-term fall in prices will not solve the housing crisis

A generation-long failure to build enough homes has made prices soar far in excess of inflation, benefiting homeowners at the expense of their children.

Mamma has every shilling laid out in a first-class mortgage on land at four per cent,” one character tells another in Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset. “That does make one feel so secure! The land can’t run away.” The belief in an eternal link between property and security has been a mainstay of British household economics for generations. Parents have advised children to get a foot on the ladder, and those seeking investment opportunities have been steered towards bricks and mortar.

For a long time it seemed to work. Individuals were rewarded with soaring personal wealth; politicians with the votes of a grateful middle class. Of late, however, the flaws in the model have become more obvious. A generation-long failure to build enough homes has made prices soar far in excess of inflation, benefiting homeowners at the expense of their children. The situation is worst in London, where the average property price has edged ever closer to £500,000.

This phenomenon raises the spectre of a return to a pre-Victorian class system, in which your prospects depend less on education, hard work or thrift than they do on the generosity of your parents. It does more immediate damage, too. About nine million people in England now live in private rented accommodation, from which they can be evicted at a few weeks’ notice.

There are signs that this particular bull run may be reaching its peak. According to the Office for National Statistics, the average house price in the UK hit an all-time record of £265,000 in June. (The figure for London was £499,000.) But a survey by the property website Rightmove suggests that asking prices have since begun to fall back, dropping by nearly 4 per cent in just two months. This may be an unusually large summer blip. However, with interest rates poised to rise, and mortgage affordability already stretched to the limit, it may be the start of something more significant.

If the long house-price boom has created problems, so, too, would a poorly timed downturn. Britain remains vastly short of the housing that its growing population needs: any sustainable solution will demand an increase in housebuilding rates. That in turn will entail changes to land-use restriction to release more land in our bigger cities and the green belts that surround them. In the meantime, we require new regulations to protect renters from the neglect and caprice of bad landlords.

All these policies will be difficult to implement, and are likely to inspire fierce opposition. The danger is that, with an election looming, this summer’s dip in the housing market could reduce the pressure on politicians to win a mandate for such controversial measures by including them in their manifestos. A slight fall in prices today could, paradoxically, make a significant fall in the long term less likely. 


Exporting the Doctor

On Saturday Doctor Who returns, in the regenerated form of Peter Capaldi (see our discussion on page 38). The BBC’s flagship show has much in common with the band on our cover this week. Both the Beatles and Doctor Who are products of the 1960s that present a distinctively British view of the world, combining wit, humour and lingering imperial pretention. Both conquered America (even if, for all his Gallifreyan technologies, it took the Doctor rather longer).

It is easy to dismiss pop-cultural icons as ephemeral, yet both Who and the Beatles have racked up a half-century and they show no sign of fading. There is an argument that, as our economic and military clout wanes, such exports will be critical tools through which Britain can market itself and its ideas to the world. This is a point worth remembering the next time a minister questions the purpose of the arts budget. When it comes to culture, we remain a superpower. 

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Calais Jungle: What will happen to child refugees when they leave?

Hundreds of unaccompanied child asylum seekers are being taken to Britain where they face an uncertain future.

Hundreds of unaccompanied child asylum seekers are being taken to Britain, moved from a camp in Calais, northern France, as its closure begins. There were 387 unaccompanied minors in the French refugee camp known as “the Jungle” with links to the UK and they are arriving in England in groups of 70.

Upon arrival, the children are taken to a secure unit for 72 hours, before being reunited with families already living in the UK. They are from a group of more than 1,000 children who have been living in the camp in recent weeks. And now, some of those without links to Britain, but who are regarded as particularly vulnerable, are now also being taken across the English Channel.

The youngsters were granted asylum under the Dublin Regulation. The children’s move to Britain has stalled twice already, over delays in accommodation and establishing proof of age. Migrant children have been subjected to intense media scrutiny upon arrival in recent weeks. Calls for dental checks to verify the true ages of youngsters who looked older were called for, but the UK government branded such a practice as “unethical”.

For a long time, the minors living in the camp faced an uncertain future, but the move to take some children to the UK signals a change of tack by the British and French governments. Britain has been criticised for its lack of humanity, but it now seems that the pleas of these children at least have been heard.

Impact of war

While the youngsters may have escaped serious physical injury, the conflicts in the Middle East will have taken a psychological toll on them. Living in the midst of war, many have witnessed unspeakable horror, losing family members in brutal circumstances. Consequently these youngsters are now incredibly vulnerable to mental illness, with research indicating that more than 80 per cent are likely to develop issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It is important to remember a child’s trauma extends far beyond the experiences that resulted in them fleeing their homes. The children going to the UK now endured prolonged exposure to stress-inducing conditions in the Calais camp, and will now need to adjust to their new cultural surroundings.

War directly affects millions of children everyday. Exposure to conflict and acts of terrorism can lead to the development of acute or chronic stress reactions. Research also indicates that the psychological impact of war on children is likely to have long-term effects – they don’t simply “grow out” of their stress-related symptoms. Continued exposure to traumatic events, as these children have experienced, carries a cumulative impact too, that can worsen the severity of post-traumatic symptoms.

Funding challenge

The children going to Britain will need the right sort of trauma-based therapeutic support so they can successfully move forward before chronic conditions take hold. However, mental health services in the UK are desperately underfunded. More than 850,000 children and young people have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14. But just seven per cent of the total mental health budget is allocated to child and adolescent mental health services, with one in five young people refused treatment because they do not meet the criteria for care.

A recent poll of specialist nurses found 70 per cent thought child and adolescent mental health services in England were inadequate due to historic under-investment. The government is under growing pressure to invest more, and it is hoped that the arrival of these children will see additional money allocated to the services. When, or even if, this will happen, remains unclear.

Post-traumatic growth

While many of these children are likely to suffer form long-lasting psychological symptoms, there is a possibility that some may emerge stronger than they are now, benefiting in some way from the experience resulting in positive post-traumatic growth, or PTG. PTG is possible in children who have been affected by war trauma, particularly if they are young, as they are more open to learning and change. Interestingly, research has revealed that even the negative aspects of PTSD do not “block” growth when children are placed in a supportive environment – found to be the most conducive thing for PTG.

Receiving the proper social support will play an important role in helping these children deal with the psychological effects of war trauma. The complex situation that the young and unaccompanied migrants have faced calls for help that addresses both the trauma and grief, and will secure continuity in their new lives in the UK.

Losing loved ones is just one of many extremely traumatic experiences these children may have faced, and it could prove quite difficult to disentangle the effect of the loss from other stresses and changes. Time does not simply heal the long lasting scars of prolonged stress that they have experienced. However, it is vital that society does not write these children off as ill or broken. With the right support they can lead full lives and make strong contributions in their new homes.

Leanne K Simpson, PhD Candidate, School of Psychology | Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.