This morning a new think-tank – the Intergenerational Foundation – launched the Hoarding on Housing report, claiming one-third of UK homes are ‘under-occupied’ because over-60s are failing to downsize once their children move on. Half of all properties owned by single pensioners have three spare bedrooms and 25 million bedrooms are unused.
While the over-60s sit tight, younger generations get squeezed. Home ownership among under-35s is declining. Banks are reluctant to lend to first-time buyers and saving a deposit to get on the property ladder is practically impossible: the latest Rental Index from FindaProperty.com reports that ‘Generation Rent’ is spending nearly half its monthly wage on keeping a (rented) roof over its head. In London, the rent to earnings ratio rises to a giddy 76.3%.
I’m not crazy about the word ‘hoarding’. It suggests older homeowners are doing something anti-social, even shameful, by remaining in family homes they worked and paid for over a lifetime. The right to own, and dispose of, private property as you choose is the foundation of a free society. Start talking about ‘hoarding’ and it’s not long before we’re discussing the state’s duty to requisition ‘surplus’ housing.
That said, the Intergenerational Foundation has got people talking: by lunchtime today Google news search was showing 200+ articles. And, along with the alarm-bell language, the think-tank has pitched constructive nudge-like proposals on how government could incentivise seniors to downsize with a stamp duty exemption.
Where – and how – we live is an increasingly contentious issue on our crowded island. Look behind the headlines – on homes and house prices, energy and environment, transport or even the traveller evictions at Dale Farm – and planning is the root topic. As a nation, we need to get serious on planning: the Intergenerational Foundation has done us all a service by dramatising this critical issue.