A Excavator crawler digging a trench for an underground tank on a housing development in Hampshire, England, UK. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Housing hypocrisy

The mainstream parties are betraying the aspirations of young people

Artillery Row

Despite huge differences between the main political parties, a commitment to end the housing crisis unites them. Curiously, all the political parties seem to be united in their commitment to prevent the one main thing which would end the housing crisis: building more homes.

The housing crisis is, very simply, a matter of supply and demand. Successive governments have failed to build enough homes to keep up with demand and so, in our major cities, housing is unaffordable. 

This lack of affordability is having a devastating impact on the lives of young people in particular. They cannot afford to buy their own homes, and they often can’t afford to rent a home by themselves. As such, many of them are still living with flatmates well into their thirties, putting off important life events such as moving in with partners, getting married and having children. 

The housing crisis has been a problem for years, but with high inflation and the cost of living crisis, it is turning into an emergency. When we consider the increases to national insurance contributions and the relatively high student loan repayments, most young people would be forgiven for thinking that they are working for the State and for their landlord, as opposed to themselves.

The root cause of this housing crisis is NIMBYism

This is not just a problem for young people; it is a disaster for our entire economy. Young people having fewer children means we risk a demographic time bomb where there will not be enough working age people to support an increasingly elderly population. The only way to sustain it will be through higher taxes, thereby placing even more pressure on the generation already suffering. The housing crisis is preventing the most productive people from moving to our most productive areas. Given that productivity is the key driver of economic growth, the housing crisis means that we are set for years and potentially decades of low economic growth and stagnant living standards.

It also means we risk losing our edge in the fields where we excel such as research, science and technology. We have some of the greatest universities in the world which attract the smartest people from other countries. If they cannot afford to live in Cambridge, Oxford or London, then they will simply move to other countries where academic pay is higher and housing more affordable. It’s not just about houses, either. Our planning system means there is a shortage of space to build research labs. Therefore, we are potentially missing out on the next great breakthrough which could transform our lives, develop new cancer drugs and even create vaccines to help us fight future pandemics.

The root cause of this housing crisis is NIMBYism. Predominantly older and wealthy people object to new homes, offices and labs being built near them. As they vote, and because they have plenty of free time, they can campaign against new developments and lobby their MPs and councillors to block them. 

There can be no more egregious example of rent-seeking than NIMBYism. Rich and powerful people use their position and influence to stop poor and young people from owning a home and improving their life chances. Every politician who caves into the NIMBYs should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. As discussed above, this is a problem in every party. Whether it’s the Tories being frightened of alienating their base, Lib Dems trying to win by-elections, Labour claiming they’re standing up to rich developers, or the Greens on spurious environmental grounds, NIMBYIsm is a virus infecting every political party.

If a political party wants to solve the housing crisis, then it needs to take on the NIMBYs and allow homes to be built in areas where people want to live. This will require immense bravery as it will be deeply unpopular, especially among older voters. It should be done anyway. Say what you like about Thatcher, but she took on the mining unions despite it being a hard, unpopular battle because she knew it was the right thing to do for the country.

The country is crying out for a leader who will stand up for young people and take economic growth seriously. We desperately need politicians who will fight the NIMBYs to help the young and the poor with the cost of living and to boost economic growth.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover