Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne boosts spending on housing, but can the government really build 400,000 more homes?

Billy Ehrenberg
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House building
Can Osborne get Britain building? (Source: Getty)

Britain’s housing supply crisis isn’t a new problem – but today George Osborne made another government pledge to increase the stock.

Osborne’s plans include selling off prisons and offering more capital to affordable housing. To top it off, there is to be a new help-to-buy scheme for London, to give residents a leg up onto the ladder.

As the history of Britain’s house building shows, a boost of 400,000 houses would be a huge increase in government input. Residential construction in the UK has been almost entirely dominated by private firms, with a dramatic decrease in local authority building since the 1970s.

Housing associations, private, non-profit organisations dedicated to building affordable dwellings, have been unable to pick up the slack. They have never managed to build at anything like the rate of the governments of yore. Regulations are said to be too strict on these bodies, but they provided just 27,040 homes in 2013 – better than the government’s own 2,080, but nothing on the 108,860 built privately.

The map below shows London has been one of the luckiest areas in terms of building, yet the overall figures have been too small to stop prices skyrocketing.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors was sceptical, saying:

A push for home ownership should not come at the expense of affordable homes for rent. George Osborne is essentially subsidising one sector of the housing market over all others, in an area that already benefits from significant government spending.

Others, however, saw the move as positive. Ray Withers, chief of property investment company Property Frontiers, said:

What we’re seeing with this government is a genuine, long-term commitment to building new homes that seems to have some serious substance to it. There’s still an awfully long way to go, but this is a positive start.

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