There are now over 25 million unoccupied bedrooms in British homes. This figure, released today by new campaign group the Intergenerational Foundation, starkly highlights how much of Britain’s housing is unused despite the desperate housing shortage that affects the younger generation.
The under-occupation of housing has jumped by around 45% since 2003 and is continuing to grow at an alarming pace. This is mainly because older people are living longer and staying in the family home rather than downsizing to more appropriate accommodation.
“The 'housing crisis' is increasingly an issue of how our housing stock is shared between younger and older generations,” says Angus Hanton, co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation, which launches today with the aim of drawing public attention to Britain's growing intergenerational divide. “The divide between the housing 'haves' and 'have nots' has moved from being one dominated by wealth or class to one dominated by age,” Hanton adds.
IF's report entitled ‘Hoarding of Housing’ shows that about one-third of all British homes are now “underoccupied” on common definitions, up from 20%. This means while younger families are increasingly squeezed into small flats and under-sized houses, older people are often rattling around in big houses with many bedrooms standing empty, often for years. 51.5% of those aged over 65 now live in homes with two more bedrooms than they need. 50% of single households where the owner is aged over 60 (3.7 million people) now have 3 spare bedrooms or more.
IF does not blame older generations for their position – it believes the tax system is at fault for not encouraging people to move at the right time to the right-sized accommodation for them. With property having been, at least until recently, a seeming one-way bet, there are logical reasons - under the current tax system – for people to see their houses as a store of value, and want to hang on to them.
“It is perfectly understandable that retired people cling to their home long after it has outlived its usefulness as a place to bring up a family in. But there are profound social consequences of their actions which are now causing real problems in a country where new house building is almost non-existent,” says IF report co-author Matthew Griffiths.
The lack of downsizing is a particularly British problem. IF figures show that Americans, for example, are almost twice as likely to downsize when their children leave home than British people. This is almost certainly due to the way the British tax system encourages people not to move house.
IF is not urging government to round on older generations and turf them out of their homes. But it is calling for changes to the tax system to encourage the downsizing process. Measures could include an exemption from stamp duty for the over 60s when they move to a smaller property. The government should also look at scrapping council tax and replacing it with a proper land tax, to reflect the social cost of occupying housing, particularly housing that is larger than one’s needs.
The dream of owning one's home is no longer a reality for most young people. Home ownership, which had been growing steadily since World War Two, went abruptly into reverse in 2003 and it is now steadily declining. Similarly, the number of people having to rent – mainly young people – is now rising steadily.
IF emphasises that the huge surge in house prices in Britain over the past few decades does not represent any increase in the country's net wealth. All it represents is a massive transfer of wealth from young people to older people, as the younger generation is forced to pay ever higher prices to claw its way up the property ladder.
The huge increase in wealth enjoyed by those lucky enough to have owned homes from the late 1990s onwards has been matched by the massive increase in mortgage debt taken on by younger people over the same period – debts that explain the increasing disenchantment of young people, already struggling with the knowledge that they will have to work longer, and for worse pensions, than their parents.
“The inter-generational compact has been broken. But it can be fixed. Properly designed policies could help us to use our existing housing stock much more effectively and to the benefit of all, not just a lucky few,” says Ashley Seager, IF co-founder.
Tessa Jowell, Shadow Minister for London and The Olympics adds, “This important report from the Intergenerational Foundation shows in stark relief how young people are struggling to raise a family in a home of their own, breaking what Ed Miliband has called the promise of Britain – that each generation who has worked hard would be more prosperous and have more opportunities than the last.
We know that older generations already do so much to support younger ones, for example with grandparents sharing caring responsibilities for their grandchildren. This report suggests that housing is another area where generations sharing together could help to lessen the UK’s housing shortage for younger people while providing more suitable accommodation for older people.
The upside to downsizing for over 60s - 04 October 2013
Retired renters turn their backs on home ownership - 01 August 2013
Older people will help shape retirement housing - 08 March 2013
Southampton will overtake Bournemouth as a retirement hotspot - 27 February 2013
Campaigns & Issues
Independent Age’s comments on the Autumn Statement
Independent Age Chief Executive, Janet Morrison said:
Increase in State Pension Age
"Independent Age accepts the logic for an increase in the State Pension Age, but for it to work we need measures to allow older people to work more flexibly as they approach retirement age, for example, to work part-time or in different roles.
"We also need to remember that, as now, not all individuals will be healthy enough to work until retirement age so we will need to look carefully about how we support people who do need to retire earlier.”
Raising state pension age is a betrayal of future generations
Britain’s biggest pensioners’ organisation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) has described today’s announcement by the Chancellor, George Osborne, to raise the state pension age as a “betrayal of future generations” based on inaccurate assumptions about life expectancy.
Dot Gibson, NPC general secretary said: "Contrary to the Chancellor’s claims, the Office for National Statistics has revealed that life expectancy is actually falling.
Competitions & Fun
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Health & Wellbeing
Coffee may reduce the rise of prostate cancer
Recent research has demonstrated that there is a significant inverse relationship with coffee consumption and the development of nonaggressive, aggressive and fatal prostate cancer.
The study is of significance because Prostate Cancer is the most common cancer in men with over 40,000 new cases diagnosed every year.
Property & Finance
Two thirds of UK retirees expect to leave a legacy
Almost two thirds (64%) of British retirees expect to leave an inheritance to their children with an average* value of £182,144, according to HSBC’s study, The Future of Retirement Life after work?
HSBC’s research, which surveyed over 16,000 people in 15 countries, found many Britons could inherit even more, with one in five (21%) legacies left to children by UK retirees expected to be over £250,000.
Leisure and Lifestyle
Having a dog is great – for your social life
Having a dog is good for your social life, adding an average of three friends to your social circle, according to new research.
The findings emerged from a detailed study carried out among 1500 dog owners, which discovered sharing casual greetings, anecdotes and tips on canine care on the daily walk opens new doors socially.
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Driving home for Christmas
Chris Rea’s song 'Driving Home for Christmas' is a one that resonates with many of us at this time of the year.
While it’s the time to spend with family and friends, many of us will be embarking on a car journey home before we enjoy the festive cheer.
But before you make that journey home, it’s important to do a few checks to the car.
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