Does Government policy on housing still support the population’s aspirations?

Wise Living highlight the lack of support for the rental sector through cost and lifestyle changes.

Paul Staley, Director at Build to Rent specialist, Wise Living discussing the Government's policy on housing | BTR News
Paul Staley, Director at Build to Rent specialist, Wise Living.

By Paul Staley, Director at Build to Rent specialist, Wise Living

In the Budget at the beginning of March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new scheme to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder with just a 5% deposit along with a further extension to the Stamp Duty holiday.

This may be good news for some, but it doesn’t necessarily help and support everybody looking for somewhere new to live.  

Home ownership continues to be the focus of the UK government policy on the current housing crisis whereas the private rental market received very little support or attention other than the odd bit of new legislation. In the Queen’s Speech in early May, again the focus when it came to the housing market was around supporting housebuilders to build more homes through the Planning Bill, the rental market wasn’t mentioned.

The soaring costs of property and changing lifestyles is having an impact on how people view house buying and renting and it suggests home ownership might no longer be the only solution out there for everyone. 

So, does the government’s housing policy support the population’s housing aspirations?

Priced out of government support

There are two key factors that should influence the UK’s housing policy. That’s what people can afford and what suits people’s lifestyle. So, let’s look at the cost to begin with. 

The government’s new 5% mortgage deposit scheme and Stamp Duty reduction is designed to help more people get on the property ladder. However, one of the biggest consequences of these policies is the increase in property prices – making the possibility of home ownership even harder. The deposit and transactional costs of buying a property is only one element in securing a mortgage, the biggest hurdle is affordability. 

Take Manchester as an example. According to the latest Rightmove stats, the average cost of a home in the city is £230,438 – which is in fact quite modest compared with other areas of the country, yet it is still ten times the average annual salary in Manchester which is £29,000.

Average salary growth continues to be outpaced by the housing market. According to the ONS, the median weekly wage for full time workers in the UK rose by just 0.1% from 2019 to 2020, standing at £31,461 a year. Like in Manchester, that’s almost a tenth of the UK’s average house price. 

In a year where outgoings would have been massively reduced for many due to lockdowns, research shows that two thirds of people in the UK saved just over £7,000 in 2020. Based on all these figures, a first-time buyer in areas like Manchester is looking at eighteen months before they’ve even saved for a 5% deposit on a property at the average price for the area. This means anyone thinking of taking advantage of the 5% deposit scheme but is only just starting to save, may struggle to save enough by the time it ends in December 2022. And this doesn’t take into account that with the successful vaccine rollout and things slowly starting to open back up, public spending will likely go back up and saving will go down.

So, affordability is just one reason why more people are looking for quality rental homes, but lifestyle changes are playing a big part too. 

A generation and a pandemic are changing aspirations 

The expectations and choices of millennials and Generation Z, paired with the impact of the pandemic, are going to have a massive influence on lifestyle in the years and decades to come. Owning a home was once considered to be an aspiration that everyone should have – but now many people don’t see it that way. 

The exploration of things like technology and a more conscious and curious generation is leading to people wanting more flexible lives. One study found that nearly half of millennials plan to leave their job within two years of starting it, while less than a third plan to stay longer than five years. Car ownership is also falling among younger generations too, putting greater emphasis on easy access to public transport and local amenities. 

People don’t want things that tie them down and a fixed address certainly falls into that category. The government’s support to get people on the property ladder is aimed at people more likely to be between the ages of 20 and 35 – so where is the support for the rental market which is likely to be suited to the lifestyle of many people of this generation? 

The pandemic has also had its role to play. Some businesses have now committed to flexible working with the likes of Nationwide saying that employees can work from anywhere long-term. They are not alone in that stance and millennials and Generation Z are likely to spot an opportunity to mix the flexible lifestyle they want with a job they want too. With remote working, people no longer have to live near, they can live well with more choice and more freedom of where and how they want to live. 

With all this in mind – the changes in lifestyle and the rising cost of getting on the property ladder, the government needs to consider more support for the rental market. Even though price is a huge factor in why younger people maybe aren’t buying homes, we may now have moved past the point of what the term ‘generation rent’ once stood for to a generation that wants to rent, to support their flexible lifestyle.

The property market therefore needs to meet this demand and ensure there are enough quality rental properties available in the right areas, to meet the changing needs of the next generations. We need more support from the government to make this happen.