In defence of the Intergenerational Foundation’s “Hoarding of Housing” report

This post was written by Owen on October 20, 2011
Posted Under: Society

So, apparently, if you release a report claiming that older people are contributing to the housing shortage by living in homes that are too big for them, some of those older people get quite annoyed. If you were inclined to be cynical, you might even wonder if controversy was exactly what the author – or at least whoever at the Intergenerational Foundation came up with the title – had in mind. Yes, if you write at great length about people having the temerity to keep on living in their homes after their kids leave and then decide to stick “Hoarding of Housing” at the top of it – with the nasty insinuation that people are doing it deliberately to shut their childrens’ generation out of the housing market – then you’re going to piss people off. It ain’t rocket science.

Having said that, though, it’s important not to overlook that the report’s basic point is a good one – housing is scarce, and older couples and single people holding onto homes which could fit a family when they could comfortably live somewhere smaller is clearly going to exacerbate this. And some of the responses are just downright stupid – Jan Etherington, writing for the Telegraph, gets extremely worked up at the very notion that maybe her and her husband don’t need a five-bedroom house all to themselves, launching an all out attack on wave after wave of straw men with her talk of “the property police”, “bullying” and (inevitably) “Big Brother”. The fact that nowhere in the report is anything suggested that’s anywhere near as draconian as Etherington seems to imagine (it suggests relief on stamp duty and new taxes on high-value properties to encourage people to downsize, and that’s about as far as it goes) is beside the point, of course.

In fact, most of the negative responses to the report have bordered on the frankly bizarre. Both Etherington and Homa Khaleeli at the Guardian make much of the fact that a lot of older people spend significant amounts of time looking after their grandkids, as if this is remotely relevant. If you’re a parent of young children I’m sure having your own parents look after your kids from time to time is very welcome, but it does precisely sod all to help you get on the property ladder. Almost as oddly, Khaleeli then goes on to say that the real problem is “the tone of the debate” – though, tellingly, without actually quoting either the report itself or any discussions of it to support this assertion. The (crass, ill-judged) title aside, the tone of the report itself seems pretty reasoned from a quick skim-through, in marked contrast to some of the stuff that’s been written in criticism of it, such as Etherington’s response or the Daily Mail’s usual level-headed objectivity. (It’s worth noting that the phrase “bedroom blocker” appears nowhere in the report, yet is in the headlines chosen by both the Mail and the Telegraph).

All things considered, the Intergenerational Foundation’s report should be welcomed. Looking at injustice through a generational lens can give a distorted picture at times – one that focuses too much on the middle classes at the expense of more deprived sections of society – but since (as the report points out) the vast majority of older people in the UK are owner-occupiers, this is one area where this approach can be useful. Yes, more houses (and especially more council houses) need to be built, and yes, it would probably help if the government wasn’t also slashing Housing Benefit at a time of mass unemployment, but semantic bickering about what the “real” problem is won’t help. As with so many issues, there are lots of causes, and lots of possible (partial) solutions. Persuading people not to live in houses they don’t need when there are people who could make better use of them clearly isn’t the only answer, but it’s definitely a good start.

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Reader Comments

Yup, good post.

The report is (at a skim read) v measured and calls for little more than stamp duty breaks to encourage people to move to smaller places if they want to,as far as I can see. The ‘bullying’ hysteria emanates from Shapps response to the press. Funny, I don’t remember the Mail being up in arms when Cameron personally fronted the policy proposals for Councils to reduce tenancies in council housing to as little as two years, and leave an option to evict people who gain more income.

Presumably the logic is that those in council housing (incl RSLs, given this new power under the same provisions) don’t really have ‘homes’ in the same way as owner-occupiers in multi-bedroom houses do.

Written By Paul on October 20th, 2011 @ 11:03 pm

Say that these recommended policies get implemented. I understand all their recommendations are supposed to make elderly ‘downsize’ –
sell their homes and buy smaller ones. Say that an elderly person does that and sells their 5 bedroom home.
Do you really think it will be some ‘young people’ who will benefit from that? Young people benefitting from availability of 5 bedrrom properties on market?
They must be joking. It will be an agency or someone like that who will then let it out and chatge horrendous rent.
The only way any young person is able to live in a 5 bed house is renting a room or house-sharing.

Even if somehow the small nudges recommended would be able to help, it is a very weak policy that threads on the surface of the massive ongoing housing crisis in Britain.
It ignores the hoarding of empty propieties by speculators but also public institutions and local authorities –
there is no council estate I can think of where there wouldn’t be some flats with boarded up windows.
It ignores the role of planning system in maintainintg aritifical scarcity of land while at the same serving political goals of the fascist state (Dale Farm).

There is more. Land ownerships and property ownership is one of the pillars of British socio-economic order, which combines advanced capitalism with some outright features of feudalism.
Mortgage debt is one of the primary means of wealth re-distribution from those at the bottom to those at the top, or as David Harvey would say modern day primitive accumulation.
For a progressive or even radical blog like this, to mention the property ladder as something that young people should be helped to get on is highly debatable.

Written By UuOoBb on October 21st, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

This is just ridiculous. Before we start in on the pensioners with one house, what about the multiple hoarding of property by rich oligarchs, bankers, corporations, pop stars etc? Lots of unused bedrooms in Central London and country mansions. Land Value Tax a much fairer way to deal with this.

Written By cityeyrie on October 22nd, 2011 @ 10:42 am

CityEyrie: Read the last paragraph again. I don’t say it’s the only thing that needs doing, just that it might help. Whataboutery is very rarely helpful in debates like this.

UUOOBB: See my comment to CityEyrie above. I was also unaware you were the arbiter of what was and wasn’t appropriate content for this blog. However, your obnoxious tone (and ridiculous hyperbole about feudalism and fascism) aside, you make a good point that it might be worth thinking more critically about whether turning more people into homeowners is socially desirable, and it’s one I hadn’t thought of, but it’s pretty incidental to the main thrust of the argument.

Written By Owen on October 24th, 2011 @ 11:24 pm

Owen, maybe I should have gone on to say that I work with vulnerable people (ie those with a range of health problems, and on small incomes) over 65 in my day job. Forgive me if my instinct was to indulge in ‘whataboutery’ in their defence.

Many have been swizzed into ownership via right-to-buy and are now left with the awful choice of dealing with a flat/house they can’t really cope with or selling up and moving out of their community and away from familiar support networks (including healthcare) because of the lack of more suitable accommodation in their area – largely because (again, via right-to-buy) so many council properties have been allowed to fall into the hands of buy-to-let landlords. And there are also those still council tenants who are living in large flats also faced with that ‘choice’ – who would be delighted to downsize if it didn’t mean moving away from their area.

In the meantime, the huge increase in private flats/homes in most areas of Zone 1 London in the last 20 years have largely bought by speculative landlords who are driving up rents to absurd levels, as second homes or as a place for the overseas wealthy to park their money. According to Shelter, there are nearly 22500 vacant dwellings in the eight central London boroughs, and in many this figure has been rising. That’s why – while I agree that there are many aspects to the housing problem, and many interesting solutions – I strongly disagree that the Intergenerational Foundation report was in any way a ‘good place to start’.

Written By cityeyrie on October 29th, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

The intergenerational foundation are a bunch of fascists who’s main aim is to create hatred of the elderly. No I am not in that group but one day we will all be if luck described as elderly. The problem in this country is immigration we are overcrowded and yes my family were immigrants but enough is enough. Too many people claim benefits without having contributed a penny to the system and create housing shortages.

Written By Fred on January 19th, 2012 @ 10:47 am

The intergeneration foundation have one aim that is to persecute the elderly. If you read their website one article suggests that we should go back to victorian values where the retirement age was set 10 years above the life expectancy. All their article seek to punish the elderly. They are just Nazis and their aims are to punish the elderly.

If you doubt my comments just checkout their website.

Written By Steve on October 17th, 2012 @ 10:24 am

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