Britain’s land and housing crisis

In England less than 1% of the population – including aristocrats, the royal family and wealthy investors, owns about half the land.  Putting it another way, with a population of about 56 million, half the country belongs to just 25,000 landowners, some of them corporations.  This reflects the chronic inequality of Britain, in contrast to other countries like Germany, France, Scandinavia etc.  (although British inequality is less than that of the United States).  Land is much more expensive than in other countries – it is in short supply.  In 2016 it accounted for half of the country’s net worth, double that of other similar countries.  It was the value of land that caused Britain’s net worth to triple between 1995 and 2017,  giving the landowners huge unearned income gains that far exceeded that of wage or the economic growth.  On top of that the EU farming and forestry subsidies have made existing landowners even more rich, thanks to taxpayer-funded financial aid.   (In 2017 the Queen’s Sandringham estate received  $900,000 in taxpayer aid).

On top of this, big developers are sitting on holdings of land that are supposed to be used for new housing.  But the developers have an incentive to wait as the value of the land continues to rise.  Returns in this way outweigh the uncertainty and hassle of actually having to build anything.  The country is, as a result in a housing crisis.

And then there is another infuriating development over the past decade.  The Ordnance Survey, at the time of the First World War, surveyed every corner of the British Isles for military purposes.  Out of this came wonderful, large scale maps showing public rights of way across private land, everywhere.  Under common law you can walk on these pathways regardless of ownership, and this made England a walkers paradise.  But the Tories privatised the Ordnance Survey, which promptly scrapped a huge proportion of the big-scale walking maps.  Thus , you might have a right to roam, but you can’t find out where they are unless you come across them by accident.  Gradually the public knowledge of where and in what direction the pathways traverse the land is getting lost, and we have a de facto undoing of the common law that has applied since the days of the Anglo Saxons, nearly a thousand years ago.  Thus does the government look after the interests of the landowners (who hated mere citizens and taxpayers walking across their property).  Epicurus would spot my frustration and advise me to chill out and cultivate ataraxia.   But you can see why ataraxia is in as short a  supply as housing for poor people..

One Comment

  1. I find the statistics of homelessness disturbing, particularly in the UK – which consistently ranks in the top 10 of the world’s national economies. In Brighton, for example, around 1 in 70 people are homeless. Brighton’s demographics of homelessness are so alarmingly high, they merited detailed consideration on Brighton’s wikipedia page. How the UK cannot afford to address the issue is a question worth considering.

    However, I think the UK’s lack of a national plan aimed at significantly reducing the occurrence of homelessness does speak volumes about the issue’s priority, sadly.

    As for solutions to solving the homelessness crisis, I think George Carlin had an interesting idea; and I believe that when it comes to golf courses, the UK is in no shortage of supply. (George Carlin: a war on homelessness)

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