In 2017, the average price of a terraced house in Somerset was £238,219, while for a semi-house the average was £266,762. The median pay in 2017 for Somerton and Frome, the parliamentary constituency for this area, was £25,444. It does not require sophisticated mathematics to calculate that an average house was nine to ten times the earnings of an ordinary working person. Lenders vary on how much they will lend, some will lend a multiple of four times a person’s income and, if there is a second wage earner, may take their pay into account. Realistically, if both people were earning the average wage, they might be allowed a mortgage of £125,000 or so, more than £100,000 short of the cost of an average house – and that’s those on average earnings, half of earners receive less than the median figure. In former times, council houses were a viable alternative option, but they are no longer built. Housing associations provide some choice, but nothing comparable with the vast stock of houses once held by local authorities.
Responses to the need for homes are piecemeal. The founder of Glastonbury Festival and the owner of the land on which Britain’s biggest music festival takes place has today suggested that farmers hand over parcels of land for the provision of housing, but who is going to give away land where there is the prospect of planning permission? And who decides on whom will qualify for such homes?
Inevitably, there will be some points system for the allocation of houses. Decisions will be taken on the basis of need. People on average earnings with few dependants will come a long way down the list when it comes to the allocation of housing. Piecemeal developments, a few houses here and a few houses there will not answer the problems of people having no prospect of a home of their own.
The problem lies in depending on the market to deliver what is needed – it is not going to do so because most ordinary people do not have the cash to create a demand that the market will supply. Years and years of saving might get the average earner near to the point where they qualified for a mortgage, but where are they to live in the meantime?
In the years after the Second World War, at a time when the country had no money, the government built hundreds of thousands of houses. Councils up and down the country, Tory and Labour alike constructed new housing. At a time when the country is hugely more wealthy than it was in the late 1940s, a similar house building programme is needed to give working people the hope of a home.