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House Hoarding?

October 20, 2011

Yesterday IF released the report on the ”hoarding of housing” by older people . It’s publication was met with dismay by many (R4 Today programme) who responded that they have paid for their homes, are emotionally attached to them, and have so many possessions that they could not possibly downsize. Others commented that there was a lack of suitable housing to downsize into, as it was already full of students, and that this is a pricing issue not one of hording!


So do any of these arguments stand up?

While of course I sympathise with people who feel attached to a house, because it offers a sense of place, this is not really about that. It is quite clearly a matter of justice.

So what about the question; How can you hoard a house? Again this is a matter of simple justice. Every right has a corresponding responsibility, but this seems to have been forgotten. While there are people who are inadequately housed, there are those with a moral right to housing. It is the balance between the right to housing for a family and the right to hold onto a house that a couple brought up their family in. The balance has to fall on the moral imperative to care for those who `have not`. It is simply untenable to accept that 37% of households have spare capacity at the same time as other people live in overcrowded homes.

A generation or two ago the overcrowding in our slums led to public provision of public housing, and new towns. Then as a country we needed to invest in housing stock. Today things are very different, there is spare capacity in the housing stock, but not the cash or the capacity (let alone the land) to build tens of thousands of family sized homes – we need older people to take responsibility for society and look away from the narrow individual focus on the house they have been used to living in. Let’s face facts – in a few years these same people will have to face moving in care anyway, so the move itself is really just a red herring. There is a real opportunity for people to `do their bit` and downsize to free up housing for people with growing families. Is there the will to do so?

The reality is that many under occupied homes qualify for a rebate of council tax, so the tax system is already being used to support people living in houses larger than they need. In addition taxes (and state pensions) are paid, for the most part, by those who are younger – and still working – precisely those who suffer from house hoarding.

At its heart this is the same issue that we use to condemn the pay of fat cat executives, they have more than they need, more than they can possibly use – while others struggle to manage because they do not have enough. Lets be consistent, recognise our responsibilities and downsize to give another family a chance to have the happy memories of that house that we have gained.

At the end of the day the possessions are not what matter, be they bricks and mortar or the contents stuffed into them. What counts are the relationships and the memories. We are asking the upcoming generation to pay back the debt of our generations spending, we are asking them to pay for our pensions and our care, we should not be holding on to the large house that they could use to bring up their children.

I for one am looking forward to downsizing, just as soon as my kids have left home.


Do you agree? Disagree? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

  1. DLord permalink
    October 21, 2011 12:46 pm

    An interesting report, although it appears to be somewhat one sided and leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

    Who will fund the purchase of underoccupied houses or can families in overcrowded houses afford the next step up in property price?

    What is the availability of smaller properties in areas that people would choose to live in or how do you encourage those in ‘downsize’ houses to move in order for those in underoccupied houses to also move?

    What guarantee is there that there will be a purchaser for the house which the ‘larger’ families move out of and what percentage are in rented accommodation?

    Should we be encouraging smaller families?

    • October 21, 2011 1:49 pm

      Thanks David, Some interesting questions which are covered in more detail in the IF report.
      Briefly, the tax system would be used to encourage the movement of people from under and overcrowding.
      “Policy options include:
      -­‐abolishing stamp duty for those downsizing
      -­‐changes to planning rules to increase the supply of suitable housing for people downsizing (currently most development is of starter homes – if developers concentrated on the supply for people downsizing the whole market would shift”
      -­‐‘nudge’ policies such as the withdrawal of some ‘universal’ benefits for those living in houses worth over £500,000
      -­‐a property value tax
      -­‐abolition of council tax concessions for single occupation

      My understanding is that the affordability of larger houses is based on the `supply` being limited – this is because people are not downsizing, not because there are not many of these homes. The market would compensate for this making family homes affordable for those in smaller or rented housing.
      Many people rent simply because there is no opportunity to buy suitable houses, if supply increases there would be less demand for rental properties, this would reduce the ability to charge premium rents and many buy to let speculators would move out, further increasing the housing supply and making the overinflated house prices more affordable.
      The IF report shows some graphs about the % of people in rented accommodation.

      Smaller families: This is a very interesting one. We have over a generation of two seen smaller family sizes in the UK. This is one of the contributory factors in the pensions crises as we have an increasingly elderly population. So for the UK we need to encourage large families so that there are people to be the doctors, social workers, and pay the pensions of all of us as we get older! However, we are also heading for 7Billion people on the planet, which is clearly unsustainable. People in poor countries have more children because many do not survive childhood. If we are to redress this balance ( and continue to have small families) we will need to accept that we need “economic migrants” from poor countries to come to the UK. this is a huge political ask as we have a very high proportion of little Englanders who oppose any immigration, and most connection with the wider world.

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