A Martian writes home

“Dogs are the Masters here. Twice a day they pull their humans to the nearest park, where they run and cavort as they please. They drop their waste on the grass and the humans have to clear up after them. They are given plenty of good food and can sleep all day, but their humans have to go out to work.

“Oddly, some critics say their housing policy is a “dog’s dinner” but I think this is meant as a joke: i.e. that it is a formless pile of mess. For example, they live in some of the smallest homes in Europe and for the past forty years they have built far fewer homes than they require. Can you imagine, failing to carry out such a basic task! They foolishly think that decisions about new homes should be made by “local people”, but it appears that the people who already have homes can stop new ones being built nearby, so not much happens. Around many towns and cities they have put in place a ring of steel that cannot be moved (they call it the green belt although it is far from green) and nothing is allowed to be built there. This means that cities cannot grow in a normal way and so they expand beyond this ring and then people have to pass across it to get back to the city for their work. It is sheer madness! They have plenty of land to build on but seem to think it is more important to keep millions of useless horses on land that could be used for homes or for growing food. Likewise, they allow hundreds of golf courses, vast areas where a small white ball is hit around to no effect. Most of the people are crammed into their towns and have little idea of how much land is really available for new homes. It is very unscientific. Housebuilding is carried out by a shrinking band of big building firms who do not seem interested in meeting the housing needs of the people but think only of their profits. The government plays no part in this industry other than to keep giving money to home buyers in the vain hope that more homes will be built. Of course, we discovered long ago that the laws of supply and demand are immutable and that by increasing the demand for a product without stimulating its supply will merely cause prices to rise. In fact, the price of homes has increased tenfold in the past forty years because of this stupidity.

“All of this has caused millions of their people to be living in overcrowded and unsuitable homes. Many young people have to live with their parents and the price charged for homes is way beyond the reach of many people. In some places people have to sleep in doorways and in crude shacks in gardens. It is quite a shocking state of affairs.

“A century ago they started to build a very good form of housing called social rented housing – it was provided by the local councils and bodies called housing associations. The rents were low so poor people could afford to live in these homes and all of the profits went back into building new homes and the debts were wiped away by inflation. But thirty-five years ago they decided to sell these homes to the people who lived in them and they took a big sum off the asking price. Can you imagine? In our country this would be like selling the hospital to the patients without a thought for the people who would become sick in the future! More than a million were sold and few were replaced, so more and more people now live under private landlords, whose rents are much higher. But some local councils, because they are required by the law to help poor people, have to buy back these properties in order to provide homes. In the centre of their capital, for example, one council had to sell homes for 100,000 of their pounds and then buy them back at 400,000 for each one. This is fiscal ignorance of the highest degree! Also, up to a third of the homes that have been sold under this scheme are now under the hands of private landlords. The government gives people money to help with their rent – it is called housing benefit – and thus the amount they spend on this benefit has increased markedly because so many more people are now under the private landlords. Their government spends about twenty times as much on supporting these high rents for poorer people (which they have created as I mentioned above) than they do on building homes that poorer people can actually live in. And even the money they do spend to build new homes is now being used to build something that is called “affordable rent” where the rents are much higher than the rents in the original social rented housing (that I also mentioned above), so the government has to spend even more money on helping people with these high rents. It is a vicious circle.

“All in all this is a strange place where they have no sensible housing plan in place and where the steps they take always seem to make things worse for most people. Yet they cannot seem to understand their own stupidity. I think their dogs could make a better job of this but the humans seem content to let them lie around all day and to pander to their every need. Their housing policy truly is a dog’s dinner!

(First published at Inside Housing 31st March 2015)

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