Kirsty McLuckie: latest Housing Outlook report paints dismal UK residential picture

This weekend sees the grand finale of the Eurovision Song Contest, where we pit our finest musical talents against those from the Continent, in an aural and visual spectacular, or an overblown yawnfest – depending on your viewpoint.

I was considering the collective embarrassment I’ve felt during some of our worst performances while reading a recent report by the Resolution Foundation think tank, which compares the state of UK housing with 38 other developed countries.

Rest assured, if there were a Eurovision contest for housing, the UK would not be troubling the top of the leaderboard.

The report’s authors, Lindsay Judge and Adam Corlett, ask if the UK is distinctive in our housing woes. After all, many other countries, including Australia, France and the Netherlands, regularly bemoan their housing crises too.

In terms of how much we spend on housing as a proportion of our incomes, some reported figures don’t look too bad for us, in comparison, but this is difficult to compare like-for-like.

In the UK, 36 per cent of householders own their property outright, so have no housing costs, bringing down the average and making home owning seem more affordable.

In countries where most people rent, the average costs can seem higher, just 4 per cent of homes are owned outright in Switzerland, for instance.

But the think tank’s Housing Outlook report levels the playing field by estimating the cost of housing that owners would pay if they were renting their home on the open market.

The figures show that if all households in the UK had to pay for their homes, they would have to devote 22 per cent of their spending to housing, far higher than the OECD average of 17 per cent, and the highest level across the developed economies with the solitary exception of Finland.

So maybe our homes are better quality? Nope. Close to four-in-ten homes in the UK date from before 1946, compared to three-in-ten in France, two-in-ten in the Netherlands, and just one-in-ten in Finland.

Given that older properties are frequently harder to insulate than newer homes, it is unsurprising UK homes also perform very badly compared to our European peers when it comes to energy efficiency.

But perhaps our homes are bigger, so we are getting more for our money?

The reports suggest that while there is limited cross-national data on floorspace per person, it does not seem that households in the UK are consuming more residential housing space than in other developed countries.

In 2018, for example, the floorspace per person in England was recorded as 38m2, compared to 43m2 in France, and 46m2 in Germany.

We have been overtaken in the space race by Japan, at 40m2, and have less area per person than households in Taiwan, registered at 49m2.

While you would expect most American homes to be larger, it is striking that our floorspace per person is smaller even than that of residents of central New York, who on average enjoy 43m2 of room.

Perhaps our homes are expensive because they are conveniently located near where we work? Not so, says the report. In 2019, 43 per cent of UK commuters spent at least an hour or more a day travelling to and from work, and 14 per cent more than two hours, compared to an EU average of 37 per cent and 9 per cent.

So there we have it. We pay more for our homes that are smaller, older, less efficient, and less conveniently located than those in other similar developed countries.

Nul points indeed.