Housing and Immigration: People are Noticing

Housing and Immigration: People are Noticing. By Lionel Shriver in the UK.

Earlier this year I was a panellist for Any Questions, and a young man in the audience asked what could possibly be done to make it easier for Britons his age to buy currently unaffordable property. I said what none of my fellow panellists was foolish enough to venture on the radio: scarcity always raises prices, and the UK’s housing shortage is overwhelmingly caused by high rates of immigration. Reduce newcomers, ease the problem.

I’ve appeared in enough public forums to read the room. A sudden pin-drop silence followed by murmurous resettling in chairs conveyed shock, then palpable unease. Clearly I had just broken a fierce social taboo. Once upon a time, taboo-breaking entailed saying something incorrect, tasteless or immoral. Nowadays, you horrify an audience by saying something true.

UK fertility has been below replacement rate for a startling 50 years. That helps explain why over the course of 25 of those years, 1973-1998, the population only grew from 56 million to 58.5 million. But in the next 25 years, UK population rose to nearly 68 million: 9.5 million new people in a generation, all while Britons were themselves under-reproducing? This demographic surge can only be down to immigration, and these new inhabitants must live somewhere. …

Britain’s population is soaring from legal immigration. Last year a Conservative government let 1.2 million people move to the UK, resulting in net immigration of 606,000. … If this same level of ingress is sustained, the UK’s population will rise to between 83 and 87 million by 2046. This will require between six and eight million more homes — the equivalent of 15 to 18 Birminghams.

Apologies for the catastrophism, but that’s assuming the 606,000 annual influx remains constant, whereas the trend since Tony Blair came to power has been for net inward migration to keep rising. That lower population threshold of 83 million by 2046 also assumes the continuance of an alarmingly suppressed birth rate of 1.53 children per woman as of 2021, a glumly unenthusiastic rate of reproduction that may have been influenced by oppressive, not to mention depressing, pandemic policies. Most new adult immigrants are of childbearing age, and Britain’s overwhelmingly non-European arrivals abundantly hail from cultures that favour larger families. In other words? A population of only 83 million by 2046 is optimistic …

Officially, the government aims to build 300,000 homes per year. In practice, the number actually built in England has averaged 180,000 per year in the past decade, reaching only 235,000 last year. At current rates of immigration, between 263,000 and 313,000 homes would have to be built every single year to accommodate rising population (in addition to the new homes a steady-state population requires, because buildings don’t last for ever). Were immigration reduced to 100,000 arrivals per year, the population would go ever so slightly down, and Britain would solely need to replace housing stock that has decayed.

No immigration, no housing crisis. Certainly true in Australia too.

But notice how high immigration pushes up the price of the houses of the decision makers — while ensuing most younger people haven’t a chance of home and maybe family.

From Demographia, who track housing affordability via the ratio of median house price to median household income (pre-tax):

Notice how homes used to be affordable, when the median housing price was only three times average wage. But now it’s more like 5 to 14.

Notice also how housing got cheaper during the covid border closure. But now immigration to Australia is back on high, and house prices are rising despite interest rate rises.