Placing a focus on increasing housing affordability for young people, the government’s First Homes initiative is not without merit.
However, this one-size-fits-all approach is not an effective solution to the UK’s housing crisis and a range of policies are needed, reflecting the demands and needs of all ages of the population.
The initiative is designed to help young people on to the housing ladder, providing local first-time buyers with homes at a discount of at least 30% of market price. It also aims to preserve affordability by passing the same percentage discount on to future first-time buyers. However, the housing crisis is a complex issue, which will never be resolved by focusing on the needs of a single demographic.
To have the greatest positive impact, housing policy should be designed around people’s needs, rather than their stage in life. An important part of this ‘wide delivery’ approach will be bridging the gap between public perceptions of retirement housing and the reality. Research from Shakespeare Martineau identified how such misconceptions are holding people back from rightsizing, which would free up much-needed capacity within the housing chain.
As well as making retirement living a more aspirational and accessible choice for older people, there is a much-needed educational piece required to help older people understand their later living options. The general construction of more age-friendly homes should also be a key focus, designing homes with wider doors and electricity sockets positioned at waist height. Building to this standard from the outset is more cost-effective than retrofitting at a later stage and would actually remove some of the need for policies focused on specific demographics.
The government also needs to continue its focus on improving the delivery of housing supply through regeneration. Countryside charity CPRE’s most recent brownfield land report in 2020 indicated that there is enough brownfield land for 1,061,346 housing units over nearly 21,000 sites, covering some 25,000 hectares. The Autumn Budget statement pledged £1.8bn of funding to develop brownfield sites, and making the most of this investment will be key to realising their potential.
While the First Homes scheme is positive news for first-time buyers, there is no single solution for solving the UK’s housing dilemma. Instead, a bigger picture approach is needed, including well-designed policies, targeting people at all different stages of life.
Louise Drew is partner and head of building communities at law firm Shakespeare Martineau