University of St Andrews

Present Government housing policies leave families ‘exposed and vulnerable’ according to new St Andrew's study

Friday 06 July 2012

The problems with gaps in ‘housing wealth’ faced by property owners, first time buyers and renters was outlined by academics at the launch of a major new research project on Tuesday 3 July 2012 in Edinburgh. The £0.7m project, led by Dr Beverley Searle of the University’s Centre for Housing Research (CHR), will investigate the growing gaps in housing wealth and their consequences for the social and economic wellbeing of families in Britain.

Dr Searle, alongside colleagues from St Andrews, Birmingham and Durham Universities, will look at issues such as the changing patterns of family wealth, the ageing population and the difficulties younger people face in accessing housing.  

Speaking ahead of the launch, Dr Searle commented, “Housing wealth differences are key to understanding inequalities that exist in Britain now, but they also are critical in shaping the likely future differences between generations.

“Five years on from the first signs of the end of the housing upswing, Britain faces not just the prospect of a long slow recovery for the economy but also the consequences of an ageing society.”

The project, ‘Mind the (Housing) Wealth Gap:  Inter-generational Justice and Family Welfare’, is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The three-year study will explore inequalities in society and look at issues such as the transfer of family wealth across generations, which is of growing political and social importance. 

Dr Searle continued, “It is often assumed that people who own their own property have the financial means to support themselves and their families. But relying on housing wealth can be a risky strategy. People are living longer so any wealth they do have will need to support them for much longer than in the past.

“As we have recently seen, not for the first time, the housing market can fall rapidly. This leaves families exposed and vulnerable at a time when they may be in most need of a financial safety net. Many home owners struggle to get by, whilst those who rent and have no housing wealth are at a disadvantage.”

Britain is not alone in facing these challenges. The project will look at the causes and consequences of housing wealth gaps across generations and the implications for long term policy change in Britain and beyond.  

The project launch was backed by Kate Barker, author of the Barker review of UK housing supply. She said, “Understanding the future patterns and uses of housing wealth in Britain will be at the core of shaping not only recovery in housing opportunities for the young but also the ways in which the nation copes with ageing.

“The present government has so far failed to improve on the record of its predecessors in delivering effective housing market outcomes. Present policy arrangements fail to grapple with market realities and their consequences for young and old; and may reinforce the significant housing wealth gaps. These gaps result in unjust outcomes now and in the future”.

For more information visit the project website or contact the Principal Investigator Dr Beverley Searle (tel: 01334 461792).