The housing minister tells Prospect that Britain nearly ran out of bricksby Jay Elwes / September 17, 2015 / Leave a comment
Read Andrew Adonis’s cover story “How to fix the housing crisis”
“It doesn’t matter how many houses we need to build, we need people physically to build them,” said Brandon Lewis, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning. “There is still a really big issue around human resources and we are working with BIS [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills] and the industry to get more people to come into construction generally. There’s a real challenge,” he said.
Lewis, 44, was made Housing Minister in 2014, at the end of the Coalition government, having held a more junior role in the same department. The Coalition’s two main achievements in housing policy were the devolution of greater planning control to local authorities and the introduction of Help to Buy, a scheme under which the government paid part of the deposits made by first-time buyers. Although the first was welcomed, reaction to the second was clouded by suggestions that the net effect was to inflate house prices further.
Britain’s housing problem is increasingly acute. Successive governments have failed to build enough new homes, and Lewis’s suggestion that builders are failing to find enough workers is a new contribution to a debate that was noisy in the General Election campaign and now in the contest for London mayor—and in the public debate about immigration.
“Within the bigger scheme of things, immigration plays a part,” says Lewis, “but I wouldn’t over emphasise it.” He accepts that the problem is partly due to the failure of governments to build more homes, but argues that the changing demographics of Britain are more important.
“We have a changing population,” he said. “Middle age is getting a lot longer, so there are people in their mid-seventies who would class themselves, physically, as middle-aged.” As a consequence, he said, “people are staying in their homes much longer,” rather than going into care homes, which has caused huge amounts of property equity to accrue to the over-65s. It also means that larger, family homes are less likely to come on to the market for sale.
Changing social attitudes are exacerbating the shortage, he said. “Families are splitting up. Whereas in the past a family would have a house, quite often now…