14 February 2019

Still looking for love? Blame the planning system


There is a housing crisis in the UK. As Dr Kristian Niemietz has set out, the root causes are easy enough to identify. A toxic mix of restrictive planning rules and poorly thought out taxes means many face sky high rents and may never realise the dream of home ownership.

Much has been written both here and elsewhere on the myriad problems the housing crisis causes for people, especially the young. It adds to the already punishing cost of living and stunts productivity, which in turn means lower growth. Stamp duty also makes it much more difficult for people to move house, presenting an unnecessary obstacle to older homeowners who wants to downsize.

It should also trouble the Conservative Party. A failure to fix the housing crisis will see more people lay the blame at the door of free market capitalism and turn to the socialist policies of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, with devastating consequences for the economic health of the country.

As it’s Valentine’s Day, it is worth considering how the housing crisis is also impacting our love lives.

In many ways, we now have more choice when it comes to romance than any other generation. Dating apps mean it’s easy to meet people in your area, while changes to the law and shifting societal norms mean that sexual minorities are now more free to openly express their love for each other.

For all this freedom, however, choice is still limited by the cost of property. With many areas out of the reach of all but the richest, the pool of potential partners is reduced. To put it simply: Mr or Mrs Right might be out there, but sadly they’re not in your city – they’re stuck in Huddersfield or Doncaster as they can’t afford to move to London, Oxford, or Edinburgh.

Now, picture the scene. You have matched with someone on Tinder and, after chatting for a while, you arrange to go on a date. After the initial awkwardness and nerves, things start going really well. They’re good looking, funny, smart, and interesting and you’ve somehow managed to convince them that you are all of those things as well. The date draws to a close, and you both agree that it would be nice to go home together. Only then does your date reveal that, like a record high number of young people, they live with their parents. There is more privacy at your place, but you’ve been forced out of the city centre due to high rents and so it will take you well over an hour to get back. You both have work in the morning, so not tonight. Maybe some other time…

Perhaps you’re very much in love with your partner. Given that you spending an absolute fortune on rent, you decide to stay in this Valentine’s Day and enjoy a romantic meal for two. You eat a delicious dinner by candlelight, and then move into the lounge. Then, just as you are getting comfortable, your flatmate staggers in with a kebab and plonks himself down next to you. The mood dies somewhat.

You’ve been going out with each other for a while now, and you’ve decided it’s finally time to take the next step and move in together. However, due to high prices and the need to pay a deposit, you, like countless other young people, cannot afford to move in with your partner. Instead, you are forced to put your life on hold as you continue to share your living space with six other random people. In fact, a 2016 study conducted by Shelter found that 60 per cent of 18 to 44-year-olds felt that the housing crisis delayed them from achieving life goals such as home ownership and marriage. That suggests there are in the region of 13 million young people living in the UK who have had to put their lives on hold due to a lack of housing.

Imagine an alternative scenario. You have been living with your partner for a number of years now. Things were great at first, but then the small disagreements over what to watch on Netflix or who is supposed to do the washing up mature into something more serious. Now, either one or both of you realise that it’s not going to work and so it’s time to move on. There is only one problem: neither of you can afford to move out or keep the flat going by yourself. You’re not alone. One study found that 28 per cent of people who are currently in a relationship are only sticking with it for the sake of financial security.

Perhaps you’ve found somebody new. Maybe you cannot stand to be in the same home as your ex. Or, it could simply be that you need to move out and finish that chapter of your life. Thanks to the high cost of living you, and countless other people, cannot do this and have to continue with a decidedly sub-optimal living arrangement.

This situation is not only inconvenient, it can also be deeply troubling. For example, research conducted by Crisis revealed that 27 per cent of homeless service users claimed that they had formed an unwanted sexual relationship with someone since being homeless. An example of this is where a landlord offers free accommodation to women in exchange for sex.

Not only is the housing crisis forcing people into exploitative relationships, it is also placing some people in danger. Many people, especially women, are forced to stay with abusive partners as they cannot to find anywhere else to live.

The housing crisis is having a negative impact on our love lives. Thankfully, it should be relatively easy to fix and does not require you to join a gym or change your personality. Liberalise the planning system, free up green belt land which is of no environmental or agricultural benefit and get rid of stamp duty as soon as possible. Do all that and the Government would be giving Britain an economic boost, as well as a romantic one.

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Ben Ramanauskas is a Policy Analyst at the Taxpayers' Alliance.