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Six to a house as a million homes lie empty

Shock figures from ONS show true cost of our overcrowding crisis

MORE than a million homes are standing empty while people cram ever more tightly into others with sky-high rents, according to damning official figures released yesterday.

Housing campaigners fumed at analysis of the latest census results that starkly illustrated Britain’s overcrowding epidemic.

Researchers for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) compared housing data from the 2011 census with the previous survey in 2001, with shocking results.

The number of homes inhabited by six or more people soared from 433,000 in 2001 to 543,000 by 2011, according to the report — a rise of 25 per cent.

In London, where some councils’ waiting lists are expected to take decades to clear, that figure rose by nearly half.

Yet the number of homes lying empty also increased by 25 per cent, from 878,000 in 2001 to nearly 1.1 million by 2011.

Economist Michael Burke told the Morning Star the soaring number of empty homes reflected Britain’s broken economy. 

As people from the outlying regions have abandoned their homes for the capital in search of work, demand for properties in London had encouraged the super-rich to snap up houses as an investment — even if they were not interested in letting, he said.

Whole boroughs such as Belgravia and Kensington have gained notoriety as “ghost towns,” while the coalition’s help to buy scheme was “just helping to drive up prices.”

“What we need is new affordable housing stock, there’s no other way around it,” he said.

Campaign group Generation Rent spokesman Dan Wilson Craw agreed: “The government has no hope of reversing this trend with a scheme like help to buy — the nation’s renters need better rights in the rental market if they want to live somewhere they can genuinely call home.”

And John Hamilton of squatter activist organisation Lewisham People Before Profit said the amount of money now paid out in housing benefit to the nation’s private landlords — around £24bn a year — “is far more than it would have costed to build council housing in the first place.”

“Although we’re very short of homes in London, it’s really because our economy is skewed towards the south-east.

“So London is full of bankers and finance types and becomes an incredibly expensive place to live, whereas up in Stoke-on-Trent or Newcastle there’s probably rows of empty terrace houses where no-one wants to live.”

The housing crisis would only resolve itself once Britain re-established a strong manufacturing sector, he said, rather than finance and service industries.

“It’s all very well having lots of nice coffee houses, but they’re no good if only the rich can afford to go to them,” he said.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said the coalition was “committed to tackling overcrowding.”

“Our efforts to get the country building have delivered 445,000 new homes — including 170,000 affordable homes — since 2010,” she said.


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