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Empty Bedrooms Undermine New Building

The growing trend towards under-occupation is exacerbating Britain’s housing crisis, according to new research from the Intergenerational Foundation. Building on previous studies from IF which have examined the issue of under-occupation, this report uses census data to show that nearly 1 million extra households were classed as under-occupying between 2001 and 2011 in England. In effect, this means that almost a fifth of all the extra space that was added to England’s housing stock throughout this period has been wasted, as the additional capacity it created was cancelled out by the increasingly inefficient way in which our existing housing stock is being used.

The problem of under-occupation is important because it highlights the fact that building more housing will not be sufficient to solve the UK’s housing problems on its own. Building new housing has become so politically contested in many parts of the country (especially those where demand is greatest) that it seems unlikely we will ever achieve the level of development which would be necessary for it to have a meaningful impact on house prices. The reality of this situation is that it will be vital if we want to solve Britain’s housing crisis to achieve much more efficient use from our existing housing stock by addressing the unequal allocation of space.

Age is an important dimension of this problem, as “empty nest” households made up of pensioners are the group who are most likely to under-occupy, while families with children suffer disproportionately from being overcrowded. IF proposes several methods which could help to achieve a better match-up between the amount of space that different households have access to and the amount they require, particularly creating incentives for older households to downsize.