In among the hundreds of news stories we carry this week is one that’s perhaps not carrying the punch it deserves.
Cheshire East Council is to “launch a campaign” — which means it’s going to do something, in headline-speak — to “meet the housing needs of key workers”, ie provide cheap homes for people who can’t afford them.
The key workers who can’t afford to buy homes not only include people you might think were paid less — such as social and health workers — but also, allegedly, more middle-class occupations such as firefighters, police officers and teachers.
Reading between the lines, the council is worried that it won’t be able to attract such workers to leafy Cheshire, or at least attract young entrants to those careers. The council wants to hear the views of people who have a household income of no more than £50,000.
Having a quick look on the internet, the median pay for primary school teachers appears to be £24,000 and for secondary school £27,000, though special education and preschool teachers are at £18,000.
Police constables are on around £20,000 when they start, rising to £23,000 after 12 months. Trainee firefighters start on just over £21,000 a year, rising to £28,500 once qualified. A registered nurse earns an average of £23,038, social workers £26,489.
According to teachers’ favourite the Guardian, young teachers are having to share bedrooms and struggle to afford mortgages because of low pay.
The National Union of Teachers’ annual conference was told of teachers who lived eight to a house and two to a room — presumably that’s in London — and teachers regularly struggle to be approved for mortgages, partly because of low pay but partly because the abolition of pay scales make it harder for teachers to prove how their income might rise.
The basic problem is that house prices are out of kilter with wages, presumably because demand has far outstripped supply.
There is proof of this at the Chronicle itself. Former editor and chairman Lionel Head once lived on Moody Street and owned both his house and the one next door. He was probably reasonably affluent and was in a long-established business, but the current value of those properties today must be around £400,000 — two of them would be close to £1m and well out of the range of most people today, and probably of Lionel back then, too.
Recent reports indicate that the gap between income and house prices has rocketed in the last 20 years and that even in the most affordable regions of England and Wales buyers are forced to spend six times their income to buy a home.
Even buying a £150,00 property in Congleton (there are decent two and three bedroomed semis and terraces for that price) is seven times the salary of a new entrant to one of the professions mentioned above.
According to the Guardian again, homebuyers earning the median salary for their region in 1995 would have had to spend between 3.2 times and 4.4 times their salary on a house, compared to the more modern figures, seven times locally and up to 12 times in London.
Of course, the police and fire service at one time provided houses for their staff, but we guess police houses are long gone, and probably fire houses, too. No doubt a reader will enlighten us; equally doubtless is the fact that such properties were sold off as surplus to requirements some time ago (even though there would have a been a stream of entrants in need of them).
So at some point we’ve sold off taxpayer-owned subsidised houses in the name of efficiency and now Cheshire East may well have to use taxpayers’ money to replace them.
Clearly we need more houses. But it seems, from recent stories, that developers are slow in building them, even when planning permission exists.
Private Eye reckons that many developers pay over the odds for land when house prices are good, and when prices slump they’re left land they can’t afford to develop.
House-builders come up with all sorts of reasons — and denials — that they are “land-banking” but if Private Eye is correct (and it usually is), developers who have over-paid for land won’t start building until house prices rise, and of course the only way that happens is when demand outstrips supply.
Private companies (many of them Tory donors) prospering while taxpayers foot the bill for subsidised housing? Perish the thought.