What the 2011 Census belatedly tells us: home ownership levels down since 2001, private renting up by 50%
September 12, 2013 1 Comment
Better late than never: ward-level data from the March 2011 census has finally been released in, er, 2013 (it takes two years for the Office of National Statistics to crunch all the data).
What does the census data tell us about how society has changed since the previous census in 2001? The big news in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, like so many other parts of London, is the steep growth in private renting in the last ten years: up from 16.8% of households in 2001 to 24.5% in 2011.
One in four households in Blackheath Westcombe ward is now rented from a private landlord: a decade ago it was just one in six.
At the same time, because of the right to buy, the proportion of people renting their homes from the council has dropped sharply from 22.4% in 2001 to 15.0% in 2011 (the Greenwich borough average is now 22.6%), although there has been a slight increase in homes rented from housing associations.
And the number of owner occupiers has, surprisingly, also fallen slightly, from 51.5% of all households in 2001 to 49.9% in 2011. Probably for the first time, fewer than half of the households of Blackheath Westcombe ward are people living in homes that they own.
So a reduction in council housing, through the Right to Buy, has been more than offset by an increase in private homes being rented out by their owners, and home ownership has fallen overall (the 7.7% increase in people renting privately is almost exactly the same as the 7.4% drop in people renting their homes from the council).
These changes have not arisen from lots of new homes being built: there have been few large developments in Blackheath Westcombe ward in the last ten years, other than Seren Park and Bellfield Close, and the number of households has only increased slightly from 5,955 to 6,075 in the ten years from 2001 to 2011.
But the population has increased more steeply than the number of households, up by 7.5% between 2001 and 2011. Many more people are renting privately, and more people are living in each housing unit, often in overcrowded privately rented accommodation. Nearly 12% of households in Blackheath Westcombe ward are officially overcrowded, only slightly better than the borough average.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with people renting out properties they own (much better to do that than leave them empty). Many tenants are very happy with renting privately, particularly if they are in mobile, well-paid jobs (for example in financial services at Canary Wharf, pictured above) that require them to relocate frequently.
But many people rent privately out of necessity rather than choice, as they cannot afford to buy a home in inner London, and do not qualify for scarce social housing. Many private landlords are responsible – but sadly many are not.
Increasingly, local authority housing estates in areas like Blackheath and Westcombe Park are no longer a mixture of just two types of tenure (tenants and right-to-buy homes) but three types: council tenants, right-to-buy owner-occupiers, and those renting homes privately from buy-to let landlords.
Often these three groups of residents get on well with each other. But a new form of deprivation is emerging: people renting ex-council homes from private landlords, paying rent much higher than their neighbours who rent from the council, and with much less security of tenure: in most cases they can be forced to move at only a few weeks’ notice.
And private landlords can be much less responsive than the council is when it comes to repairs and improvements to the homes they let out. As a Labour councillor for the area, I receive more and more complaints from people in private rented accommodation who find their rent is going up, their central heating is on the blink, and their leaking windows are not being fixed.
Greenwich’s Labour Council has recently put more resources into inspecting and regulating the private rented sector, while Newham Council has introduced a mandatory licensing scheme for all private-sector landlords. In most London boroughs, the growth in private renting is the biggest demographic change in the last decade, and one that demands new policies from Labour councils. Coalition policies – massive cuts in public subsidy for affordable homes, the squeeze on housing benefit, and an economic strategy that is leading to yet more increases in property prices – only make the situation worse.
The 2011 census data also disproves the stereotype that Blackheath residents are mostly affluent, white, married, middle-aged or older, and living in houses rather than flats. In fact, Blackheath Westcombe ward is a lot more diverse and cosmopolitan than its leafy appearance suggests:
The proportion of people who describe themselves as “White British” has fallen from 76% in 2001 to 69.6% ten years later. 16.9% of residents are not white, and 23% were not born in the UK (489 people were born in Africa, 589 were born in Asia or the Middle East, 78 were born in Australasia and, surprisingly, 387 were people born in the Americas). The “Other white” group – who are mostly EU nationals – has grown by almost a third in the last ten years.
Although Blackheath Westcombe has a relatively high age profile – the median age is 39 – the proportion of residents aged under 16 (16.4%) is higher than the proportion of over 65s (15.1%).
41% of all households in Blackheath Westcombe ward are people living alone. Of the 6,000 households in the ward, almost two-thirds are flats or maisonettes rather than houses. Far fewer households in Blackheath Westcombe are families living in houses than you might think.
Blackheath Westcombe residents are on the whole well-educated, with 57.5% of residents educated to degree level or above (well above the Greenwich average). Unemployment remains low and well below the Greenwich average: just 3.6% of adults were unemployed in 2011 (compared to the Greenwich average of 6.2%). But at the other end of the spectrum, 12% of adult residents have no formal qualifications at all. 36% of all households own no car or van (down slightly from 39% in 2001).