An Englishman’s home is his castle. So goes the old phrase anyway. In truth, it’s probably more likely to be a nasty, damp, poorly maintained house on a anodyne street in some suburban area. Oh, and the house will cost a fortune to buy or rent, the windows will let all the heat out, and there will be nasty carpets on all the floors. But there is some hope – a bit of a debate has started about what to do about Britain’s dire houses.
Purely in terms of personal experience, it is quite clear that the standard of UK housing stock is so far behind most of Europe. Friends with equivalent wages in Belgium, France, Germany or Sweden all manage to live in flats more spacious, better build, and more pleasant than I could hope to afford in London.
The government (well, John Prescott) has started to try to do something about this – by making planning laws a bit more flexible, and aiming to flood the market with cheap houses. See this column from Max Hastings in The Guardian about that. He quotes extensively from a pamphlet from the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange (download the PDF here) which gives excellent international comparisons detailing how exorbitant UK house prices are, and how the average size of UK dwellings is one of the lowest among developed countries.
Above all, the main point is this: the Brits see their homes as an investment in order to get a tax-free return. Most of the rest of the world thinks the quality of where you live is actually more important. But at least we are starting to think about how to improve matters.