May 17, 2018 / 2:26 PM / 2 months ago

FEATURE-Royal wedding puts Britain's housing crisis in spotlight

LONDON, May 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Britain’s Prince Harry carries his new bride over the threshold after their wedding on Saturday, it will be into a two-bedroom house that estate agents might euphemistically describe as “bijou”.

Like many young couples squeezed for space as they grapple with Britain’s sky-high property prices, Harry, 33, and 36-year-old Meghan Markle will start married life in a small cottage - albeit one in the grounds of Kensington Palace.

Nottingham Cottage is one of the smallest on the grand royal estate in central London, which is also home to Prince William and his wife and has housed much of the royal court since 1689.

While few have relatives as wealthy as Harry’s grandmother, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, experts say more and more young people are having to rely on their parents to get onto the property ladder.

“Today’s young people, millennials, are half as likely to own their own home at the age of 30 as baby boomers were in the past,” said Lindsay Judge, a senior research and policy analyst at British think-tank Resolution Foundation.

“This is largely due to increased barriers to entry because of higher house prices, lower earnings growth and tighter credit availability - so they’ve got a triple whammy,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Baby boomers are considered to be people born before the mid-1960s while millennials are those born between 1981 and 2000.

In the 1980s and 1990s, it took the typical young household about three years to save for a deposit. Now it takes 19 years, according to a Resolution Foundation statistic that Judge called “shocking”.

Over the last 20 years home ownership in Britain has plummeted among young adults, who have had to pay more toward pensions while bearing the brunt of weak wage growth since the financial crisis.

Young people today are also likely to spend a high proportion of their income on rent, making it harder to save for a home deposit.

HOMELESSNESS

The rise in housing costs is a major cause of growing homelessness in Britain - an issue the royal wedding has helped to highlight.

Earlier this year a local government leader triggered a public outcry when he called on police to remove rough sleepers from the picturesque town of Windsor, where the wedding will take place.

Harry and Markle later named national homelessness charity Crisis as one of seven organisations selected to receive official wedding gift donations.

“I think it’s a very clever way of Harry and Meghan making a statement without using words, as they’re not allowed to be seen to be political,” said Murphy James of Windsor Homeless Project, a local drop-in service.

James said Windsor, an upmarket town in south-east England, had a very small homeless population of about 10-15 people at any given time.

“Compared to other towns across the UK it’s small fry, but the way I look at it is if we have one person living on the streets then it’s a problem and it needs sorting,” he said.

Crisis Chief Executive Jon Sparkes said the royal stamp of approval was already bringing in donations to the charity and would help highlight the problem.

“The fact that the royal family has chosen to highlight this issue and Crisis particularly ... is a massive opportunity to make sure the public understand what’s causing it and the fact that we can solve it,” he said.

About 160,000 households are currently affected in Britain and rough sleeping is forecast to rise by 76 percent in the next decade unless the government steps in, Sparkes said.

Homelessness does not just include rough sleeping but the many young people sofa-surfing or using temporary accommodation due to a lack of secure housing options, he added.

Britain’s parliament last year passed the Homelessness Reduction Act, which sought to increase the obligations of local councils towards homeless people.

The government has also set an ambitious target of building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.

“Over the decades there’s been a lack of investment in truly affordable housing,” said Sparkes.

"There clearly aren't enough houses being built overall." (Reporting by Adela Suliman, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)

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