The Years of Change

Published: 29 January 2010

The UK's housing market and living conditions have shifted dramatically in the past 50 years and research findings reveal that the forecast is for more change, Hug Morris discovers.

Fifty years ago one in seven household had an outside toilet, at least 20 per cent of properties lack a basic hot water supply and the average house price was £2,507. As a new decade gets under way, the Halifax has looked back over the past half century to plot key trends in the UK housing market.

Using its own database and figures from the Office for National Statistics and the DCIG, the bank paints an intriguing picture of the way we were and where we are now. Most of all, it casts light on how society has changed in that time. Today, homes are much more expensive, more people own than rent, more of us live alone and the building rate has not kept pace with an expanding population.

The average UK home has increased in value by an astonishing 273 per cent since 1959 in real terms, faster than the 169 per cent rise in real earnings over the period. The statistics show that house prices recorded their biggest increase in the last decade, growing by 62 per cent during the 2000s and just beating the 61 per cent recorded in the 1980s. The 1990s was shown to be the worst performing decade, when prices fell by 22 per cent.

Since 1959, the market has seen four distinct booms - in 1971-73, 1977-80, 1985-89 and consistently from 1998 to 2007. Each was followed by a big fall in real house prices. All regions have seen house prices increase more rapidly than average earnings for the past 40 years. Greater London has been at the vanguard, with a real rise of 229 per cent against a national average of 174 per cent. Scotland recorded the smallest increase with a real rise of 120 per cent.

In total, 13 million homes have been built in the UK in the past 50 years. Last year's figure of 156, 846 scarcely reached half of the 281,570 built in 1959. House building peaked at 425,800 homes in 1968, a time of significant social investment. Private sector completions also reached a record of 226,100 in that year.

Between 1959 and 2009, there was a 69 per cent decline in public sector completions, far higher than the 23 per cent fall in private sector homes. While reductions in council house building are well documented, building by housing associations has been nowhere near the level needed to compensate. Accordingly, the proportion of completions attributable to the private sector has jumped from 54 per cent in 1959 to 75 per cent last year.

The nation has also seen a marked shift in the type of housing built in the past 50years. Semi-detached homes, at 41 per cent, accounted for the largest proportion of properties build between 1945 and 1964, but this fell to only 15 per cent after 1980. Detached homes accounted for just ten per cent in the earlier years but rose to 36 per cent of the new stock built after 1980. Flats account for 20 per cent of post - 1980 completions compared with 15 per cent of those built between in 1945 and 1964.

BuBut then there are more of us. The number of households has risen by nearly ten million since the early 1960s, form 16.7 million in 1961 to 26,6 million last year. Over the same period, the UK population has grown by nine million, from 52.8 million to 61.8 million. The average size of household has fallen from 3.17 to 2.32.

More of us are living alone. The proportion of single-person household has risen from less than one in five in 1971 to one in three in 2009. Marriage is not what it used to be. The proportion of married households is down by almost a fifth since 1971, from 70 per cent to 42 per cent in 2009. That said, married couples remain the most common household type.

Owner occupation increased from 43 per cent in 1961 to 68 per cent in 2008, fuelled along the way by the introduction of the right to buy. The proportion of homes rented privately fell from 33 per cent in 1961 to 14 per cent in 2008. While the proportion of socially rented homes expanded rapidly through the 1960s and 1970s, peaking at 33 per cent in 1981, in 2008 the sector was down to 18 per cent of homes.

"No doubt there will be further dramatic changes over the years ahead, most likely including ways that we are currently unable to foresee," says Halifax housing economist Martin Ellis. But some things have changed for the better. Only two in every thousand homes have an outside toilet and more than 99 per cent have a basic hot water supply.