Cohesion not competitivity

Our new working paper Cohesion through housing? argues against regional policy which aims to improve competitivity and create high wage jobs which would “level up” the UK’s “left behind places”. Per capita output measures of GVA and GDP are the standard metrics used in regional comparison. But, household income is more relevant to living standards and our paper focuses on the residual household income measure (after taxes, housing costs, transport and utilities) for owner occupiers, social renters and private renters in all the UK regions. Variation in house prices by region and by cost of housing according to tenure creates winners and losers in terms of living standards. Many ordinary places with low GVA per capita can work well enough for owner occupiers who can set low housing charges against modest wages; just as high GVA London can be purgatory for private renters paying one third or more of disposable income as rent. The implication is that regional policy needs to engage leading as well as laggard regions and to consider how the cost, quality and availability of housing and other foundational services drive living standards directly; and whether housing can be disconnected from the circuits of wealth accumulation.

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