The Structural Engineer > Archive > Volume 2 (1924) > Issues > Issue 7 > Finance and Commerce. The Government's Housing Scheme
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Finance and Commerce. The Government's Housing Scheme

IT is not surprising that although the House Of Commons has passed the financial resolutions relating to the Government's housing proposals, the scheme for providing two and a half million houses in 15 years has met with a great deal of criticism. On purely financial grounds the proposals appear to be providing the community with far too expensive a luxury, for the subsidy of £9 per annum from the Government, and £4 10s. from local authorities for each house, spread over a period of forty years, will cost the nation a total of nearly £1,400,000,000. Economically, however, the scheme is quite indefensible, and when Mr. Wheatley, the Minister of Health, proudly described it as "suspending the laws of supply and demand," he touched upon what is in reality its weakest point. The whole principle of giving subsidies is thoroughly unsound, and has been condemned time and again by international and other economic conferences in outlining the steps which should be taken for post-war reconstruction. The Brussels Financial Conference, for instance, recommended that the artificial cheapening of food, coal and other materials, and the maintenance of postal rates, railway fares and other Government services on an unremunerative basis should be abandoned at the earliest opportunity. House building, of course, was not specially mentioned, but the same arguments and considerations apply equally to the building trade. This country has in most cases been far in advance of any of the Continental nations in avoiding the economic traps which are inherent in the subsidising of trade in any form, but housing is an exception to this general rule. During the European War housing accommodation fell below the normal requirements of the nation, and fresh building was restricted, owing to the depletion of the numbers of men engaged in the building trade. By the continuation of the Rents Restriction Acts the necessary stimulus to fresh building enterprise was withheld, and if effect is given to the present proposals for subsiding house building over a period of 40 years, the uneconomic situation is likely to be perpetuated. Arrangements have, of course, been made by which apprenticeship in the building industry is to be increased, and the scheme is to lapse if prices are unreasonable, or if two-thirds of the houses provided for are not built. The scheme, however, presumes that the building industry will attain a considerably larger output than before the war, although the number of workers has actually decreased since 1914. Output per man is also rather lower, and in these circumstances there seems to be no guarantee that the houses provided for will be forthcoming. It is evident, therefore, that the scheme, in spite of the subsidy, cannot succeed unless very great changes in labour methods are made, while even if the Labour position were satisfactory it may be doubted if the supply of building materials generallv could be made adequate to requirements. The many unfavourable