HOUSING: by David PerrinNews Weekly
Stable families improve house affordability
, August 18, 2007
Excessive demand for housing in Australia is exacerbated by family breakdown, argues David Perrin.With a federal election due in the next few months, the issue of housing affordability is looming large as an election issue.
House prices throughout Australia are at record levels and are a substantial barrier to first-home buyers ever realising the great Australian dream of owning their own home.
This complex policy issue crosses state and federal boundaries, but there are solutions available to the Federal Government. One of these solutions is to reduce the demand for housing.
While most of the recent proposed solutions to make housing more affordable relate to expanding the supply of land or houses, very little is said about reducing the demand.
When I was a member of the Victorian parliament, every request made to me for public housing came from a person from a broken marriage or relationship.
Previously, an intact family of father, mother and children occupied only one property, either buying or renting. But, after a relationship break-up, two properties were needed to house the same people.
In 2004, the Australian Family Association funded Dr Bob Birrell and the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University to conduct a study into marriage and partnering in Australia, based on the 2001 Australian census.
While there has since been a further census in 2006, the findings of the Monash study are still relevant.
What the study found was that almost a third of Australian men of marriageable age were unlikely to marry and form families because of lack of job security, education, income and skills. Those in this underclass category who did marry were more likely to end up divorcing.
Clearly, separate single adults of marriageable age require separate properties, whereas if they marry they require only a single property for their family.
Bill Muehlenberg recently analysed the 2006 census, which revealed that 49.6 per cent of the population are married.
This was down slightly from the 2001 census figure of 51.4 per cent. However, presumably many of those presently unmarried are likely to marry at some time in the future. ("Making sense of the Census", News Weekly
, July 21, 2007).
However, nothing is being done to assist the underclass of men who are currently not in a position to marry and form families.
In fact, the Monash study also identified that women - particularly, less educated women and single mothers - found it difficult to marry and form families as well. Only 62 per cent of women in their late 30s were married.
Clearly, with so many adults living singly in the community, the demand for housing will push up the prices for all property, thus pricing many married families out of the market as well.
Possible options available to the Federal Government for reducing the demand for housing and thereby making it more affordable include:
• Supporting marriages in crisis to reduce the divorce rate. A review of international divorce statistics shows that divorce rates are substantially lower in some countries (and in particular states in the USA). Australia must learn from these places how to reduce the divorce rate so that families stay intact.
• It's time for a real review of the 1975 Family Law Act. Perhaps a parliamentary or judicial inquiry could aim at halving Australia's divorce rate. This inquiry could commence by examining Barry Maley's proposals for a fault-based settlement based on serious marital misconduct. (See his paper, "Reforming divorce law", Issue Analysis
, Centre for Independent Studies, No.39, September 1, 2003). The inquiry could look at ways to increase family income to overcome the stresses on marriage related to financial issues. It could perhaps determine the real costs of family formation.
• With the recent introduction of a baby bonus, it's time to look at the introduction of a meaningful marriage bonus to help defray the costs of marrying.
• More education and training programs for men in the underclass identified by the Monash University study.
• More payments to low-income, unmarried men and women to assist them marry and form families.Past social policies
The high demand for housing in Australia is driven by the social conditions that we have allowed to develop by past social policies.
By reducing this demand, we can make housing more affordable and therefore assist families in forming and staying together.
This will improve the social conditions in Australia and - who knows? - we may even give our kids a better future.
Is there any political party prepared to be this
family friendly?- David Perrin is the national president of the Australian Family Association, and a former Victoria state MP.