The history of housebuilding, weird weather effects and the likelihood of loft insulation

Top of the Charts

Afternoon all,

Migrants are checking in and MPs are checking out. The two aren’t directly related. I think. I’m more certain that Labour and the Tories both want migration numbers down, because they keep saying so. Which must leave the punters confused about why the numbers are so high (for the answer see our second read).

Personally, it’s the higher-than-expected inflation reading (down from 10.1 per cent but only to 8.7 per cent) that worried me most this week. Markets are now betting on interest rates to rise to 5.5 per cent, which feels like an overreaction to me. But I’ll feel a lot more confident saying that if the next inflation release has a decent fall in it.

The glamour of camping in Pembrokeshire awaits next week, which means no TOTCs. That’ll at least save you from me gloating about the weather… Have a great bank holiday and see you on 9 June.

Have a good weekend.

Chief Executive
Resolution Foundation

Productive perk. When I said not gloating about the promised Welsh sunshine… I lied. Because even the thought of it perks me up. Proving that this isn’t just me is new work (free version) examining the link between happy workers and productive workers – specifically BT call centre workers (before BT announced plans for AI to replace them all). It shows that nice weather = happier workers (if their call centre has windows…) and happier workers = more productive workers. An increase in happiness of 1 on a 0-to-10 scale translates into 12 per cent more sales (3 extra a week) mainly driven by people converting more calls into sales rather than squeezing in extra calls. The authors put this down to “better moods augmenting [workers’] ability to solve more complex cognitive tasks”, but personally I think they might be missing the role of the customers: people don’t like buying things from a grump.

Measuring migration. For a briefing on what’s going on migration-wise read the Migration Observatory’s handy note (and ignore lots of the hot air this week). One thing that will come across is that, while there might be a cross-party consensus wanting net migration to now fall, the things that drove it up are also ones both main parties agreed on i.e. welcoming Ukrainian refugees and Hong Kongers, plus wanting foreign students export revenue and care workers lower cost NHS/social care. The note also tells us not to expect the current very high migration levels to last given a good chunk of this is temporary (Ukraine) or will unwind (as students leave). A useful summary.

Building Britain. You’ll enjoy this canter through the policy and politics of 20th Century housebuilding from Works in Progress magazine. It’ll remind you that the idea of Britain as a nation of homeowners is a post-1960s phenomena, and I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the 1951 election. The Conservatives attacked Attlee’s Labour for the insufficient pace of housebuilding (check out the great campaign poster) – and when elected reduced regulatory barriers to private development and increased public construction. Lessons for today’s Tories. Those were the good old days, when the fields were green caring about the housing needs of younger generations was in fashion and you didn’t have Lib Dems feeling worthy about welcoming high migration levels while opposing every development they can get a rosetted candidate in front of.

Lagging lofts. Sorting out our homes is probably the biggest consumer-facing net zero challenge (the move to EVs is much easier because they actually save us money). As we’ve shown, this will require significant state support for poorer homeowners. But pure cost benefit analysis doesn’t drive who takes up such support, finds new research – instead some groups are much more likely to apply than others. The authors expected the former to include the savvy/pushy middle class, but find they were wrong. Instead they discovered poorer households from Asian backgrounds living in terraced housing were most likely to apply (12 times more than you’d expect), especially those in the North. So if you want energy efficiency schemes to take off, worry about specific communities/places not just the right financial incentives.

Volatile voting. The polls are looking fairly stable, with a chunky Labour lead. Hence lots of Tory MPs heading for the hills. But stuff happens is one of the golden rules of politics. For a reminder of that fact, read a new column that documents how the 9/11 attacks not only dramatically changed politics in the US, but also drove a big but temporary shift in voting intentions in the UK (a 31 per cent increase in intention to vote Tory – consistent with wider work linking terrorist attacks to a preference for voting for parties of the right). If you want more mundane proof that events outside of politicians’ control affect elections, here’s a paper reminding us that rain decreases turnout, particularly amongst marginalised voters. You probably guessed that but I’ve not seen an actual quantification before: each centimetre of rain reduces turnout by 0.95 percentage points. Democracy requires umbrellas people.

Chart of the Week

The weird thing about the coverage of our record migration level is the focus on migrant workers (with loads of vox pops providing punters views on whether they’re welcome or taking others’ jobs). But record net migration levels (which include students/refugees) doesn’t mean record increases in migrant workers. As our economist Charlie McCurdy has shown, the migrant workforce grew by 170,000 last year – below the average 230,000 per year growth seen pre-Brexit and under half the mid-2010s peak. There’s also a lot of discussion implying that the fall in EU workers post-Brexit is being replaced by arrivals from outside the EU. That’s true in aggregate, but look under the bonnet and you see it’s not so simple. In manufacturing some of that appears to have happened, but in agriculture the workforce is just shrinking (the British-born share of workforce is rising but the actual numbers have kept falling despite the stupid columns calling for the youth to get into the fields). And in the sectors that dominate jobs growth (government, professional, ICT, care) we’re actually seeing both EU and non-EU workers numbers continue rising – both faster than, also rising, UK-born worker numbers. Migration patterns are reshaping our labour market, but not in a way that much of this week’s discussion has done justice to.