A new book on England's biggest landowners highlights the huge inequality that exists in the country.
It’s not exactly a secret that we live in a nation of haves and have nots when it comes to land ownership in the UK.
But while most of us are well aware of the difficulties young people face in getting onto the housing ladder, despite a host of government schemes aimed at providing a helping hand, the reality is that this isn’t the real inequality present in our land ownership.
As new data shared with the Guardian reveals, half of England is owned by just 1% of the population.
And it’s not all the fault of the baby boomers either.
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Who owns this land?
The data comes from a new book, Who Owns England? By Guy Shrubsole.
According to the data, around 25,000 people – generally members of the aristocracy or large corporations – own between them around 48% of the nation’s land.
In other words, half of England is under the ownership of a tiny fraction of its population.
The aristocracy and gentry account for around 30%, with the next 18% coming from corporations.
Even the land technically owned by corporations are essentially in the hands of the gentry.
Shrubsole has put together a list of the top 100 landowning companies, with prominent entries including the Boughton estate in Northamptonshire which belongs to the Duke of Buccleuch and the Woburn estate which is owned by the Duke of Bedford.
Shrubsole told the Guardian: “A few thousand dukes, baronets and country squires own far more land than all of middle England put together.
“Land ownership in England is astonishingly unequal, heavily concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite.”
What about the rest?
After the aristocracy, gentry and corporations come oligarchs and city bankers who own around 17% of the land in the nation according to Shrubsole.
Around 8.5% of English land is owned by the public sector.
He said that this was one of the easiest areas to establish ownership, in part because Central and Local Government have been so keen to sell off some of its land holdings in recent years.
Normal homeowners account for a paltry 5% of land ownership according to the data, while conservation charities own 2%. Around 1.4% is owned by the Crown, with 0.5% owned by the Church of England.
In truth, it’s likely that the aristocracy own even more than Shrubsole estimates.
According to his data, 17% of the land in England is unaccounted – this is land that has not been sold on the open market, and so has not been recorded at the Land Registry. In all likelihood a decent portion of this unaccounted land is owned by the aristocracy.
Does this really matter?
Which then begs the question of whether this inequality is really something that matters?
Hand on heart, I can’t say I’m enormously shocked by just how much of our land is owned by such a tiny number of people.
In a nation where people carry titles like duke and baron, it almost goes without saying that there will be an elite who own a frankly enormous amount of land.
But equally, it’s difficult to justify it.
According to Shelter, around 320,000 people were recorded as homeless last year, up by 4% on the year before and the equivalent of 36 people losing their home each and every day.
I’m not saying we should divide the nation up equally between everyone – we’d all get about an acre according to Shrubsole – but it sticks in the craw that we have so many people living on the streets, and a housing shortage that is causing generations of families to have to live together, while a tiny number of people are sat on swathes of land that they don’t exactly need.
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