Housing will be the next political battleground for 2015
The imagery and the towns change, but the theme of party conferences is always the same: we are the party looking out for YOU. And you can see why. Politicians know full well that policies don’t win elections, character and values do. But these values need to be brought to life, and for this year and the foreseeable future it’s all about the economy, stupid.
The party that fails to come up with a coherent strategy to convince voters they can be trusted with the economy will be spent as an electoral force. The parties know this and are finalising their pitch, such that the public’s choice in 2015 is increasingly fixed.
But the choice is only set if you define the ‘economy’ in terms of jobs and growth. What’s been interesting to observe at the conferences this year has been each party’s focus on the other side of the coin: living costs. Here more is up for grabs, and what we got was the short list of election issues: the price of petrol, social care, child care, energy bills and housing. All were used to show the striving squeezed middle that the parties understand their struggle, and of them housing was undoubtedly the most prominent.
Nick Clegg kick-started Liberal Democrat conference with his plan to ask parents to bank their pension in their kids’ deposit, Ed Balls promised £3bn for 100,000 new affordable homes, while last week, Boris Johnson said that meeting the stalled housing aspirations was key to the next election. David Cameron talked passionately in his closing speech about helping young people unable to get on the housing ladder, ‘sitting in their childhood bedroom, looking out of the window and dreaming of a place of their own.’
Thwarted aspirations for a home of your own, that’s relatively near where you work and that you can afford, has become an issue that cuts across geography and class. Over 75% of people now agree that ‘there is an urgent need for government to make housing more affordable for young couples and families’. Four in 10 of the nation’s parents believe that even if their children work hard and save up, they’ll still never be able to afford a decent home. Home ownership, that staple of party rhetoric for 30 years, is declining for the first time since the war, starting in 2003 even when credit was far too free and easy.
Other housing issues bubbled up, notably a lot of nervousness on how the Universal Credit, will be implemented to its pacy timetable without replicating the tax credits scandal. Sadly, the PM also repeated his call for housing benefit to be scrapped entirely for the under 25s; a damaging move at odds with the ‘striving’ rhetoric when so many of those claiming housing benefit are working, but just on incomes too low to pay the rent, or need it for short periods to get back on their feet.
If it’s possible to put those aside, it’s becoming increasingly clear that housing will be one of the key political battlegrounds in 2015. The question now is what the parties will offer, and here there is much still to define. Even a cursory glance at the issue tells you it must centre on new supply. The challenge will be setting out the radical policies that deliver genuinely affordable, good quality homes for all ordinary families, and not just the upper middle with the benefit of a healthy bank of mum and dad.
Neatly, this also helps the other side of the economy coin. Building homes creates jobs and does so quickly in an industry that can never be shipped abroad. Perhaps one of the best ways to sum up conference is to note what we might be hearing a lot more of as we enter the long campaign to 2015: ‘I’m here today to talk about the hard-pressed family, the ones putting everything in and feeling they are getting less out. The families worried that no matter how hard their kids work and save, their chance of having an affordable home to call their own is slipping away. That’s why today I’m proudly launching…TBC’.
Roger Harding, Head of Policy and Research, ShelterTagged in: boris johnson, conservative party, david cameron, ed balls, HOMELESS, homes, house prices, housing, labour, liberal democrat, nick clegg, party conference, Shelter
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