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Housing will be the next political battleground for 2015

Roger Harding

houses getty 300x225 Housing will be the next political battleground for 2015

(GETTY IMAGES)

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, Shelter

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  • JDSixsmith

    tbh i never really thought it would work like that – it was just how they claimed it would work. The evidence clearly shows it didn’t (& history shows never really has) but it’s like a religion with unquestioning faith, no matter what the evidence – they will always have some fall-back such as “as long as governments exist they will always interfere with the perfection of the market mechanism”. The only way they would be proved conclusively wrong would be to have unregulated markets in everything… but I reckon that would be an absolute calamity for… ooh 99% of the population.

  • bsmart2tiger

    Housing will be the next political battleground? Yeah, like incurable disease it’s gonna stay to the end.

  • Guest

    As usual everything is made too expensive so those already with money have the options and the “riff raff” can be secluded elsewhere. But in terms of housing, we don’t have the space in this small country for many houses, we can’t cram everyone together or have semi-detached housing, we need as has been said towers and skyscrapers, to make use of what space we have and to allow some prosperity. It seems strange as a country we’ve never embraced this, in places like Barcelona housing can be together and neighbors not fear what the other is doing and it works as a dynamic and has a great deal of common sense. Energy efficent housing/tower blocks should be the way forward, even countries with vast land like South Africa embrace the method, why shouldn’t we?

  • Vagrant Poet

    Overpopulation is one the causes also, and that’s due to us nationals breeding, not immigration. Yes people move to this country, but many ex-pat Brits are living abroad all the same. Don’t be so bigoted – as a nation we create our own problems as equally we should solve them. Outside forces aren’t to blame here, that’s just a political smokescreen to stop people paying attention to what it is the government are doing, or in this case, not doing.

    They choose to allow things to be expensive, it doesn’t mean that is what they are valued for or truly worth. More money has went into the defense budget than our housing and schools over the last 15 years.

  • crosscop

    “Us nationals” are not breeding. We are in decline. Our women are not producing enough children to replace us and we are gradually being replaced by people with higher fertility rates from other countries. Do you actually walk around with your eyes closed? Been to Blackburn lately, for instance? Tower Hamlets? Peckham? We are being colonised and calling me bigoted doesn’t change that. I am just pointing out what is undoubtedly happening. I suppose in your world the Dalai Lama is a bigot for pointing out that the Han Chinese are colonising Tibet. You do realise that statistics released by Migrationwatch indicate that we will be a minority in our own country within a few generations, don’t you? Ask the Copts how nice that will be.
    I do agree, though, that outside forces are not to blame. Our mainstream politicians are to blame… and the stupid, stupid people who continue to vote for them.
    BTW – British people don’t spell defence with an ’s’.

  • WilliamOne

    If the answer to the housing problem as far as our political class is
    concerned is ever more schemes backed collectively by us all – and it
    always is – like Firstbuy Direct and the Taxpayer Backed Mortgage
    Guarantee Scheme in which we all underwrite 95% LTV mortgages, then
    housing has to be provided for the millions who fund those subsidies yet
    still don’t earn enough to live anywhere.
    Otherwise we’ll end up
    with a housing market that has rising prices but a growing number of
    people priced out of it as a result of schemes paid for with their own
    taxes!
    You see what all these schemes are about first and foremost is
    underwriting a housing bubble by helping buyers up to the asking price
    instead of prices falling to a level we can all afford without the
    subsidy.

    If, once prices start rising again, people see through this scam then it
    will be far more of a political issue than any of us imagine.


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