Housing is an issue which has rocketed up the political agenda in recent years, thanks partly to the efforts of ourselves and other organisations which have focused attention on the UK’s housing crisis, such as Generation Rent and Priced Out.
It is also likely to be a central issue for many younger voters when they cast their votes in the General Election, given that (as our research has shown) young adults devote more of their expenditure to housing costs than any other age group.
So what do the main parties have to offer the voters on housing? This blog will attempt to provide a guide to their most significant policies.
In the full IF Manifesto Audit, we have applied a traffic-light system to signal how intergenerationally fair we consider the various policy offers to be. We grade intergenerationally fair pledges as “green”; “yellow” if intergenerationally neutral; “orange” if some progress has been made, but more needs to be done; and “red” if intergenerationally unfair.
It has to be said that most of the parties’ housing policies have been given a green light in this audit.
The centrepiece of each party’s policies on housing is, as ever, their promise to build a certain target number of homes within x number of years of taking office.
Now, any discussion of this topic ought to be prefaced with the fact that the parties which have been in government over the past few decades have tended to have a pretty ignominious track record when it comes to actually delivering on their pre-election housing targets.
To name two particularly egregious examples of housing policies which have failed to deliver: (1) a recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded that no new homes have actually been built as a direct result of the £2.3 billion “Starter Homes” initiative which became government policy following the 2015 general election; and (2) earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee published a scathing report about the lack of progress towards selling off surplus public sector land to build new housing, despite this being a crucial plank of the current government’s housing policies.
Nevertheless, once again the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems are all promising to get more new homes built on their watch if they end up forming the next government. Here is what they are currently promising:
- Conservatives – The Conservatives were elected in 2017 with a manifesto promise to build 200,000 net additions to the housing stock each year until 2020, plus an additional 250,000 per year between 2020 and 2022, which they have retained for this election.
- Labour – Labour’s target is somewhat different from the Conservatives’, as they are pledging to build 150,000 per year, of which two-thirds would be new council homes and the remaining one-third would be built by Housing Associations.
- Lib Dems – The Liberal Democrats are actually the most ambitious of the three major parties on this issue, as they want to be building 300,000 new homes per year by 2022, which would represent a return to levels that have not been seen in the UK since before the 1980s.
In principle, more housing should be good for the interests of younger and future generations if it results in cheaper housing, but, as I suggested above, promises which look good on paper will do nothing to help young people if they don’t actually result in any additional housing being constructed.
It says something for the success of the various organisations which have tried to move the UK’s housing crisis up the political agenda in recent years that each of the major parties now has a clearly defined set of policies on improving the private rented sector, as this is likely to be one of the single most important issues for the large share of young adults who rent their accommodation from private landlords.
The Conservatives have previously made a big step forward in this area by announcing their plan to ban so-called “no fault” evictions in England earlier this year. They also want to bring in “lifetime deposits” which would enable tenants to transfer deposits from one home to the next.
However, there is a clear dividing line on the issue of rent controls, which Labour have included in their manifesto, while the Tories are still opposed to them (the Greens are the only other sizeable party who are in favour).
Labour have also announced plans to clamp down on substandard properties in the private rented sector by introducing an annual “property MOT”, with the idea that there would be fines of up to £100,000 or forced repayment of rent for landlords if their properties are found to be sub-standard. Going even further than the Tories, Labour are also pledging to bring in “open-ended” tenancies in the private rented sector, although the details on how this would work are currently limited.
The effect of rent controls on rental markets has been much debated by economists, with it being clear that much would depend on the details of how they are implemented and exactly what form they would take. However, it is clearly a win for intergenerational fairness that renters’ issues have risen so high up the housing policy agenda.
The other housing issue which the manifestos go into in significant detail is planning policy.
Here, there is again quite a lot of agreement between the Conservatives and Labour, with both parties promising to defend the current planning restrictions on Green Belt land (which tends to be an intergenerationally divisive issue, with older property-owners being more in favour of protecting their access to the countryside than younger people, who are much less likely to live in the parts of towns and cities which abut the Green Belt).
The Conservatives have once again promised to deliver new housing on government-owned land, despite the problems with delivering this policy which have dogged previous such commitments, and both of the two largest parties want to incentivise the development of brownfield sites and building at higher densities rather than creating what Labour pejoratively calls “urban sprawl”.
By far the most radical party on planning issues is the Green Party, who (as you would expect given their particular set of priorities) want to transform the planning system so that all new dwellings are built to the Passivhaus Standard for energy efficiency, which should in principle significantly reduce their carbon footprints by reducing the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling them.
While IF certainly can’t tell young adults who they should vote for in the 2019 general election, we hope we have highlighted that there are some fairly significant differences between the parties, but also quite a lot of overlap, regarding how they approach what is likely to be one of the central election issues for younger voters.
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