IF 2024 manifesto audit 3: housing

What are the housing offers for younger generations this General Election? Liz Emerson, IF CEO, explains in this short housing manifesto audit.

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. For all but Reform, the political parties intergenerationally fair to neutral housing offers.

Older generations are sitting pretty

For more than a decade the Intergenerational Foundation has cited the housing crisis facing younger generations as the most visible form of intergenerational unfairness in the UK today.

As our newly published housing report explains, over the past two decades older generations have bought up more housing space and consumed more bedrooms. They have paid off their mortgages and fed off the young via buy-to-let. They are now the wealthiest generation ever.

The young face record levels of homelessness

Meanwhile, younger generations face: record-high levels of homelessness – 1 million children experienced destitution in 2022; record high rents – up 29% in just two years in London; record high numbers are seeking temporary accommodation; record levels of young people are overcrowded in the private rented sector; and more than 1 in 4 young adults now cannot even afford to move out of their parent’s home. Whether it is to rent, to  buy or social rent, younger generations are overcharged and underhoused.

That’s why IF has called on all political parties to address the housing crisis that is stripping younger generations of their incomes, their saving ability and even delaying family formation. So, when the Labour Party came out with its six manifesto pledges and crucially missed out housing, IF was quick to call them out.

Build, build, build

All the main political parties agree that the nation needs to substantially increase its delivery of new housing. The Conservatives go for a big number of 1.6 million new homes delivered over the next five years. Labour promises 1.5 million new homes with a minimum of 300,000 units delivered a year. The LibDems are more cautious, pledging 380,000 new homes and the Green Party trail behind at 150,000 homes. Reform do not even supply a number.

Greenbelt, greybelt, brownfield and wildbelts

The elephant in the room when discussing new housing need and genuinely affordable housing is the stranglehold the greenbelt has had on many towns and cities over the past 30 years. While you might expect IF to be anti-building on open fields we believe that the housing crisis is so acute for children and young people today that we need to sacrifice some greenbelt, the size of which has more than doubled in many areas where the housing shortage is most severe. It is time to use some unproductive land to build safe, secure roofs over children and young people’s heads. We can still protect precious flora and for future generations on the other 92% of UK land that has not been built on.

The Conservatives are therefore unlikely to meet their 1.6 million new homes pledge by promising to retain the Greenbelt. That pledge may also explain why the Green Party is far less ambitious than other political parties on new housing delivery targets. No greenbelt building means lower delivery of affordable homes at scale. The LibDems fudge their way through with promises of wildbelts and pledging to restore and protect woodlands. Labour pledge to release the greybelt, arguing that poor-nutrient greenbelt land should be used for housing and Reform think that releasing brownfield sites will deliver the millions of homes the nation needs.

Get planning moving

Sitting behind arguments for or against greenbelt development is a national lack of planning officers. Labour has announced plans to recruit 300 planning officers to help to speed planning approvals, re-instate mandatory housing targets and build new towns. That level of ambition is missing from the other political manifestos.

Truly affordable homes?

The Green’s promise to deliver truly affordable homes at 150,000 social homes. Labour also pledge to prioritise new social-rented homes but is not clear on the number merely stating 40% of new homes must be affordable. The LibDems also promise 150,000 affordable homes. With the catch that affordable housing as a tenure sits at 80% of market rates, for many young people having to live to work in major conurbations, the cost of so-called affordable housing is still out of reach.

Right to buy

As IF’s report makes plain, continuing with Right to Buy practices without the delivery of like-for-like new homes, has resulted in a massive loss of genuinely affordable homes to rent in the social-rented sector. Housing associations have also been unable to maintain the delivery of new stock because of tenants’ rights to buy. IF has called for its reform so we are encouraged by Labour’s commitment to review and increase protections on newly-build social housing. The LibDems also offer local authorities the ability to end right to buy. The Greens go further and pledge to ban Right to Buy completely.

First-time buyers

IF has long opposed policy levers which overheat the housing market which is what Help-to-Buy inevitably drives. We want house prices to fall on intergenerational fairness grounds and for houses to be homes not investments. Giving stamp duty cuts, as proposed by the Conservatives, also drives up house prices. We have yet to see the detail of Labour’s proposed “permanent mortgage guarantee scheme” but believe that governments should be in the business of subsidising the housing market. We are also sceptical about their plans for first-time buyers to be able to buy homes before international investors.

Ground rents and leasehold

Turning ground rents into peppercorn rents with a cap of £250 would be a win for younger and future generations, as promised by the Conservatives. Both Labour and the LibDems go further by committing to ending unfair leasehold practices.

Help for renters

Better protection for renters across all tenures is urgently required. It is therefore sad to read that Reform would double-down on its support for landlords. While the Conservatives promise to reintroduce the Renters Reform Bill (after it failed to pass the Bill before the recent general election was called), Labour pledge to Abolish Section 21, as do the LibDems and the Greens. The Green’s truly progressive policy is to align tax on income with tax on capital gains – a policy IF has called for in this report, which could be fed through to housing income and discourage over-leveraged landlords from using the nation’s housing stock as a form of investment. The LibDems also promise to strengthen tenant protections, standards and local authority inspection powers. The rent control debate is favoured by the Green Party. While today’s renters may see that as a positive move, previous generations remember the scourge of slum landlords who did not invest in the upkeep of properties with rent controls imposed.

Energy efficiency measures

Any news of increased investment in increasing insulation and energy efficiency is welcome. The Conservatives plan to invest £6 billion over three years in improving insulation and opening access to all households with a voucher scheme. Labour offers £6.6 billion in 5 million home upgrades with grants and low interest loans for insulation, solar, batteries and low carbon heating. The LibDems promise all new-builds will be zero carbon while the Greens will give tenants the right to demand energy efficiency measures from landlords. No mention from reform on any energy improvements.

Good news – housing is finally on the agenda

The good news is that  thanks to the work of IF and many others, nearly all political parties now accept that there is a housing crisis facing younger generations and are taking steps to address it. We now need a new government to turbo-charge delivery by investing in planning departments’ resources, cutting red tape and cutting the cost of the delivery of the new homes younger and future generations desperately need.

Help us to be able to do more 

Now that you’ve reached the end of the article, we want to thank you for being interested in IF’s work standing up for younger and future generations. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved so far. And with your help we can do much more, so please consider helping to make IF more sustainable. You can do so by following this link: Donate.