In recent months, we’ve asked a number of times what the Conservatives are offering to young voters. In the ConHome manifesto the top priorities in policy terms are Homes, Jobs and Savings, but within each we urged policymakers to focus their attentions particularly on those who are worst off, with the most limited opportunities. Very often in modern Britain those people are the young, and we should address their needs.
It’s a healthy thing to do electorally, as well as socially. Two fallacies plague the debate about generational politics. First, simply pointing to low turnout rates among younger people as a justification for not doing much for them is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Inaction on the part of politicians is only going to reinforce the idea that there’s no point in voting, while helping them might start to persuade more people that it’s worth having a say. Second, it’s an error to suggest policies designed to help the young only appeal to young voters. Parents and grandparents want their families to do well in life, too, and don’t just vote on the basis of policies which directly affect them.
What’s more, we would argue that a society in which every family has a good home, good jobs and good savings is ultimately a society which is more likely to vote Conservative – because it would be a society founded on stability, responsibility and security, not plagued by insecurity and dependence.
So it’s encouraging both in terms of policy and politics to read through David Cameron’s speech on housing today, delivered in front of a banner reading “A home of your own”.
Here’s an extract of Cameron’s speech discussing his new Starter Homes drive:
“They’ll be 20 per cent cheaper than normal, and they won’t be snapped up by buy-to-let landlords…they’ll be reserved for first-time buyers under the age of 40…We’ve shown what we expect Starter Homes to look like: decent, well-built, homes – places to start and raise a family.”
“So we are going to take this good idea and accelerate it. I can announce today that the next Conservative Government would build not just 100,000 Starter Homes but 200,000 Starter Homes, giving more young people the security of owning a home, rewarding hard work, making this a country where if you put in, you will get out.”
That’s to be applauded on a number of grounds. The creation of a class of housing which is reserved for first-time buyers (particularly rather than buy-to-let landlords, the “haves” in this market) is effectively the adoption of an idea straight from the ConHome manifesto, which is obviously pleasing. Reducing the cost of such houses by cutting taxes and levies is clearly a more efficient way of using the state’s resources than dishing out subsidies to borrowers, too.
The age restriction of the policy rightly recognises that this home ownership is a generational problem, too. While there have been appeals specifically to pensioners (including those extremely generous investment bonds) it is good to see something aimed at aspirant younger people.
The speech also touched on Right to Buy, with a commitment to “keep on backing” the scheme. It seems the Prime Minister is yet to be convinced by Iain Duncan Smith’s calls for a Right to Buy 2. He’s certainly right that supply is the essential part of the system that needs to be mended, but it would be good to see some commitment in the manifesto to an extension of such a life-changing policy, hand in hand with these increases in the housebuilding.
We have our concerns about aspects of the Coalition’s approach to housing. Help to Buy, for example, is in effect a mortgage subsidy which too often serves to push prices up still further, and the ConHome manifesto called for it to be ended. We won’t be welcoming Cameron’s decision to extend the scheme still further, therefore – it simply isn’t the best-targeted measure or the best use of scarce taxpayers’ money.
All in all, then, it’s two cheers for this latest outing by the Prime Minister. Placing home ownership, housing supply and the needs of younger people at the centre of the manifesto are all welcome steps – hopefully there’ll also be some exploration of new paths to ownership, as we proposed, before the campaign is out.