Aidan Ruff is an electronics design engineer, and a Conservative activist in Northumberland.
If you open a newspaper any day, you’ll read about it. Question Time is dominated by It. Facebook is full of It. It is the crisis in the affordable-rent housing market.
Clearly, that’s an oxymoron on several levels. Rents aren’t affordable and there is no market. You pay what’s demanded, or you sleep on the street. That’s extortion. If there is a market, it’s a totalitarian market with delicious produce tantalisingly out of reach, and the nation’s young are the ones salivating and sleeping in the gutter. No wonder they resent us. We’re “the man”, the ones keeping them down, at least in the very successfully perpetuated, left-wing rhetoric dominating social media.
The Chancellor, no matter how much he rummages down the back of the sofa, simply can’t find the £80 billion to build the one million cheap rental homes that we so desperately need. We Tories wonder why the young aren’t voting for us in droves, but why should they?
We face the classic Monty Python and the Romans question. Yes, we’ve fixed Labour’s broken economy. Yes, unemployment is at a historic low. Yes, manufacturing is booming and good jobs are a-plenty. However, 18-25 year-olds weren’t economically active during the crash, so they don’t remember the pain. Their parents enjoyed the benefit of the Thatcher years, so they’re insulated from it with their property and final salary pensions. So, what have we done for them today when they can’t afford a rent or mortgage, and they’re living in Mum and Dad’s box room?
There’s another group that we’ve also ignored — even attacked. They do have the cash, stuffed under mattresses earning precisely zero. These are the savers, the older generation, the private pension pot holders. Near zero interest rates have saved businesses, but they have hollowed out savings.
Corbyn’s solution is simple: tax the hell out of the savers, as they don’t vote Labour anyway, and transfer the wealth to the poor and whatever daft lefty project catches his eye. Gordon Brown’s pension tax is in danger of being followed up with a Corbyn catastrophe. Cue resentment on both sides as those pensioners are also parents.
The answer is staring us in the face. Let’s connect the two groups in a wonderful social experiment. The old, with their savings, helping the young with their need for housing. The economically active young helping the old by giving them an income. Taxes on the young pay for state pensions anyway, so let’s make the link more direct.
I propose a social housing bond. Issue a ten-year bond, ring-fenced for rental housing construction, not council houses but administered by existing housing associations. We’ve had a peek around my area of Northumberland, and there are thousands of small, derelict, or under-utilised plots of land owned by varying levels of government.
On this land, we can build small developments of between ten and 50 houses, be they apartments or family homes. This will fill in small gaps nicely, and avoid over-loading local services. They also tend to be where the jobs are located, which is no bad thing. Typical rents will give a four per cent annual return for bond holders, and leave around 2.5 per cent for maintenance and admin.
But wait, there’s more. While we’re at it, how about a bit of social engineering? Inevitably, there will be a waiting list for these new, high quality, cheap rental homes. So, let’s dangle a great big, fat carrot in front of the noses of the intractably unemployed, the untrained, and the unmotivated.
Sign them up to a construction industry apprenticeship in plastering, tiling, joinery, or, if they are less capable, they can learn to manage a sand heap, push a wheelbarrow, and shovel rubble. It’ll be some time before Artificial Intelligence replaces those vital skills. If they sign up and fully participate, then to the front of the queue they go. Construction workers are now on average older than the wider workforce – and we need more of them.
Hook them up with a local building company, give the business a tax break to reward them, and get the apprentices working on their own housing project. Imagine – building your own house. It’s primal, goes straight to the ancient, tribal brain, and the essence of providing a hearth and home for your family, and they will look after it.
If they are a good tenant for five years, give them the right to buy at the cost of replacement plus a small premium to put some more cash into the pot. If they sell up in less than a further five years, then there would be a 20 per cent per annum profit claw back. As a result, a new generation will be invested in society in a deep and meaningful way. This is ‘Help To Buy’ with teeth.
Those on the scheme can market it to their peer group by offering a kick back of a month’s free rent for each of their friends who complete the training course. Social media does this all the time as the YouTube generation monetise their lifestyles, so why not do it for this, too? It wouldn’t take many early adopters to spread the news.
Some folk just need a cheap rent or a way into the housing market. However, others need more, and this policy could help them all. So many problems solved with one idea.
Finally, just as the EU puts up signs telling us how great it is at bribing us with our own money, can we please have a plaque over every new doorway reminding folk exactly who helped them? i.e. us. The Tories.
So, come election time, when young voters ask, “What have the Tories ever done for us?”, the answer will be staring them in the face daily, and we will have earned their votes. And they’ll have affordable homes, which is entirely the point.