Bernard Aryeetey is Head of Policy, Research & Public Affairs at Shelter.
‘In every single year since the 1960s we’ve built fewer homes’. This stark reminder from David Cameron’ earlier in the month succinctly set out the root of a national problem that has grown over a generation while politicians have looked the other way.
The lastest YouGov poll not only once again had housing as a top five issue for voters – but showed more voters than ever before citing it as a key issue facing the country.
In part, this is the consequences of what the Prime Minister alluded to coming home to roost. All kinds of people, on all income levels, in all corners of the country are being affected by our housing shortage – including those seeing home ownership get further out of reach.
But how is this playing out in the kind of political battlegrounds parties will be focusing on in the next month or so?
To test this, at Shelter we carried out extensive analysis of 115 marginal seats in England – every single seat Lord Ashcroft has polled in England in the last year. This resource contains a range of data for every seat. It covers affordability of home ownership, changes in tenure, private rents and availability of low-rent social housing in each area.
We found that:
- Overall, marginal seats polled by Lord Ashcroft are actually worse affected by the housing shortage. A majority are affordability ‘hot spots’ where home ownership is even further out of reach to those on typical incomes than across the country at large.
- But Liberal Democrat held seats in the South West in particular are at the sharp end of the housing crisis. – the kind of seats that the Conservatives are reportedly hoping to win in order to remain the largest party. All but a handful of these had a severe shortage of affordable homes, and large numbers of young adults in work but forced to live with their parents. Our research also showed a particularly acute shortage of social housing in these kind of areas. The worst hit seats for affordability include St Austell & Newquay, Wells and North Cornwall – which ConHome report to be on the Conservatives target seats.
- In general, swing seats the Conservatives are trying to win across the country are hard hit. Around 60% of key seats where the Conservatives are the main challengers – the likes of Southampton Itchen, Taunton Deane and Hampstead & Kilburn – had only a tiny proportion of homes affordable to the typical family, and suffered far worse than the national average.
- Seats where Lord Ashcroft reports a battle between the Conservatives and UKIP are also among those where symptoms of the housing shortage are worst. This may surprise many who think that the housing crisis is confined to the nation’s capital. The likes of Boston and Skegness, Wyre Forest and Great Yarmouth have all seen significant declines in home ownership, and have very low numbers of homes affordable to people on typical incomes in the area. 45 per cent of working young people are stuck living with their parents in Castle Point – by far the worst seat we looked at on this metric.
- Finally, expansion in private renting is especially high in Conservative-Labour marginals. These tend to be more urban areas where high house prices and a shortage of social housing has forced more people to rent. Two-thirds of these seats saw an expansion in private renters larger than the national average. This includes Cannock Chase (140% increase in private renting), Northampton North (128% increase) and Harrow East (87% increase).
Swing seats are not the only areas of the country hit by our shortage of affordable homes. And of course at Shelter we believe everyone deserves a safe, affordable place they can call home – voters in swing seats are not more important.
But there is evidence that they are on the whole worse affected, and especially those that the Conservatives are reported as targeting.
This seems to justify the increased attention all parties have given to housing in the last few years. It underscores the huge opportunity open to all parties who own this issue – an opportunity not yet taken by any of them.
Indeed, there’s a flipside suggested by our research that leading politicians and advisors should take note of: the problem is so severe in many parts of the country that only big solutions will cut it with voters whose lives, dreams and aspirations are being shaped by our shortage of affordable homes.
To win their allegiance, all parties are going to have to offer meatier and more substantial solutions than those presently on offer. That means placing building the affordable homes we need at the very heart of the next government’s mission. Working with KPMG, we have done a lot of the work on how this can be done already – do take a look.