Keeping tabs on housing

I’ve whinged far too often about the fact that housing never seems to get the political attention it deserves. This is partly to do with the way housing shows up in polls – as Ipsos MORI’s Ben Page spelled out here recently. Although every MP’s post bag is full of their constituents’ housing problems, these problems are experienced by each family as theirs alone – and are treated accordingly by politicians.

But politics seems to be finally waking up to the increasingly obvious fact that there’s a housing crisis going on out there. Just a couple of weeks ago Policy Exchange’s Nick Faith blogged that failure on housing could cost the Conservatives the next election. Serious stuff.

Today Shelter, CIH and NHF have published the second of our Housing Reports – effectively a scorecard, assessing the government’s progress on ten key housing indicators, no less than half of which are on red, with a further three on amber. Things are getting worse, not better.

We found that it’s not just the poor, or those on benefits, facing real difficulties finding and keeping a place to stay. A growing number of those hard working, aspirational families that politicians love to champion are struggling to keep their heads above water, and will struggle more when interest rates go up or if rents continue to rise. In much of the country a whole generation is priced out of ownership (if they’re unlucky enough not to benefit from fat inheritances) and will never get a shot at a social home either.

The penny may start to drop, as more and more of the political commentariat realise that inaction on housing could spell political disaster. Even closer to home, many think tank bods and special advisers in government will find themselves unable to buy.

Most politicians seem stuck in the nineties, assuming that the only real politically relevant problem is keeping house prices from falling. Not so the electorate. That fascinating Policy Exchange report showed that 55% of the public believe that more homes are needed, with 33% against. Nothing staggering there – but a whopping 61% do not think rising house prices are a good thing. Surprisingly, it is not just those younger, poorer losers from the house price lottery that have soured on house price growth – the support for those priced out of the housing market is much wider, including many electorally important older voters.

There’s a whole tranche of ambitious new MPs in Parliament now – how long before some of them spot the political opportunity in speaking up for Generation Rent and start taking on the housing crisis seriously?