Do 'Mondeo Man' and 'Worcester Woman' now rent?

Regular readers of this blog will know that we’ve been talking about the rise of private renting and decline in homeownership for some time.

Figures released today from the 2011 Census show a decline in homeownership over the last decade, on a scale unseen since the Second World War. Meanwhile, the proportion of households renting privately has increased by 69%.

This really is a seismic shift, indicating a new normal for British families. There is no longer an obvious path from renting to home ownership for most young people.

How can politicians be made to take notice of Generation Rent and their concerns?

Well, what’s particularly interesting is that private renting families look very much like the key swing voters that have attracted such attention since the 1990s – like the much discussed ‘Mondeo Man’ and ‘Worcester Woman’. They are working, aspirational young families on low to middle incomes, mostly aged between 24 and 35.

They are also increasing in number in crucial electoral hotspots in London and the South East (see below). High house prices, lack of affordable housing and stagnant wages will continue to push more and more of this group into private renting over the next two and a half years before the 2015 General Election.

Renters are a growing part of the electorate (Source: Census 2001 and 2011)

Renters are increasing in key electoral areas (Source: Census 2001 and 2011)

Renters are squeezed families on middle incomes (Source: DCLG)

What are the implications for politicians?

With private renting providing homes for more than a million families for the long term, we need serious policies to address the difficulties that they face.

Increasing rents in London and the South East are sucking spending out of local shops and businesses.

Even on average pay plus child benefit, rents are more than a third of income in northern towns such as Manchester, York and Harrogate.

This is bad for the economy as well as bad for renters’ quality of life. The rate of growth in private renting means that even the living wage is insufficient to pull low income renting families out of poverty.

It’s not just high rents that are problematic for renting families. Short-term, insecure contracts can work well for young professionals who want to move regularly, but they do not suit the ‘new normal’ renting family.

Private renters are vastly more likely than homeowners to move each year, pulling them away from jobs, schools, friends and family. Many are asking: why can’t we know where home is for at least the length of a school term?

That’s why Shelter believes that renters should be able to get our new Stable Rental Contracts, and why we’re working with the industry to get these family-friendly tenancies to market.

Policy interventions to address these issues would undoubtedly improve the lives of private renters, but the vast majority will still want to be homeowners, attracted by the sense of security and control that ownership can bring.

This presents an opportunity for political parties. The growing renter electorate is looking for a party who can improve renting for them now and provide a route to owning a home of their own in the long term. While renters on average have lower voter registration than others, they are representative of the politically salient ‘squeezed middle’ in terms of age, income and aspiration.

Politicians had better start taking notice, because renters are a rapidly growing group and are concerned about their housing future.