Britain’s housing shortage: coming to a swing seat near you?

Rising home ownership was once a staple of post-war prosperity. The increasing number of people owning their own home underpinned not only a burgeoning middle class, but a broader sense of optimism about the future.

A basic kind of social contract also emerged: if you worked hard and saved, you could eventually own a home. Today, while private renting remains so insecure and unaffordable, the stability of home ownership will obviously continue to be attractive for many.

Unfortunately, this social contract is increasingly showing signs of serious strain. People are fulfilling their end of the bargain – working and saving hard. But home ownership is seriously starting to slip out of reach for most. Warning signs were there in the latest census data, with home ownership declining for the first time in 100 years.

And new figures today from our campaign ‘A Home of Their Own’ further lift the lid on this, showing the shocking scale of the challenge confronting first time buyers. We found that a couple on average income who start a family in their twenties face 12 years of saving before they can afford their first home. Things are even worse in London, with couples with children facing 21 years of saving. Unless they can rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad, many are looking at decades of unstable renting or having to move back in with their parents.

The figures also yet again underline the fact that England’s chronic shortage of homes (or ones affordable for people on ordinary incomes) is now a crisis affecting the whole country, not just the vulnerable. It is hitting not just those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, but people on middle incomes too.

Given the nature of our electoral system, it is these people – the ‘squeezed middle’ or ‘strivers’, whatever you want to call them – who very often decide the outcome of elections. The party who can best articulate their anxieties, then, including their concerns about their children’s future, is very likely to carry the day in 2015.

A look at some of the key political battlegrounds for 2015 bears this out.  Many of the most marginal constituencies are particularly badly hit when it comes to waiting times to get on the housing ladder.

For instance, in Stevenage and Watford, both key seats for Labour and the Conservatives, young couples starting a family and looking to settle down face 14.5 years of working and saving before they can afford to own.

In the key marginal of Bristol North-West, that figure is 13.5 years. Staying in the south-west, in the key Lib Dem-Conservative battlegrounds of Camborne, St Ives, St Austell and North Cornwall young families are looking at 16.5 years of being locked out of the housing market. Their children will be in secondary school before they can afford a home of their own.

Things aren’t much better in the West Midlands – where a whole host of key seats lay. In Newcastle-under-Lyme young families face 10 years of saving, while in Redditch it’s 12 years; in Wolverhampton South-West it’s 9,8 years.

As you would imagine, things are especially bleak in London seats. Young families in Hampstead and Kilburn, for instance – a key 3-way marginal – face an astonishing 26.5 years of saving for a home of their own. In Hendon it’s 18.8 years.

Sadly, at the moment neither of the main parties seems to be coming up with solutions that fully meet the scale of the problem. The Treasury Select Committee has made clear it doesn’t expect the Government’s ‘Help to Buy’ scheme will help many first-time buyers – mostly because high house prices mean that big mortgages are still unaffordable. Meanwhile, Labour have yet to attach a spending commitment to their welcome promise to build more houses.

There remains, then, a huge unclaimed electoral opportunity in speaking to the aspirations and anxieties not just of the next generation – but of their parents too, and the concerns for their children’s prospects. It will be interesting to see if anyone makes this territory their own in time for 2015.

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