For the second time in two weeks we’ve seen homes – the need for a safe, decent, affordable place to live, work and bring up a family – come up as the central theme of a political party conference.
And it’s purely because building more good quality homes, which ordinary families can actually afford, has become one of voters’ key demands. In fact it’s now a top five election issue, up from 17th back in 2010.
Unfortunately this surge in housing’s salience has been driven by rising rents, poor conditions and astronomical house prices up and down the country. At the Labour party conference these issues were ever present at fringes, debates and talks across sunny Brighton. And yesterday in his party conference speech Mr Miliband made a real pitch for this agenda.
So what’s in the meat of the proposals?
The headline announcement was that by the end of the next parliament, England will be building 200,000 homes a year under Labour.
It’s worth noting Mr Miliband didn’t say the Government alone – but England. This means enabling local authorities to venture full steam ahead into the house building market by lifting the borrowing cap placed on them. It also means reforming the land markets to stimulate more developments by private developers, on top of a new wave of garden cities and new towns. These are all reforms Shelter’s called for on numerous occasions, and ones which we welcome. The need to lift the spending cap on local authorities was also mirrored by the Lib Dems at their conference last week.
Even 200,000 a year will not meet the gap between supply and demand, and the all-important details of Labour’s plans will come later. But these are important announcements that commit Labour to significantly ramping up the number of homes we are building as a country.
We also saw welcome statements from Labour around stamping out the small minority of rogue landlords that continue to make life a misery for renters around the country. And on welfare there was a promise to repeal the bedroom tax, as revealed earlier in the conference.
In the last fortnight Miliband and Clegg have set the bar for Cameron. Them and their parties have recognised the pressing and urgent challenges facing the country when it comes to housing – and begun to lay out their potential solutions too.
With housing now so key to voters, it is no longer a question of whether Mr Cameron will respond on these issues, but how.
Two parties have shown their cards – next week it’s time for the Conservatives to respond. The voters are waiting.