England’s ‘rent-trap’: just another reason housing is now a top 5 issue for voters

The last few weeks have seen senior politicians in all parties clamber over each other to promise bold action to solve our housing shortage. Both of the men most likely to be PM next year highlighted it as a priority in their last conference speech before the election.

Now, all parties still have a way to go to show the kind of leadership voters want – something we’ll come back to on the blog tomorrow. But for a minute it’s worth reflecting on the transformation: for a generation housing was treated as a marginal issue, something only a handful of anoraks prattled on about. Now it is right at the top of the political agenda. Four years ago housing sat ninth on the list of voter priorities, now it’s consistently in the top 5.

And if you want to know why that is, new research on the ‘rent trap’ by Shelter out today provides just another indication.

It shows that, after paying their rent, 66% of private renters in England are now unable to save a single penny towards a deposit on a home of their own – an increase of thirteen percentage points from 2012. Add in the fact that queues for social housing are at record levels and you reach a grim conclusion: two thirds of people renting are stuck there indefinitely.

Of course, not everyone wants to own (though polls consistently show a majority do). But for that option to now be completely shut off to two thirds of renters, no matter how hard they work or save, shows how out of control our housing crisis has become. Fundamentally, it underscores the failure of successive governments to build the homes we need.

Thankfully, this is an issue that can be solved with the right political will. Our work with KPMG shows it’s perfectly possible to plug our desperate shortage of homes within the next Parliament if it’s made a priority.

And, as our politicians are waking up to, with anxiety on the rise and NIMBYism in decline, there is a huge political prize open to the party which rises to the challenge.

What was particularly promising about conference season is that all three parties are now competing for votes on the real problem: the shortage of homes. Demand-side fiddling and relative cul-de-sacs like the ‘empty homes’ agenda are finally fading into the distance.

But voters affected by the housing shortage won’t be easily led, especially in this day and age. Parties wanting their vote will have to continue to relentlessly talk to their anxieties and experiences right up to polling day, and flesh out their plans for living up to their warm words. This will be no free ride, it’ll require leadership, but it will be worth it for the party which convinces. Because as our research today shows, the problem is worsening with every passing day. As an issue for voters, housing is not going away any time soon.