Housing in the marginals: how is the housing crisis affecting political battlegrounds?

Today is the last day of this Parliament. From now on, more than ever before, the election is about how the campaign plays out in the handful of swing seats that might change hands.

We know it’s a top 5 issue in the polls nationally – but how does it play in the kind of seats that will decide the next election?

To find out, we have looked at housing affordability in every single marginal seat in England, as polled by Lord Ashcroft in the last year – 115 in total. For each seat, we looked at the affordability of home ownership, private renting and availability of social housing.

You can see all the data and all the findings in our report here – or have a play around on a seat-by-seat basis with our tool here. There’s a wealth of information for every single seat.

Here’s a five point summary of our findings:

  • Overall, most swing seats are worse affected by the housing crisis than the country at large – especially when it comes to unaffordability of home ownership. For instance we found 56% of Ashcroft polled seats are ‘housing hot spots’* of very high unaffordability, where people wanting to own their first home face an even bigger uphill battle than ordinary voters do.
  • It’s not just London seats hard hit. Recent stories about ‘Help to Buy’ pushing house prices out of reach in the East of England are borne out here. Thirteen out of fourteen (93%) marginal seats in Eastern England are housing hot spots, with very high unaffordability. This includes key seats such as Norwich North and key three-way marginals like Watford and Thurrock.
  • 8 out of 11 (73%) of key East Midlands seats have seen even sharper declines in home ownership than the national average. The Times recently reported that Labour is worried about these kind of seats, such as Lincoln and Northampton North. On that basis, they may regret leaving housing off their recent pledgecard. As well as sharper than average declines in home ownership, all but one have seen an explosion in private renters far larger than the national average.
  • Lib Dem held seats in the South West are also at the sharp end – the kind of seats the Conservatives are hoping to win in order to remain the largest party. All but a handful had a severe shortage of affordable homes – and large numbers of young adults in work but forced to live with their parents. Our research also showed a particularly acute shortage of social housing in these areas.
  • And then of course, there’s London and the classic South East swing seats – the likes of Hove, Brentford and Isleworth, Hampstead and Kilburn and Hastings & Rye. Every single marginal seat in London and the South East has a housing market far more unaffordable than the national average. All have only a tiny proportion of homes that can be afforded by the average family – many seats had none within reach at all.  Rents are also far above the national average in these areas, and rising fast.

For the first time in a generation, then, we can say with confidence the kind of voters who decide elections are being hit hard by the housing crisis. And it isn’t just those directly affected who are concerned – as BritainThinks recently found when talking to swing voters in the key South West marginal of Taunton, housing is worrying the parents of those affected too.

Election strategists, MPs and PPCs of all stripes would do well to take note.

If further proof were needed, it underscores the huge political opportunity still open to any party which owns this issue – and comes through with credible solutions to improve the lives of voters in these seats (rather than the smoke-screen style gimmicks of recent governments).

This means putting building the affordable homes at the very heart of the next government’s mission for the country. Our work with KPMG shows how it can be done – and extensive evidence (here and here) shows opposition to it locally collapsing as anxiety increases too. The allegiance of thousands of key voters potentially lies in wait for any party willing to take on the vested interests to make it happen.

Note: **We defined a housing ‘hot spot’ as an area that performs worse than the national average on two or more of the following three metrics: declines in home ownership between 2001-2011, the percentage of homes affordable to a typical young family, and the number of years it takes a young family on typical income to save for their first home.

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