England’s housing crisis reaches the marginals

Published: by Steve Akehurst

With the election under a year away, strategists of all stripes will be sitting down and working through their campaign priorities for the months leading up to May 2015. I’m sure the economy, education, the NHS and crime will all feature.

But taking a look through the new research that Shelter published today, it’s going to be impossible for them to ignore housing. For the first time in a generation, the housing shortage is badly affecting the kind of areas that decide elections.

The figures look at the number of private homes for sale that are affordable to three groups: young couples with children, single people and couples without children. The report looks at the entire country, finding 80% of homes on the market are unaffordable to working families on typical incomes.

But when you pick through some of the swing seats, they are now among the worst affected. The numbers also nail the lie that this is just a London problem.

The key southern marginal of Hove, for instance, which Labour will need to win (it’s 28 on their 106 list) from the Conservatives, has just ONE home on the market affordable to the average working family. That means 99.99% of homes for sale are out of reach for ordinary families.  In Stevenage, meanwhile, just 5% of private homes are attainable to average first time buyers. In Northampton North, 85% of market homes are out of reach for average working families. In Pudsey, outside Leeds, under a third are affordable.

Meanwhile Conservative targets like North Cornwall (6.2% of homes within reach) and ‘40/40 listed’ Solihull (over 80% unaffordable) do not fare any better. Bolton West, which they hope to take off Labour, has 65% of homes out of reach. Lib Dem target Watford has 0% of homes on the market affordable to average first time buyers.

Crucially, we know even voters who own their home are concerned. They are worried about where their children are going to live, and the prospects of another era of unstable house prices. That’s why housing is now a top 5 voter issue in YouGov surveys, beating the likes of education and crime.

Polls also tell us, though, that it’s neck and neck in terms of which party voters trust most on this issue. Broadly speaking all national parties are still feeling their way around this issue, after decades of inaction and it languishing at the bottom of their ‘to do’ lists. All of which means housing is not only one of the fastest rising issues in British politics, it’s one of the few genuinely unclaimed ones.