Monday, 7 April 2014


Housing and 2015
While the Clegg / Farage debates and Maria Miller’s expenses may have dominated headlines over the past week, a number of interventions on the issue of housing have provided evidence of just how emotive the issue has become as well. Come the General Election it may even be more important than the long-distant memory of two men on a stage.
First, Housing Minister, Kris Hopkins, received a heated reaction to his Newsnight interview where he appeared to suggest that the Government’s “Help to Buy” scheme was not fuelling demand in the sector. Friday’s front page of The Independent then carried the story that Vince Cable has waded into the debate saying house prices are at pre-crash levels and unaffordable for people on middle incomes. There was also news that Labour would reverse some of the most controversial parts of the Coalition’s planning policy.
While few would doubt that the politics of house prices has intensified, identifying quite what electoral effect it will have in 2015 requires more investigation.
The first thing to note is that Britons remain attached to buying property: 81% would prefer to own their home than rent it. New ComRes polling for Generation Rent also shows that two thirds of those living in the private rented sector (67%) are currently doing so not because they actively enjoy the flexibility or living with friends, but because they simply cannot afford to buy.
The Politics of Private Renters
Despite these problems with affordability, Help to Buy does not appear to have made those still renting from private landlords any more partial towards the Coalition parties. In 2010, they were split three ways between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Since then however, this appears to have been a demographic group that Labour has very successfully won over. As can be seen below, 46% of private renters now say that they would vote for Ed Miliband’s party, compared to 23% who would vote Tory and 12% Lib Dem.
Base: All GB adults living in private rented housing (n=1,004)
Despite this scale of support for Labour, the political make-up of private renters makes them an electorally salient group for several reasons. First, 35% say that they tend to change who they vote for between elections, suggesting a propensity to fall into the “swing voter” category. This may be due to their tending to be towards the younger end of the age spectrum, where identification with individual political parties is lower than among older people.
This is borne out in their reported behaviour too. One in ten private renters who voted Conservative in 2010 (10%) would now vote Labour – more than twice the proportion of 2010 Conservatives nationally (where the average from the past three months is 4%). It has been argued here before that swing voters between Conservative and Labour will be vitally important to next election as their votes are worth “double”. Given the trouble both sides have had with winning the other’s voters, private renters may therefore prove a fruitful source of this for Labour. The Conservatives on the other hand will want to stem the flow as there is still much to play for. One in five private renters who are likely to vote (20%), say that say that do not know yet who they would vote for at the next election (compared to 14% of likely voters generally), suggesting there are still plenty of votes to be won.
Finally, private renters are unevenly distributed. It is well known that while Labour have successfully built on its dominance in the North, it is having mixed success in the Southern areas it will need to win if it is gain an overall majority in 2015. The fact that one in six (16%) people living in the South East (not including London) live in private rented housing therefore only increases their salience as a group.

The Politics of House Prices
Of course one of the key problems with housing as an issue, which makes it so toxic, is that it pits two sections of the population against each other on diametrically opposing sides: homeowners, who have an interest in seeing prices rise, and everyone else, whose desire to buy means they have an interest in seeing prices come down. While homeowners are the majority group, it is perhaps easy to see why there is a political will to see house prices keep rising.

Base: All GB adults (n=2,039). Homeowners (n=1,250), Renters (n=766).
But there are some signs that this may start to be changing. A recent ComRes poll for ITV News showed that half of Britons now say that they cannot afford to buy a property in their local area. Perhaps unsurprisingly, four in five renters (79%) fall into this category, but more interestingly, so do a third (35%) of homeowners. With house prices rising at a much faster rate than wages, many homeowners may have moved into an area only to see house prices around them rocket. While this does see the price of their own home go up, there is a danger that many feel priced out of their own area, and either have to make do with what they have or move out completely. With current trends set to continue, there may well be potential for swinging homeowners behind house building as a way of avoiding this and expanding the choices available to them. Three quarters of Londoners (73%) are already negative towards rising prices, saying that house prices rising there faster than anywhere else is a bad thing.
The cost of buying a property is not the only concern for many homes: 39% of private renters have cut back on heating due to the cost of their rent, while a third (33%) have cut back on food for the same reason and a third say that their home suffers from unacceptable levels of dampness. With the existence of such poor conditions so widespread, Buy-to-Let landlords will either have to get their act together or likely face growing demands for political action.


European Parliament Voting Intention (changes since March 2014):
Con 22% (+1)
Lab   30% (+2)
LD    8% (NC)
UKIP 30% (NC)
Other10% (-3)

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Author:Adam Ludlow
Research Analyst

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