Generation Rent: Why we need a New Deal on housing

The economy has recovered. Six years since the recession, the UK is finally producing more than it was in 2008. How much this is being felt in the pockets of ordinary Britons is a moot point, because even if you’ve been lucky enough to get a pay rise this year, it has more than likely been swallowed up by an inflation-busting rise in your rent.

If there is one single issue that will dominate the political discourse of Generation Y, it is housing. We might all have our own policy obsessions, be they health, education, or foreign affairs. Only some of us lack the job we want. Only some of us have terrifying student loan debts. But every voter has to have a roof over their head. And if they were born after 1980, they’re probably being ripped off. Assuming that people ultimately vote out of self-interest, there are rewards for the party that can fix housing.

This is a completely new phenomenon. There might have been negative equity crises in the past, but having a stable and affordable home, that either you or the state owned, was taken for granted. Since 2000, as house prices and council waiting lists have shot up, the number of people stuck renting from a private landlord has doubled.

Having traditionally served students and young workers who expected to make the leap to ownership imminently, the tenure is designed to be flexible – for both the tenant and the landlord – with short term tenancies and limited rights to treat the property as one’s home. But the sector is now housing professionals entering their thirties, settling down and having children – and who see little route to escape.

The government’s answer so far is to underwrite mortgages under the Help to Buy Scheme, to allow people with limited savings to put down a deposit. But to date barely 1% of the country’s renters have escaped from their landlord’s clutches with the scheme. There remain millions more who see no way out of the second class tenure they are trapped in, so if Help to Buy cannot capture the magic Right to Buy had a generation ago, the Tories are in trouble.

Renters need a better housing deal now. In its manifesto, Generation Rent has called for secure tenancies with limited opportunities to raise the rent, an end to letting agent fees and building of houses that are shielded from rampant inflation.

Some of this is reflected in Labour’s pitch to the private renter vote and the party has also set a target to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020. We want Labour and the other parties to go further, and with enough private renters to swing the vote in 86 constituencies, they will have to. Politicians need to hear how much housing means to voters and that’s what campaigns like Generation Rent and SHOUT (Social Housing Under Threat) are doing between now and the election.

Whether Labour’s offer goes far enough will be debated this weekend as we host Emma Reynolds at our fringe event with SHOUT at the Party Conference.

The Shadow Housing Minister will be joined by former Housing Minister John Healey, Camden Council Leader Sarah Hayward, and scourge of the establishment Owen Jones, who will argue what needs to be done to ensure the recovery helps tenants – not just their landlords.

Join Generation Rent for their Fringe on Sunday, 21st September at 18:30, in Manchester Central, Charter 1

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