Hold the front page. The Conservative Party has a problem. I’m not talking about the recent criticism that they are the party of the rich who are out of touch with hard working people. Instead I want to focus on a specific issue that could cause political strategists a long term headache: housing.
Research published this week by Policy Exchange found that the Tory lead among those who own their own house outright is +15%. Among those buying their house through a mortgage it is +9%. Among those renting from a private landlord it is -14% and for those renting from a local authority it is -39%. The average age of someone buying their first property is now 37. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the problem. If more and more people are renting these statistics suggest that the Tories could be in danger of losing a lot of votes.
And it’s not just younger voters the party needs to worry about. One of the greatest worries for older generations is the fear that their children will not be able to get on in life. Home ownership transcends class divides. A place to call home is very important to us Brits. If younger generations are unable to afford to buy a place of their own their parents will increasingly start to ask whether the government is doing all it can to help future generations.
The problem is compounded by the fact that in order to win a majority at the next election, a number of target seats are based in predominantly northern, urban areas. If younger people living in Bolton West, Bradford East and Wakefield are unable to afford a one bedroom flat, let alone a family house, then the statistics suggest they are less likely to vote Conservative.
The question is what can the Prime Minister do to demonstrate that he not only understands the problem but is doing all he can to come up with realistic solutions?
Since the mid-90s house prices have tripled but the number of new homes being built has fallen. This is seriously dysfunctional and is primarily due to the failure of our planning system. We release too little land for new homes so the amount of homes we built in the 2000s was the fewest since the war, and less than half of what we built in the 1960s. We preserve giant fields of wheat or low grade farmland yet only 10% of England is built on. We destroy gardens and build tiny homes, and then complain that this country is too cramped.
In the last couple of years Policy Exchange has argued for a series of changes to accelerate the provision of new housing, from converting derelict office and retail space to allowing new large scale suburbs and new Garden Cities where local people support this.
The construction of thousands of new, good quality homes – especially in northern, urban areas – is good for the Conservatives. Not only would it play a vital and visible role in a growth plan but it would give the Prime Minister a strong message to deliver across the country – that his government is doing all it can to provide homes for hard working people trying to get on in life.
Nick Faith is Director of Communications at Policy Exchange; you can follow him on Twitter @nickfaith82