There is only a day to go until the election and the one thing that all commentators can agree on is that there are a lot of undecided voters*.
Much of the election coverage has not been particularly illuminating, but Monday's Question Time Election Special caught my attention.
The debate highlighted a number of key domestic policy areas which are likely to be important to Thursday's result; most notably, housing and climate change. The housing issue was thrown into particularly stark relief when it became apparent that every single politician on the Question Time panel had managed to buy their first property by the time they were 30. Home ownership is something which felt increasingly out of reach for many in the audience (who were all under 30); perhaps unsurprisingly given that the current average age of a first time buyer in the UK is 33** and that figure seems to be rising.
All three major parties appeared to agree that there is a housing crisis in the UK. They do not, however, agree on the type of housing crisis we are facing, let alone the solution.
For the Conservatives, the crisis seems to be a crisis of home ownership. The bulk of their housing and planning policies appear to be aimed at increasing the number of homes for sale; albeit with some reforms of the rental market thrown in for good measure.
On a very headline basis, their manifesto promises to:
- Maintain the Right to Buy and introduce new discounted market-sale homes for local people and key workers (which sounds a lot like starter homes to me....);
- Introduce new forms of mortgages with longer term fixed rates and lower deposit requirements;
- Continue with Help to Buy and simplify shared ownership schemes;
- Increase the number of open market and affordable homes being built - to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s; whilst prioritising the delivery of infrastructure to reduce the burden on new homes on local communities;
- Simplify the planning system and promote modern, environmentally friendly, methods of construction;
- Ban the sale of new leasehold homes and reform the rental market to ban no fault evictions; and of course
- Do all of this without building on the green belt and prioritising brown field development.
For Labour, the housing crisis is a crisis of affordability, the solutions to which lie (perhaps unsurprisingly) in the public sector. The Labour Manifesto pledges:
- To set up a new Department for Housing*** and an English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to compulsorily purchase land more cheaply for house building
- Build more houses on public land;
- Levy 'use it or lose it' taxes on stalled housing sites;
- Bring in a zero carbon for homes standard and review guidance for building in floodplains;
- Scrap the Right to Buy, the 'affordable rented' tenure of affordable housing and office to resi permitted development rights;
- Ban new build leasehold houses and introduce rent controls and rights to buy for private housing;
- to kick off a massive public sector house building programme, delivering least 150,000 council and social homes a year by the end of the parliament. 100,000 of these to be homes for social rent; and of course
- Do all this whilst protecting the green belt and prioritising brownfield development.
For the Liberal Democrats, the housing crisis is a crisis of political leadership; with the blame placed firmly at the door of previous administrations. The Lib Dem Manifesto promises to:
- Build at least 100,000 homes for social rent each year and increase total housebuilding to 300,000 each year.
- Finance a large increase in the building of social homes
- Build new houses to zero-carbon standards and cut fuel bills through a ten-year programme to reduce energy consumption from all the UK’s buildings.
- Devolve full control of Right to Buy to local councils.
- Introduce a new Rent to Own model for social housing
- Allow local authorities to increase council tax by up to 500 per cent on second homes and bring in a stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents purchasing such properties.
- Establish a new Help to Rent scheme, providing government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30.
- Promote longer tenancies of three years or more; and
- Improve protections against rogue landlords through mandatory licensing.
As to how all this will go down with voters, I guess we don't have long to wait to find out!
*** Fairwell MoHoLoGO, you will be missed... although DoH is almost as good an acronym
But the gap between the current generation of political leaders and the under 30s was most vividly illustrated by the question about home ownership and underlined the challenge facing whoever is in power on Friday morning. On the subject of housing, the panel were asked what age they were when they bought their own home. Mr Farage was the youngest, buying a property at 22, and Mr Price was the oldest at 30. Mr Farage linked housing problems to population growth ... Mr Jenrick said it was his "personal mission to help more young people on to the housing ladder" adding that his party would "offer discounts and help with deposits". While Ms Rayner said she would "make no apologies" for Labour wanting to build 100,000 council homes or introduce rent controls.