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Jon Quinn: Affordable housing will be key to winning swing seats in 2015

Quinn JonJon Quinn worked for the Conservative Party for 14 years. He now works for the housing charity Shelter. This blog is written in a personal capacity. 

From Noel Skelton in the 1920s through to Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, Conservatives have sought to create a property owning democracy for nearly a century. Back in the 1980s, at the height of Thatcherism, who would have predicted that home ownership would have started to fall just two decades later?

The decline in home ownership started back in 2003 during good economic times, and well before the start of the banking crisis and any problems with accessing mortgage funds.

And it’s young people who are having the most difficulties. Shelter has just published independent research which shows it’s taking young families more than a decade to get on the property ladder. Without more affordable houses, home ownership won’t be growing any time soon.  

Single people face the greatest barriers to home ownership, needing an average of more than 14 years to save enough for a deposit, unless they can find a partner, trapping many in uncertain private renting or forcing them to live with their parents well into adulthood.

Couples who start a family in their twenties could be locked out of the property market for 12 years – nearly double the time faced by childless couples – meaning their children could be in secondary school before they own a home.

The results of the study have an impact on the economy and on society. But there are political implications too, for the next election and beyond.

The findings are even more marked in 44 of the key electoral battlegrounds – seats the Conservatives must either hold or gain to have any chance of winning a general election.  From Watford to Walsall, Southampton to St Albans and Bristol to Bedford, young families living in these marginal seats face years of living in rented accommodation. The research shows that when it comes to saving up for a home of your own, it’s not as easy as it used to be. Even if these families, couples and singles work hard and save up, their dreams of owning their own home are years away.

Politicians and the media have been talking a lot about Britain's ‘squeezed middle families’, who, by common agreement, will have a significant say on who occupies 10 Downing Street after the next election. The list of 44 marginal seats contains thousands of squeezed middle families, as well as couples and singles who dream of buying their first house and getting on the housing ladder.

Creating more affordable housing isn’t just electorally appealing to voters looking to buy their first home. It will also be appealing to their parents – voters aged 55+. They worry about the future and what life will be like for their children and grandchildren. What sort of life will they have? Will they be better off than I am?  Are the country’s best days behind us?

Voters aged over 55 are likely to own their own home. They will want their children to have the same sense of security and control that home ownership has brought them, not years of insecure short term tenancies and large rent bills.

What about help to buy? Won’t this be the solution to our housing crisis? Not according to the vast majority of economists and commentators. Help to buy is likely to push house prices up further and make home ownership even less affordable.  

If people want to own their home, it’s right that they have to work hard and save up, but should they have to do this for over a decade? The government has to start meeting people halfway. Unless we see radical action to tackle our chronic shortage of affordable homes, the next generation of young people will find it even harder to find a place to call their own.

Will tomorrow's Worcester woman or Mondeo man be part of a property owning democracy? That depends on decisions taken now… One thing is for sure, politicians who genuinely deal with the lack of affordable housing will be rewarded at the ballot box. 


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