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Housing will be a major battleground in the next General Election – Carton

by: Martese Carton, director of mortgage distribution, Leeds Building Society
  • 05/05/2023
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Housing will be a major battleground in the next General Election – Carton
Housing has become the most pressing challenge facing all the political parties with an estimated shortage of around three million homes over the past three decades.

Increasing mortgage costs and a shortage of properties have meant that home ownership levels have fallen from their high of 70.9 per cent in 2003, to their current levels of just 64 per cent.

Home ownership undoubtedly remains the preferred tenure of choice for millions of people. Although demand for housing continues to increase, we are now facing a chronic shortage of homes resulting in soaring house prices which have driven deposit requirements and mortgages ever higher.

This means first-time buyers are finding it harder than ever to get on the ladder and it is now the hardest time to afford a home since our founding year in 1875, a sad reflection of decades of government inaction to tackle the UK’s housing crisis.

Nearly fifty years have passed since Margaret Thatcher said that she wanted Britain to become a ‘property-owning democracy’, but as we see the Levelling Up Bill reaching its final Parliamentary stages during April, the government’s manifesto commitment to build 300,000 new homes each year by the mid-2020s could be confined to the annals of history. Rather than there being a specific government target for house building, the government wants to make councils responsible for developing local plans for new housebuilding levels.


Half a century to catch up with demand

Everyone agrees that there is no silver bullet when it comes to solving the UK’s housing crisis but nationally set housebuilding targets exist for a reason. In its recent report, the think tank The Centre for Cities, has said it will take at least 50 years to catch up with housing demand even if the government target of 300,000 new homes a year is met. According to their report, there is currently a backlog of 4.3 million homes unbuilt.

And scrapping housing targets has real consequences. The Home Builders Federation warned that scrapping the 300,000 annual targets could lead to 100,000 fewer homes each year being built and deprive the economy of £17bn in housebuilding and supply chain output. The Federation also warned that the annual new build supply could fall to below 120,000 in the coming years – the lowest level since the Second World War.


Which party picks up the homeowner baton?

As the next General Election gets ever closer, the big question is will any of the political parties pick up the homeowner’s baton and address the drastic shortage in housing?

The issues facing homeownership are deep-rooted and wide-ranging but building enough homes to meet demand is the right place to start. Home ownership was once a rite of passage for young people growing up, but over the last decade house prices have become increasingly out of reach for millions of people.

But building enough homes has been achieved before. The 1960s was the last decade of true mass housebuilding when we saw the largest number of new homes built at over 3.5 million over the ten-year period.

Since then, the number of new homes built each decade has declined and the latest figures show that just over one million new homes were built in the 2010s – the lowest level since the war.

There is no doubt that achieving these housebuilding targets will be difficult, and it will take all parts of the market to deliver this level of housebuilding – from private developers to housing associations and local government. However, with enough political will from any future government, a decades-old problem can surely be overcome and would start to deliver on the homeownership aspirations of millions of people.


Housebuilding is a vote winner

We need a national conversation about the reasons why we’re not building enough homes and we need all the political parties to address the real housing issues this country faces. It’s understandable that people are protective of their local communities and don’t want undue disruption or pressure on services and infrastructure, but the trade-off is between that, and millions of people being blocked from the benefits that home ownership brings.

Political parties are now realising that becoming the homeowner’s friend by addressing the current housing crisis could be a real vote winner, with many commentators expecting that housing will almost certainly become one of the key battlegrounds in the next General Election.

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