Housing has taken centre stage at the party political conferences but now the sector must make sure the right policies are adopted
In the spotlight
Party conferences are intense. The speeches and policy announcements by senior politicians tend to set the tone and grab the limelight, but there’s more to it than that.
It’s the tone and content of discussions in fringes and private meetings that help to shape relationships and perceptions, the ideas that gain traction and the issues that get prioritised once conference is over.
In terms of visibility, it was a good year for the housing sector. There were myriad fringe debates with large and diverse audiences covering all the hot housing topics. Local authority capacity to deal with the impact of all the changes particularly got lots of air time.
Housing providers, councillors and interest groups like the Chartered Institute of Housing were out in force illustrating good practice, highlighting problems and making constructive suggestions for change.
I know the points made will have been taken back into councils, think tanks, local political parties, MPs’ offices and government departments.
We should celebrate that housing made it into the speeches of senior politicians across all parties.
Whatever we might think about the specific policy announcements, it is good to see party leaders acknowledge that housing matters to the economy and that lots of people struggle to get housing to meet their needs, desires and budget.
This puts us all in a good place to push for the policies and fiscal support we think we need.
Some of the detail of what was said is a bit of a worry though - and it also illustrates how policy in England is moving apart from the rest of the UK.
It was very noticeable that the idea of allocating social homes to those who are judged to deserve them has gained traction across the political spectrum.
It’s an attractive political message, but it suggests a willingness to stigmatise and pander to the ‘politics of envy’ rather than to address the real problem - which is availability of affordable rented housing.
Similarly, with the Conservative announcement on revitalising the right to buy - it’s a crowd pleaser but it won’t change the world. Fleshing out workable details will detract from vital work on housing revenue account reform and implementing affordable rent.
All the main parties are busy developing detailed policy positions on housing at the moment and we clearly have a bit of work to do to make sure these are rounded and realistic.
So it’s a mixed picture from this year’s party conferences. The political profile is there and confidence in the housing sector’s views and capacity seem higher than they have been for a while.
The next step is to get the political narrative and policy detail on housing right.
Abigail Davies is assistant director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing