The housing crisis is a great opportunity for political parties to win over the public
Take centre stage
They are all talking about it. Nick Clegg last week, Ed Balls this week. But does housing really matter politically and electorally? And has any party seized control of the agenda?
An Ipsos Mori poll published this week found 11 per cent of the British public identifying housing as either the most important issue facing the country or one of the most important issues. This is the most salient it has been in our monthly issues index for four years, although it still comes way behind the economy, unemployment and six other issues.
This increase is unsurprising. There has, apparently, been around two mentions of the housing crisis per day over the past five years in one national publication or another. Last year, our poll for Channel 4 found 76 per cent of the public perceived there to be a housing crisis. In the south of England, affordable housing breaks into the top four things ‘most in need of improvement’ locally.
Housing currently seems to be a different aspect of the economic growth issue and this has given it salience. Nevertheless, there seems to be political potential beyond this. For example, our polls show that building homes so that ‘young people can stay here’ resonates strongly on a local level. Housing also offers potential for parties wanting to engage with voters on ‘aspiration’ and ‘social mobility’; making it a more personal, social issue as well as an economic one.
The sector still worries about the issue’s political traction and rightly so. In the issues index, we have an indicator picking up signals from the public as to what is worrying them the most, but people make a distinction between a pressing national issue and an election issue. Beyond its current (relatively high) salience, housing’s electoral importance is likely to be shaped by whether the public perceive differences between the parties, and whether they think that something can, and will, be done.
Ipsos Mori’s Political Monitor conducted last month (before the party conferences) recorded a Labour Party lead of 13 points over the Conservative Party, with a third (33 per cent ) rating them as ‘having the best policies on housing’. This lead was strongest among social tenants (+37) and weakest among those who own their properties outright (+2), but equally strong among mortgage holders and those renting in the private sector.
Still, just over a tenth - 11 per cent - answered no party’s policies on housing stood out as better than the rest and a quarter, 25 per cent, said they ‘don’t know’.
This suggests some potential for the parties to stake their claim. So, over to Jack Dromey, Ed Miliband, Mark Prisk, David Cameron and others to put housing centre stage.
Ben Marshall and Ann Charlton are researchers at Ipsos Mori