No doubt Brexit, the economy and the NHS will dominate the 2017 general election. Energy, education and defence should also get a strong look-in while the devolved governments will be trying to get as much air time as possible. But do spare a thought for housing, as, on the evidence of the recent past, it doesn’t look as if any of the political party’s will.
Over the past nineteen years, and during the tenure of four prime ministers – Blair, Brown, Cameron and May – there have been no fewer than fourteen housing ministers.
This post seems to have become a stepping-stone for ministers who are either on an upwardly mobile career path or heading in the opposite direction into the political wilderness. That such an important part of our daily lives can be dealt with in such a perfunctory way seems short sighted and negative to most outside Westminster. Property is a national obsession yet the politicians seem to treat it as a short stop to somewhere else. Property also provides important jobs and revenue through allied industries such as furniture, flooring, lighting and decorating, and in the service sector – finance, legal, surveying, etc.
We need more housing in the UK and we need better housing. Yet successive governments have failed to plan, have failed to act and have failed to build the 250,000 new homes that we are estimated to need each year. They have failed to establish any sort of meaningful housing policy – indeed how could there be a meaningful one with so many different housing ministers? By contrast, in the same nineteen-year period there have been only seven home secretaries.
Too few new homes being built creates greater demand for the properties that are already part of the aging national estate. Strong demand and insufficient supply inevitably means rising property prices. The lack of any cohesive housing policies over two decades has not just added to the housing problem but has helped create it.
No market likes uncertainty and for the fourth year in succession we have an important election which will bring fresh uncertainty. Brexit will rumble on for several years yet, adding to this uneasiness. But we hope that whichever party prevails on 8th June the new prime minister will take his or her housing ministry more seriously and not just kick the subject into the long grass. We need a committed housing minister prepared to stay in the job for more than sixteen months.
We also hope that the new chancellor will not use housing as another easy way to create revenue without first thinking through the implications a higher rate of tax will have on the property market as a whole, and our lives as citizens – after all we all have to live somewhere.