In this blog, Brian Lund (Manchester Metropolitan University) reflects on the role that housing played in the 2017 General Election. He explores the relationships between the Conservative’s housing record, manifesto proposals and voting behaviour by tenure and suggests that, without major changes in housing policy, a future Conservative majority is unlikely.
Housing waned as an issue in the 2017 General Election campaign dropping from five to six in the public’s most important issues list. Only 16% mentioned housing, well below the NHS, immigration, the economy, the European Union and just behind education1. However, economic concerns are about people’s feelings on their financial wellbeing and housing has made a major contribution to the recent decline in living standards especially amongst low-income households. Indeed, housing was named as the third most important issue by classes C2, D and E2. The contribution made by housing costs to relative child poverty before and after housing costs has increased since 2010 and the fissure in the percentage of children in relative poverty before and after housing costs now varies from 20% in London, through 7% in Yorkshire and Humberside, 6% in Scotland to 3% in Northern Ireland3. The gap between before and after housing costs in the Gini Coefficient — a measure of overall inequality — is increasing4.
More people have become private renters and, according to the White Paper Fixing Our Broken Housing Market5, private landlord rents absorbed 45% of weekly incomes after benefits for an insecure tenancy and declining space standards6. Private landlord tenants expressed their displeasure in the polling booths. Labour’s lead over the Conservatives amongst private renters increased by 20% between 2015 and 2017, transforming the Conservative’s 4% 2010 majority7. Corbyn persuaded more young people to register and vote but dissatisfaction went up the age scale and, amongst private renters, housing ranked number three as the most important issue. ‘Generation rent’ is getting older with 26% of households aged 34-44 and 14% of those aged 45-54 renting privately in 2015/6 compared to 8.6% (34-44) and 5% (45-54) in 2003/4. In England 21.8 % of couples with dependent children with children now rent privately, up from 7.9% in 2003/4 and 39.9% of single lone parents are private landlord tenants compared to 15% in 2003/48. There was about a 5% swing to Labour between 2015 and 2017 in the 40-49 age group.
Since 2010, established homeowners have fared better than tenants, mainly due the steep fall in mortgage interest rates. This was reflected in voting behaviour with the Conservative Party increasing its homeowners with a mortgage vote share by 8% between the 2010 and 2017 general elections. People aged over 65 are far more likely than other age groups to own their homes outright and the Conservative majority over Labour amongst outright owners increased by 11% between 2010 and 2017. This was despite the Conservative’s manifesto proposal to charge all home and residential care costs against the ‘family home’ leaving £100,000 as the maximum wealth to be passed on to children, modified in the election campaign by the promise of an unspecified cap. Nonetheless, perhaps there is cautionary tale in the 2017 General Election outcome. People react badly to suggestions that family wealth should be taken by the state. In 2007, Gordon Brown was ahead in the public opinion polls and contemplating a snap general election but the Conservatives declared they were in favour of increasing the Inheritance Tax threshold from £300,000 to £1 million. Conservative popularity increased, especially in marginal constituencies and Brown did not call a general election9. The Conservative Party’s ‘dementia tax’ alarmed older people. The Conservatives lost Eastbourne, with the highest proportion of old people in any English constituency. The swing map indicated a relationship between the levels of housing wealth due to be confiscated by the ‘dementia’ tax with, amongst elderly people, lost southern Conservative votes compensated by northern gains.
Labour’s performance amongst ‘social’ tenants was lacklustre. Given Conservative disdain for ‘social’ tenants it is surprising that any local authority or housing association tenant voted Conservative. George Osborne insisted anyone who paid less than the market rent was ‘subsidised’10. Iain Duncan Smith, who, in 2008, had claimed ‘The levels of dependency among social housing renters is quite staggering …. How can we expect different from who never see anything different?’11, as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, continued his vendetta against ‘social’ tenants through the bedroom tax and changing the poverty definition away from income measures towards ‘family breakdown, debt and addiction’12. Between 2010 and 2016 ‘social’ rents increased rapidly, but, in 2017, Labour’s lead over the Conservatives amongst ‘social’ tenants remained near its 2015 level at about 30%. Perhaps this reflected the ‘Brexit’ factor and the collapse of the UKIP vote ― in the 2016 referendum council tenants voted 70/30 and housing association 68/32 to leave the European Union. However, in the 2017 General Election the Conservatives had a 2% majority over Labour amongst social classes C2, D and E. Labour lost ‘heartland’ seats such Mansfield; Walsall North; Stoke on Trent South; Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East indicating that Labour needs to do more to heal the ‘hidden injuries of class’ to show it can connect to the Northern working class.
Overall, the most striking feature of the 2017 General Election outcome was the private tenant/owner divide, adding a new dimension to the balkanisation of Britain. The number of households renting privately in England increased by 935,000 between 2010 and 2016 and there are indications that renter voter behaviour had high salience in marginal constituencies. If the post 2003 decline in homeownership continues and the government does nothing to improve the situation of renters, a future Conservative majority is unlikely.
Manchester Metropolitan University
1 Ipsos Mori (2017) Economist/Ipsos Mori Issues Index
2 Akehurst S. (2017) ‘Housing and the 2017 election: what the numbers say’
3 McGuiness, F. (2016a) Poverty in the UK: Statistics House of Commons Library Briefing Paper No 7096
4 McGuinness, F. (2016b) Income inequality in the UK, House of Commons Library
Briefing Paper, No. 7484, London: House of Commons.
5 Department for Communities and Local Government (2017a) Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, Cm9352
6 Lund, B. (2017) ‘The Resistible Rise of Rupert Rigsby’, Political Quarterly, Vol.88, Issue 2 pp 291-297.
7 Ipsos Mori (2017) How Britain Voted in the 2017 General Election
8 Department for Communities and Local Government (2017b) Tenure Trends and Cross Tenure Analysis
9 See Lund, B (2016) Housing Politics in the United Kingdom: Power, planning and protest, Bristol: Policy Press. p 144
10 Osborne, G. (2015) ‘Chancellor George Osborne’s Summer Budget 2015 speech’,
11 Duncan Smith, I. (2008) ‘Foreword’, in Breakthrough Britain: housing poverty, from
social breakdown to social mobility, London: Centre for Social Justice.
12 Duncan Smith, I. (2015) ‘Government to strengthen child poverty measure’, press