The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called a December general election to restore the Conservative majority and to ‘get Brexit done’. Swap Brexit for protectionist policies and you’d be forgiven for thinking we had travelled back to December 1923, when the Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, called an election to strengthen his leadership and push through trade protection policies.
Some feel the election is a proxy referendum on the decision of Europe, but most of the major parties have focused on domestic policies in the opening weeks of the campaign in an effort to win over voters. Housing has so far been front and centre of these pledges. Here’s a summary of what we have heard from each party so far.
The Conservative Party
The Conservatives published their manifesto on Sunday with a pledge to construct a million homes by 2025 to help first-time buyers and boost private house building. Furthermore, they want to renew the Affordable Homes Programme in England, provide a 30% discount to first time buyers of ‘First Homes’, and commit to Theresa May’s promise of ending no-fault evictions. There’s no doubt however that Brexit has dominated the Tory agenda.
The Labour Party
The Labour Party has pledged a ‘housing revolution’ by planning for the biggest council and social housing programme since the 1960s. £75bn of their proposed ‘Social Transformation Fund’ would be used over the next five years to build 100,000 council houses and 50,000 affordable homes by housing associations per year. We estimate that this would lead to an increase of more than £900m for Welsh Government to invest in its priorities; this is roughly eight times the current Social Housing Grant budget.
The Liberal Democrats
Launching their manifesto this week, the Lib Dems have pledged to build 300,000 homes a year, a third of which would be social rent. Amongst stopping Brexit and providing free childcare, they are also promising to generate 80% of electricity from renewables and insulate all low income homes by 2025.
During this general election campaign, Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, has drawn attention to rising numbers of homelessness and child poverty in Wales. The Party of Wales wants to bring in a weekly payment of £35 for every child to low income families, and invest in affordable homes.
In Wales, six MPs have confirmed they will not be seeking re-election in December (2 Conservative, 4 Labour). The latest polls predict that Labour will come out on top in Wales but closely followed by the Conservative Party, who are targeting a large number of marginal seats across Wales. In the words of Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in politics and with three weeks to go until polling day, it’s all still to play for.
In the run up to the election, Community Housing Cymru (CHC) is asking prospective candidates to commit to three priorities which affect housing associations in Wales.
Firstly, we are calling for investment into affordable social housing to be prioritised and considered as an infrastructure priority right across the UK. While housing is a devolved matter for Welsh Government to consider, low levels of infrastructure investment in the UK have acted as a constraint on Welsh Government’s subsequent ability to invest.
We also want all parties to prioritise making Universal Credit fairer in their manifestos by promising to reduce the waiting time of payments, ensure payments cover the cost of living and, for those who can, make entering work possible without losing the stability of welfare support. We know ending the Housing Crisis will take more than just cash and recognition of housing as vital infrastructure. We also need solid action on skills, land and the local supply chains that underpin the construction industry.
Investment in regional infrastructure has been one of the key benefits of the UK’s membership of the European Union, and however Brexit plays out, it is vital that current levels of EU structural funding is retained in Wales.
Brexit may be the word on everyone’s lips, but housing certainly has not been forgotten about. With each party pledging their support for more housing, we’ve yet to see how this will materialise. December of 1923 resulted in a hung parliament for Stanley Baldwin, is history about to repeat itself?