Conservative solutions to the housing crisis

Conservative solutions to the housing crisis

By Jacob Rees-Mogg MP

It is an honour to be asked to write an article for DHI’s 20th anniversary. Its vision, to “end social exclusion by ensuring that everyone has their basic needs met and is able to thrive by contributing to the richness and wellbeing of their community” is laudable.

Housing is an issue which I have long felt has not been given enough prominence and is particularly relevant to the debate on social exclusion. There are few things more socially excluding than being homeless.

Currently in the UK we have a housing shortage. This affects a wide range of people in society but principally the young and the less well-off. Owning their own home is a distant dream for many but this should not be the case. On the contrary, it should be the norm, something that everyone can aspire to and achieve. There are so many advantages, security, sustainability and social benefits and there are also significant financial advantages. A study last year found that owning a home is cheaper than renting in every part of the UK. Unfortunately, the major hurdle of saving enough money for a deposit stands in the way.

So how have we got to this situation where there are, quite simply, not enough houses to go round?

On 3rd October 1980 the Conservative Government, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, introduced the policy of ‘Right to Buy’, which, subject to certain conditions, allowed people living in council houses to purchase them at discount rates. This was an excellent policy. Enabling people to have the ability to improve their situation is at the heart of Conservatism. However, this policy turned social housing into private housing. This loss of social housing should have been fixed by building more. This is something that successive governments, Conservative, Labour and the Conservative / Lib Dem coalition, have failed to do.

Two things then happened in the early 2000s. The Labour Government relaxed the immigration rules, making it much easier for people from outside the European Union to come here to live. In addition, several new countries joined the EU, meaning that anyone from those countries could come to live in the UK. The result was that immigration jumped from an average of 30,000 per year to 300,000 per year. Now let us be clear. Immigrants provide an undoubted benefit to our country and to our economy. However, anyone coming to this country naturally needs somewhere to live. This means you need to build enough houses to accommodate the increase in population. This is something that, again, successive governments have failed to do.

The current Government is finally addressing the problem. There is now significantly more house building taking place but it will be some time before we get close to resolving the issue. We need to keep building houses and we must not stop.

It is worth noting at this point, that any house building helps everyone affected by the housing crisis. If a four-bedroom home is built, it is likely that the family who buys it will be upgrading from a three-bedroom home. This house will then be freed up for people upgrading from a two-bedroom home and so on. Nevertheless, it is important that a range of properties, including social housing, are provided when new housing is built. My preference is for houses with gardens. Studies have repeatedly shown that this is where people want to live. Most people do not want to live in tower blocks. The other vital point is that house building must be accompanied by the necessary infrastructure – new schools, shops, surgeries and roads.

This need to build more houses must be accepted by all. It is not always a popular topic when I visit local Conservative Associations. We must put aside any tendencies to “nimbyism”. We cannot say “yes we need more houses” but also “just not where we live”. For the sake of our young people and future generations, we must support and embrace house building.

There are other things that the Government could and should be doing. There are some laws and regulations that make building new homes more complicated and difficult than necessary. These should be simplified where possible. However, this must not allow house builders to cut corners. I have recently been asked for help by several constituents who have moved into a new-build home only to find significant problems with its construction. House building companies must do better at quality control and also at helping people who encounter such problems.

As well as making it easier to build, the Government should be doing everything it can to make it easier to buy. The ‘Help to Buy’ scheme has enabled many people to get on the housing ladder but more needs to be done. One simple solution would be to reduce Stamp Duty. It is often the case in such situations that lowering tax encourages more activity so the Government ends up raising more money.

Another issue that my constituents write to me about is high rental costs. This is another serious problem. Recent figures from the Department for Work and Pensions showed that rising rents were the main cause of poverty for many families. The Government has recently passed legislation to improve the rights of tenants but we must be careful that the balance does not shift too far, otherwise landlords will be put off. This would only exacerbate the problem. Fundamentally, this is the same issue as above, there are not enough houses to go round. Rental costs and mortgages will only start to come down when supply begins to catch up with demand. We must build more houses and we must do so quickly.

This article was written for The Vision Project by Jacob Rees-Mogg. Jacob has been the MP for North East Somerset since 2010 and is the current chairman of the European Research Group.

DHI has invited the author to write the above article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies or otherwise of DHI.

The Vision Project is DHI's way of marking its 20th anniversary, not by looking backwards but by looking forwards and seeks a range of diverse views to really inform this process and develop its services for all.

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