How high up is tackling housing supply on the political agenda?

Posted: 2nd December 2014

How high up is tackling housing supply on the political agenda?

As the housing crisis mounts, during party conference season last month tackling supply featured as a main concern in party leaders’ speeches in the run up to next year’s election:

  • David Cameron announced that the Conservatives would provide up to 100,000 new homes for first-time buyers aged under 40 years old, with a discount of 20%.
  • The Liberal Democrats declared that they will build 300,000 homes a year.
  • Ed Miliband reiterated the Labour Party’s long-standing promise to deliver 200,000 homes per annum. This was followed by the Lyons Review , which outlined their ‘road map’ to deliver this commitment.

Many have argued that this renewed focus on housing demonstrates that the sector has climbed up the political agenda (London First, 2014). In fact, Shelter recently publicised that housing is now a top five issue for voters (Shelter, October 2014). Yet, despite this apparent renewed focus on the importance of housing, in November Inside Housing cited that an Ipsos Mori poll had found that housing had fallen out of the top ten issues for voters in October, dropping from seventh to eleventh (Inside Housing, 7 November 2014). This begs the question in reality how high up is tackling housing supply on the political agenda, and how can it be better promoted as a priority issue?

Research by the Social Market Foundation (2012) highlights that historically housing has not been a priority issue for politicians. This is reflected in their analysis of Party manifestos (Chart 1). They found the main reason for this was because in the past housing issues had been clearer, more ‘visible’ problems for voters and politicians. Whereas the more recent issue of sustaining future supply has been more intangible. The recent shift therefore seems to signify that as the affordability crisis bites, the failure to deliver adequate housing supply is becoming more acutely felt by the wider public. This is reflected in the fact that housing is still higher up the political agenda compared to say ten years ago. Yet inconsistencies and tumultuous polling results also seem to signify that it is still not a truly visible issue, despite the attention received during party conference season.

Chart 1: Proportion of election manifestos dedicated to housing Source: SMF ‘The politics of Housing’ (2012)


Some have hinted that this may be because enough is still not being done to truly tackle housing supply issues. Centre for Cities (2014) have argued that politicians have continued to “drag their heels” around the housing issue; focusing on the problems rather than the solutions. Indeed there also appears to be a need to focus more on securing the positive contribution of social housing to ending the housing shortage.

Chronic undersupply remains a long-term problem. To ensure that it remains on the agenda and to buck past trends, there is clearly more that needs to be done to make sure that housing remains a lasting priority for voters and politicians alike. Campaigns such as the NatFed’s ‘Homes For Britain’ and #housingday are significant steps in the right direction, helping to ensure that housing is a visible issue. Let’s join them to make sure that housing is carried as an issue beyond the party conference season…

Lyons Review: Altair’s briefing note
Altair covers the key recommendations that will shape Labour’s housing policy.

London First (October, 2014)
Carl Brown ‘Getting heard’. Inside Housing, 7 November 2014
Shelter (October, 2014)
The Social Market Foundation 2012
Centre for Cities (2014)

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