Housing is an issue that looms larger for Londoners than it does outside the capital, and the three main UK-wide parties acknowledge it as a priority. Their manifestos have much in common – pledging better protections for private renters, for example, and committing to significant programmes of building social housing – but also leave a lot unsaid.
The Conservatives’ manifesto
The Conservatives’ manifesto has a specific focus on helping young people, who are hardest hit by London’s housing costs, to buy and rent. They pledge discounted homes for local people – complex to deliver in London, where ‘local’ can be a very fluid and contested concept. They also promise a successor to Help to Buy, and ‘long-term fixed rate mortgages which slash the cost of deposits’, though how this would work is unclear when longer-term mortgages generally charge higher interest rates.
The proposal to abolish ‘no fault’ evictions, consulted on earlier this year, is also in the manifesto. This is good news: not only would it give tenants peace of mind, but it also gives them the security to be able to challenge unfair rents. They have pledged funding for ‘hundreds of thousands’ of affordable homes, in the context of their existing target for 300,000 homes in England, express support for environmentally sustainable and adaptable buildings, and will allow communities to set design codes to ensure that new homes are ‘beautiful’ – a term that is absent from other parties’ housing policies.
The Conservative manifesto also aims to end rough sleeping by the end of the Parliament, including through exploring pilots of Housing First, which allows people to deal with problems such as alcohol and drug abuse once they have found a home, rather than as a condition of doing so. This will be paid for by a stamp-duty surcharge on foreign buyers – a handily non-voting demographic.
The Labour Party’s manifesto
Labour’s manifesto is silent on overall housing targets, but promises a sharp increase in social housebuilding, with 150,000 new socially-rented homes each year by the end of their first term, of which their London manifesto promises 35,000 will be in London. This is a big challenge, albeit in line with the Mayor of London’s own assessment of London’s needs. It is particularly noteworthy that Labour expect two thirds of the new social homes will be built by councils rather than by housing associations. Centre for London supports councils’ role in building, but they are currently building less than 1,000 houses per year in the city; it’s a huge leap from there to 25,000+ per year. Delivering on this promise would require a big boost to capacity, an openness to new forms of partnership and rapid action to pull together the land needed.
For social renters, Labour propose new tenures based on local incomes (similar to the London Living Rent, introduced by Sadiq Khan in London). They also promise, like the Conservatives, an end to no-fault evictions, but go further towards pledging rent control powers, as requested by London’s Mayor. That said, the commitment to open-ended tenancies, licensing and rent rises capped to inflation is less ambitious than some have asked for, but perhaps also calculated to be less alarming to private investors.
The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto
The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto points an accusing finger at Right to Buy for social housing tenants (which the Conservatives endorse, but Labour promise to abolish), which it says has ‘only served to deplete stock and deepen the crisis in social housing’, but only commits to devolving its operation to councils, which could result in some interesting patchwork patterns of tenure.
Like the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats commit to 300,000 homes per year, and like Labour set a specific target for social housing – of 100,000 homes per year. Their offer to private renters is also similar to Labour’s – with longer-term tenancies and licensing for landlords – and they propose new duties and new resources to tackle homelessness. Like the Conservatives, they propose a stamp duty surcharge on foreigners buying second homes in the UK – a good target for populism, but not necessarily helpful to a #LondonIsOpen narrative.
The ambition of these manifestos will be welcomed by many in London. Young Londoners in insecure, expensive rented accommodation will be pleased to see that their concerns are being recognised. The manifestos also indicate a shifting of the dial, with all parties committing to social housebuilding and a better deal for renters – though the dial sticks before it gets anywhere near a review of the Green Belt. And, while there are plentiful pledges of delivery, it is less clear how land availability, planning, community engagement and industry capacity can be brought together to power those pledges.