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Home News Home ownership is Sunak and Starmer’s obsession. Neither appears to want to resolve the housing crisis

Home ownership is Sunak and Starmer’s obsession. Neither appears to want to resolve the housing crisis

Photo by Phil on Unsplash

Starmer was no more inspirational, promising that Labour would be the “party of home ownership”. Like the Tories, he appears to be obsessed with promising to get people on to the housing ladder – as if we can simply purchase our way out of a failing economy. This simply won’t happen for people who are staring down the barrel of wage stagnation and climbing debt.

Both leaders seem unaware that homeowners, too, are not immune to the economic stress – negative equity and increasing poverty are hitting them hard, while first-time buyers are taking out longer mortgages of 40 years to meet high house prices and pay the highest mortgage rates we’ve faced since the 2008 global financial crisis. While the government and opposition seek the votes of middle-class buyers with the promise of affordable housing via schemes such as help to buy and shared ownership, the quality and quantity of housing across the board has declined.

Home ownership cannot solve the structural rot of your house, or our politics at large. Sunak’s threat to return to a “rent to buy” policy is hardly welcome either – potentially leading to first-time buyers overextending themselves at a time when the International Monetary Fund has warned that inflated house prices could pose a risk if rates keep going up.

What is left unsaid is most important: that owning a home is relentlessly touted as a way to be secure because the other housing options are unfit for purpose.

While writing my book, I met residents living in shipping containers as temporary accommodation, tenants facing down bailiffs, renters battling racist landlords, and the lucky ones who had bought by exceptional circumstances – who are now in negative equity. I chatted to my own siblings about their bids for social housing. I wrote about my family’s history, moving from temporary accommodation, then being priced out of private rentals into my 20s – all of which meant that home ownership was too far out of reach, and so was never the aim. What we needed was simply safe, secure and stable housing, something that eludes 17.5 million people in Britain today.

Housing is now a public health emergency in Britain, but there has been little mention by either party of accessing legal aid for disrepair claims, Awaab’s law which focuses on mould (which affects more than a fifth of UK homes) and or Ella’s law on clean air – all crucial omissions. The sooner both parties recognise that housing is an intersectional crisis that has an impact on the NHS (poor housing costs the NHS £1.4bn a year) and is connected to historical wage freezes and austerity, the sooner we can understand the state of housing need in Britain and have true conversations about what is needed at scale.

Labour has provided glimmers of light, but they do not go far enough. Putting the renters charter and the banning of S21 no-fault evictions (which the Tories have been promising since 2019) firmly on the agenda, and reinstating building targets, is a good starting point. But alongside the discussion around housebuilding, we urgently need renewed emphasis on the quality of new homes that are built.

We need to think about how we make good quality rental homes in the long term and enact rent stabilisation (perhaps interrogating Scotland’s rent pressure zones), economic support like Wales’s cap on second homes and Warm Home Nest scheme; listen to campaigners and ethical architects to update our housing stock – the oldest in Europe. Both Labour and the Tories make promises to be the party of home ownership because they believe that is what wins elections. But telling this to people who are struggling to pay rent, on a social housing waiting lists or who can’t pay their bills is not evidence of clearly seeing the crisis we are in.

Ultimately, despite their announcements this weekend, neither party has given housing its due prominence. Housing does not feature in Starmer’s five missions for a “better Britain” and Tory housing minister turnover (five in the last year) does not inspire confidence.

To tackle housing you need to see it all – the cost to the Treasury for a generation of precarious tenants at retirement age, the future of green homes, unregulated landlords and developers, and the need for long-term, good quality private rented and social housing. There is far more to fixing the crisis than simply getting a few more people on to the housing ladder. Start there, and a “better Britain” might actually be possible.

Kieran Yates is the author of All the Houses I’ve Ever Lived In

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