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Forget market meddling like Help to Buy: political parties should be hunting private renters

23 July 2013

7:26 PM

23 July 2013

7:26 PM

Ministers have been out in force today to trumpet the many virtues of a bit of market meddling also known as Help to Buy, with the details of the second phase of the scheme launched today by George Osborne. Even Mark Prisk, nicknamed by some Tory colleagues as the Invisible Minister, made it onto the World at One to argue that the scheme wouldn’t create a house price bubble because the government was doing enough to increase the supply of housing.

Whether or not you believe this depends on whether you truly think the planning reforms have given local people more choice and have liberalised the system, or whether they’ll simply antagonise communities without increasing the number of homes.

Prisk’s colleague Sajid Javid wanted to talk about the proof this scheme offers that ‘this government unashamedly backs aspiration’.

Perhaps it does. But rather than backing aspiration for those at the bottom of the housing ladder by, er, pushing the bottom rung a little higher, perhaps ministers should be having a good long think about those aspirational voters who will continue to rent because they cannot afford to buy. The housing market doesn’t look as though it will get any less messed up any time soon. And as Fraser blogged recently, aspirational voters are increasingly seeing a trap in homeownership rather than an opportunity. This means that the party with its eyes on the prize for the 2015 general election should work on a really strong offer for private renters, whether or not they aspire to own their own homes. Labour has already floated some ideas on this, and I hear the Tories are up to something too. Ideas that seem popular with both parties include increasing the number of long-term tenancy agreements which would encourage rent stability (better than the rent controls Labour toys with every so often) and help families who want to stay in the same school catchment area for a number of years, rather than being forced to move by regular rent rises or landlords selling up. Meanwhile Labour is working on its own new set of planning reforms based on a new brand of localism. But perhaps the prize for capturing aspirational generation Y voters will go to the pragmatists who offer something for renters, rather than the meddlers who think home ownership is worth pursuing at any cost.

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