It is no secret that the Conservative Party has struggled with appealing to younger voters for some time. As a young Tory activist myself, it is not uncommon that I frequently find myself at party events being one of the youngest people in the room faced with the age-old question ‘How do we appeal to younger people?’.
The Conservative Party once stood for championing aspiration and homeownership, the harsh reality (for now, at least), is that this version of conservatism seems a distant memory. Whether it was Macmillan’s 300,000 new homes a year (sound familiar?) or Thatcher’s Right to Buy, today’s aspiring homeowners face rising house prices whilst average earnings continue to stagnate, meaning that many first-time buyers purchase their first home later on in life. It seems the new dividing line in politics is not class but age. Could this apparent lack of ambition from the government around housebuilding explain why so few young people are buying into the Conservative cause, let’s explore further.
FIGHTING A NEVER-ENDING BATTLE
Former Levelling Up Secretary, Simon Clarke MP is a passionate advocate for housebuilding and recognises the potential political consequences of not doing so. At the launch of Next Gen Tories, which is calling on the Conservative Party to focus on bridging the generational divide by tackling expensive housing, the rising cost of living and unaffordable childcare, Clarke called for the party to ‘defeat rampant NIMBYism’ of the Liberal Democrats and the ‘cynicism’ of the Labour Party.’ What Clarke failed to recognise is the problem is just as prevalent in his own party, with many of his colleagues at local and national level seeking to prevent what they see as excessive development for short-term political gain.
At the end of 2022 the government decided to abandon its manifesto commitment of building 300,000 homes a year and I suggested that this risked disincentivising housebuilding. The question remains as relevant today as it has ever been; why would those struggling to get onto the housing ladder and dealing with rising rent costs, especially in the capital, be wooed by a party that seems to have given up on creating a property-owning democracy? How can you inspire the next generation of capitalists, who for now at least, owning one of the more traditional forms of capital remains a distant dream?
The evidence certainly suggests this, with the latest data from Halifax suggesting that renters in the capital are now spending nearly £3,000 a year more than owners on housing costs. On top of that, the average first home in the capital is now reportedly £587,700 with a typical deposit now costing £188,700 or a staggering 32% of the house price.
FINALLY, A RECOGNITION OF THE REAL ISSUES?
It isn’t all bad news though, as last week the Chancellor announced that, from April 2024, working parents will be able to access 15 hours of free childcare for children under two, expanding to children from nine months in September 2024 and then rising to 30 hours for under 3s from September 2025. This may prove to be a game changer for new parents seeking a mortgage who previously would have been left with the burden of spiralling childcare costs which are routinely scrutinised as part of affordability assessments. No doubt the devil will be in the detail here but perhaps, at long last, the government is starting to see unaffordable childcare as a barrier to economic growth.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?
With many now seeing the Labour Party as a credible alternative government for the first time in over a decade, it is not wholly surprising to see some movement from the government in this area. We have already seen a series of high-level announcements from Labour around affordable housing and childcare, though we wait for further details. Labour claim that there are now 750,000 fewer home-owning households aged under 45 than when Labour left office in 2010, with analysis by the Home Building Federation suggesting that the supply of new housing is set to fall below 120,000 annually in the coming years, (less than half the government’s manifesto commitment) there may be some credit in this argument. After almost thirteen years of Conservative-led government, some may be wondering if it is too little, too late.
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