Housing isn’t a priority for Boris Johnson. Here’s why it should be:

There was no mention of private renting in the Queen's Speech today, but it would be a mistake for Boris Johnson's government to overlook it.

The Queen’s Speech today contained a total of 26 bills which make up Boris Johnson’s Government’s priorities, but housing was notably absent, save for a single mention of building safety.

Just five months ago, in a speech at the Housing 2019 conference and exhibition, then Prime Minister Theresa May criticised former governments for “concentrating solely on boosting home ownership” then restated her commitment to re-balancing power between landlords and tenants, through ending Section 21.

Since then, Boris Johnson’s Government have failed to prioritise housing, particularly the private rented sector. There was no mention of housing in Chancellor Sajid Javid’s 2019 spending round, and this year’s Conservative conference re-stated the party’s commitment to house building, with no policy announcements on social or private rented housing.  Despite three major consultations closing in recent weeks, the Queen’s Speech confirmed what many of us in the sector had suspected, that renters are simply not a priority for this Government.

Private renters desperately need greater security and better protection from homelessness – 4.5 million households are currently at risk of eviction through no fault of their own, with just two months’ notice. Section 21 damages communities, prevents renters from complaining about poor conditions, and, as our research found last year, makes as many as 200 families homeless every week. Rents are unaffordable, homelessness is at its highest rate for 10 years, and urgent action is needed to fix our broken housing system and ensure renters have access to secure, affordable housing.

With a general election looming, rowing back on tenancy reform could cost Boris Johnson much needed votes. England’s 11 million private renters are a growing political force, with the power to define the outcome of a snap general election.  In 2017, the Tories’ failure to address the housing crisis contributed to the shock loss of their majority. Analysis of the British Election Study (BES) found that the bulk of the surge in turnout – known as the ‘youthquake’ –   and almost all of the swing from the conservatives to labour, can be attributed to private renters. Turnout jumped 10 points amongst private renters but was largely unchanged amongst homeowners. Between 2015 and 2017, the Tories lost almost a third (29 percent) of the rented vote, with most of it switching to Labour.  And the issue of housing hasn’t gone away – research by Shelter found that 72% of private renters who intended to vote think ending Section 21 must be a priority for the next Government, the equivalent of 3.3 million votes.

In recognition of the need to radically reform the PRS, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to end Section 21, alongside measures to improve conditions and affordability. It would be a grave mistake for Boris Johnson to backtrack on these essential reforms. 

 

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