Politicians trying to solve the housing crisis in many parts of Britain have traditionally worried about voters opposing the building of new homes, in order to protect their own interests. But 2015 presents a new opportunity, since attitudes are changing in response to the toughness of the housing market.
First, the problem. Rising prices and poor supply mean that it’s become much harder for young people to buy in many areas of the country. Our latest survey of households and homes in England shows a staggering increase in just four years in the number of 16-35 year olds renting privately; up 14 points from 31% in 2008-9 to 45% in 2012-13. A large part of an entire generation risks losing a stake in society as a result.
Parents too pay the price. Research we carried out for Shelter estimated that parents are paying as much as £2 billion a year to help their children get on the property ladder.
But here’s the point. Meeting this challenge has a lower electoral price tag than in the past. In our British Social Attitudes survey, we ask people how they feel about new homes being built in their own local area. Our most recent wave of data shows people to be more positive about local building, rising to almost half (47%) in 2013 from 28% in 2010. Opposition fell from 46% to 31% in the same period. This is a dramatic change in just three years.
The age group whose attitudes have changed the most is not the youngest group, but those aged 65 and over, where overall opposition has fallen from 52% in 2010 to 30% in 2013. The burden of Generation Rent on its parents is starting to change attitudes, and the message to politicians is that building more homes will appeal both to the young and the old.