It’s now just 78 days until Halloween, the day when, if the Johnson-Cummings-Number 10 media machine are to be taken at their word, we will leave the European Union “do or die”. With the EU refusing to renegotiate Theresa May’s failed deal, and with no clarity on whether parliament can extend or revoke Article 50, the chances of crashing out on 31 October look more likely by the day.
It’s an outcome that the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress, the Bank of England, and numerous public and private bodies have warned would be a disaster for the British economy. But, according to a new poll, the public have a more pressing concern – namely the country’s lack of affordable housing.
While the difficulties of Brexit have locked Westminster into endless clashes over parliamentary procedure, historical precedent, and all the possible outcomes of the unwritten constitutional minefield that will be navigated come September, 72 per cent of private renters think that the rising cost of housing will impact them personally in the next five years compared with just 51 per cent who think the same for Brexit. For the general public, 57 per cent think the housing crisis will affect them, compared with 56 per cent who think the same for EU withdrawal.
Three quarters of those polled said that Britain had a housing crisis, whilst 55 per cent of the total, and 68 per cent of renters, thought this hadn’t been discussed enough in the past few years. Sp,e 60 per cent of respondents said the political parties didn’t pay a lot of attention to housing.
In 2015, the year the EU referendum was called by David Cameron, only 16,000 genuinely affordable homes were built. The homeless charity Shelter estimates that over 100,000 such homes need to be built every year to solve the housing crisis. Last year, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, warned that a no deal, disorderly Brexit from the EU could see house prices plunge by as much as 35 per cent, a seemingly attractive prospect for people who have been priced out of home ownership by the crisis of affordability, but one that would have serious consequences for homeowners, housebuilders and the wider economy.
Esther McVey, the new minister of state for housing and planning, has signalled a departure from the last government's leftward shift on housing. Theresa May had announced new funding for socially rented homes and the scrapping of the borrowing cap for councils wishing to expand their housing stock. In contrast, McVey, the fourth housing minister since the 2017 election, has spoken of a renewal of the “dream of homeownership”.
Labour promises a dedicated Secretary of State for Housing and a separate housing department tasked with building 1 million social homes over 10 years.
This article previously appeared on our sister site the New Statesman.