Britain’s private rental sector needs radical reform – and the first party to offer it will reap electoral rewards

This is rubbish. Image: Getty.

For many, home ownership remains out of reach. The millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 2000) are four times more likely to be renting privately at age 30 than baby boomers.

Unsurprisingly then, helping those unable to purchase homes has been a core policy focus of consecutive Conservative administrations. Government has sought to support the market through measures like Help-to-Buy, and cutting Stamp Duty relief for the majority of first-time buyers.  

But helping those locked out of ownership should be about more than just providing cheap loans and tax breaks to the few who will be able to buy as a result of these policies. It is also important to ensure that those who are unlikely to be able to buy anytime soon do not have to live in second-rate housing. Achieving this requires radical reform of the private rented sector.

Despite being home to around 4.7m households, the private rented sector is not fit for purpose. Too many tenants are exposed to high-cost, low-quality, insecure accommodation over which they can exert little control. All the while, austerity has undermined the structural supports which should underpin the sector, with the welfare state and the court system failing to provide support or confidence to tenants and landlords.

At IPPR we have been conducting focus groups across the country with tenants and landlords, aiming to understand more about people’s experiences of the tenure and what they would like to see done to reform it. Our report released on Monday details the in-depth conversations we have had with tenants and landlords which allowed us to test and refine policies which can address the fundamental problems with the private rented sector.

At its core, a programme of reform of the private rented sector needs to bring the sector up to date with how it is being used. Private renting is no longer a temporary stop on the way to more permanent housing: it is a long-term option for many, including an increasing number of families. The number of families with children who rent from private landlords has grown from 461,112 in 1996-97, to 1.7m in 2016/17.

If the private rented sector is to work for these groups it needs new regulation which give tenants greater stability and more control over their homes. At the forefront of these efforts should be scrapping no-fault evictions (Section 21), ending the current system of fixed-term rental contracts, replacing them with open-ended tenancies and tightening the rules so that landlords can no longer evict people without good reason.

This is important as the current system breeds a sense of instability amongst tenants. As one private tenant in London told us:

“I’d like somewhere that I can call my home because at the moment, you never know when you’ve got to move on. There’s always a phone call to say, ‘That’s it, move.’”

Ending no-fault eviction would be a major step forward for renters’ rights. It would give tenants the confidence that they can stay in their homes in the long term, allowing families to plan for the future. It would also rebalance the power in the sector between tenants and landlords, giving the former greater bargaining power when easy eviction is no longer an option.

At the same time, tenure reform provides an opportunity to improve the control tenants have over their homes. As tenants live in the private rented sector for longer, it is right that they can make their house their home. For this reason, we have argued that landlords should be prevented from banning tenants from having pets and undertaking reasonable decoration.

Our conversations with landlords showed that many were supportive of greater protections for tenants. As a landlord in Bristol put it:

“You think about people with families, like, young children, if they go to local schools, it’s in their best interests to stay put, isn’t it? Otherwise it messes the child up having to keep moving around and, you know, it’s a knock-on effect for lots of things, isn’t it?” 

That said, if a government is to command the confidence of landlords it will also need to do something to reform both the financial support available to tenants and the court system to ensure the market works effectively.

Accordingly, we are calling for changes to welfare reforms which have made it more difficult for families in financial difficulties to rent homes in the private sector – including restoring direct payment of housing benefits to their landlord where a tenant wants this. We have also proposed the creation of a specialist housing court and a mediation service, which will give landlords the confidence and security they need whilst still offering greater protections to tenants.


As the private rented sector plays a bigger role in the housing market it is essential that greater reform is undertaken. What is more, doing so commands significant public support.

Polling commissioned by IPPR shows that 72 per cent of the public think government should be more involved in improving and regulating the private rented sector. Moreover, analysis conducted by the housing charity Shelter has shown that, in marginal constituencies, private tenants make up a significant block of voters and could be a key factor which determines coming elections.

For the party that is bold enough to undertake the radical reform that is needed there could be significant electoral rewards.

Darren Baxter is a research fellow at IPPR. He tweets @DarrenBaxter.

 
 
 
 

Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.


The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.