“The power of Generation Rent was felt for the first time”: did renters cost Theresa May her majority?

To let. Image: Getty.

As the dust settles on last week’s election results, attention has turned to trying to understand some of the demographic trends behind the results.

At Shelter, we’ve long had our eye on trends in housing tenure and how these might shape political outcomes. For context, mortgaged home ownership in England has fallen from 42 per cent to 29 per cent since 2000, while private renting has doubled in that time (to 20 per cent).

We will publish more data as it becomes available in the coming weeks, but here’s what we can piece together so far:

1. Private renters swung to Labour, home owners stuck with the Conservatives

New Ipsos data out today out today shows, in glorious detail, breakdown by demographic.

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Labour narrowed the gap with the Conservatives among mortgaged home owners slightly, while the Conservative lead among outright homeowners (people who have paid off their mortgage or cash buyers) remained similar.

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By the same token, social renters opting for Labour in big numbers is nothing new, and their lead remains roughly the same.

But what’s noticeable is the massive swing to Labour among private renters this time round around – up from a lead of 11 points to a lead of 23 points.

2. The impact of private renters was felt in key marginals

This nature of this swing in private renters towards Labour was felt in English marginals.

Both the raw number and overall proportions of private renters are strongly correlated with falls in the Conservative vote. The number of private renters in an area correlates even more strongly than, for instance, age to a fall in the Conservative vote.

An important point to make here is it’s often not just private renters who see their political attitudes shaped by housing – but also their older, more secure home owning parents worried about their children’s future, or seeing their communities impacted by an explosion in Buy-to-Let housing or HMOs.


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3. Private renters care about housing more

Of course, correlation is not causation. It could be argued that this is just a by-product of the fact private renters can tend to be under-45. or live in more urban areas.

However, private renters also consistently say they care about housing more – as they deal with the high rents, instability and poor conditions private renting often brings. For the public, housing tends to be a top five or six issue – but for private renters it’s a top three issue, on a par with Brexit and the economy. We also know it’s one of the few issues Labour had a lead on among voters.

It feels reasonable to say, then, that housing is at least one important driver of the block of voters which switched heavily to Labour in this election.

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4. The Conservatives found it particularly tough in marginals with low income private renters – a growing group

Indeed, the Conservatives seem to have found it hardest in marginal seats where low income private renters live – those most directly hit by the crisis.

We estimate there are around 1.3m hard pressed private renting households in England – those who fall beneath minimum income standard after paying the rent. As we argued in the election, these renters vote and often have the consumer habits of typical swing voters.

YouGov suggests there are 52 English marginals where this group of harder pressed private renters are disproportionately represented. The Conservatives lost eight of these seats they held, and made no gains in any of them held by Labour: all of their gains were in seats where low income private renters were under-represented.

This wasn’t just a factor in Remain voting marginals, but Leave ones too. Marginals where low income renters were especially heavily represented include Hastings and Rye, where the Home Secretary just held on; and seats Labour gained such as Crewe and Nantwich, Croydon Central, Bedford, Plymouth Sutton and Davenport, High Peak and Colne Valley.

Our research on this area, which we’ll publish in the autumn, also shows that two groups which swung heavily to Labour – 25-34s and 35-44 year olds – make up the largest chunks of low income private renter group.

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5. So what does all this mean?

Clearly, this election was more than just housing. But on this evidence we can say housing – and the impact of the housing crisis on private renters – is one of the key factors that helped polarise results on 8 June.

In some ways this is not surprising. Housing continues to be a key driver of inequality and, in some cases, hardship – as the shortage of homes, especially affordable homes, spreads to all corners of the country and impacts more people.

It’s not simply that home owners have an ‘asset’, but that their home provides them a stability and, comparatively at least, affordability that private renters do not currently enjoy. For instance, renters pay 41 per cent of their take home salary in rent; home owners pay 21 per cent of their salary towards their mortgage. Home owners can stay in their home for life they meet their mortgage payments; renters have six month contracts as standard.

The best response the new government can have to this is not to resile from the challenge in the face of tougher political circumstances, but to double down on efforts to fix things. It can be done.

Indeed, the irony is that a lot of what was in the Conservative manifesto was promising in this regard, and the people who put it together understood what needed to be done. Their promise to ban unfair letting fees for tenants, for instance, could save private renters an average of £350 each time they move; it has to be followed through on. Noises around introducing more security in the private rented sector were also positive – we’ve campaigned for introducing legislation to make 5 year tenancies, with rents linked to inflation, the new norm.

But fundamentally, this is about building more good quality homes that people can afford and can put down roots in, to bring prices and rents back within the reach of ordinary people. The Conservative manifesto promise to strengthen Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) is a key part to reshaping the private housebuilding market to achieve this, as our New Civic Housebuilding project made clear.

Beyond all this, we have called for a new generation of affordable homes at ‘living rents’ – to help the growing group of low income private renters falling through the middle of our housing market: not well off enough to afford home ownership or government schemes like shared ownership, but not in acute enough need to access social housing. This would provide stability and affordability that private renting does not, and could be combined with a ‘right to buy’ after a certain number of years.

Either way, the 2017 election was arguably the moment where the power of Generation Rent was felt for the first time. Without significant action to get to grips with our housing crisis, it’s unlikely to be the last.

Steve Akehurst is head of public affairs at Shelter.


The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

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