If you’re one of the 13 million people in the UK who lives in private rented housing, you’re probably already aware that the sector is in desperate need of reform. In return for high rents –for many tenants, rents swallow more than 40 per cent of their wages – private renters put up with substandard, often dangerous conditions, all in the knowledge that they could be forced out for no reason at just two months’ notice.
Successive Governments have responded to the decline in home ownership by trying to boost the number of first time buyers, with not enough attention on what makes us desperate to escape renting in the first place. House prices remain out of reach, the private renter population has doubled in size since 1997, and high rents are crushing our ability to save – or even put food on the table. One in three millennials now face renting privately for their entire lives, and an increasing number of people are raising families and growing old in a sector which is not fit for purpose.
That's why renters and housing campaigners from across England – where Westminster has powers over housing policy – have today launched a national Renter Manifesto. This election is a chance to finally address the housing emergency – but we need all parties to commit to radical reform of private renting.
Written by Generation Rent, London Renters Union, ACORN, New Economics Foundation, Renters’ Rights London and Tenants Union UK, the manifesto sets out policies needed to achieve this. We need the next government to commit to ending unfair Section 21 evictions, end the discrimination against tenants on housing benefit, and introduce a national landlord register to help councils root out rogue and criminal landlords. Rents are currently so high that two thirds of renters have no savings whatsoever and would struggle to find rent after just one month if they lost their job – we urgently need to see measures to bring rents down sustainably to an affordable level.
Renters are a growing political force, with the power to influence the result of this election. The size and diversity of the private renter population - 1 in 3 households have kids, and the fastest growing age group among them is 55-64 year olds – means political parties cannot afford to ignore these issues.
In 2017, these forces began to be felt. Between the 2015 and 2017 elections, the turnout among private renters jumped 10 per centage points – even as it was largely unchanged amongst homeowners. The chief beneficiary of this, Number Cruncher Politics found, was Labour, which saw its vote among private renters increase by 18 per cent. Recent polling of voting intention amongst 18-24 year olds confirms this trend: as the number of young owner occupiers falls, so does support for the Conservatives, with just 16 per cent of this age group considering voting Tory.
Support from renters could make all the difference in marginal constituencies. Across the UK, renters make up 20 per cent of the population, and there are currently 47 seats in England with higher than average private renter population and a parliamentary majority of less than 5,000 votes. These include seats currently held by current Cabinet ministers Robert Buckland (South Swindon), Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) and Alok Sharma (Reading West). A quarter of people in Hastings & Rye, where the Conservative Party have a wafer-thin majority of just 345, live in the private rental sector. In key target seats across the country, private renters could cast the deciding vote. It would be a mistake for the parties to overlook this.
For too long, policymakers have seen home ownership as the only tenure worthy of support. In recent years, renter organisations have fought back and in the Parliament just ending we’ve won a ban on letting agent fees and new rights to sue landlords.
But there is still more to do to give everyone the secure, safe and affordable home they deserve – and this election is an opportunity for private renters to demand this.
Caitlin Wilkinson is the Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Generation Rent.