This is why every party’s manifesto should promise to improve renting

Here we go again. Image: Getty.

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.


London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.