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.


This election is our chance to treat housing as a right – but only if we listen to tenants

The Churchill Gardens Estate, Westminster, London. Image: Getty.

“You’re joking, not another one... there’s too much politics going on at the moment..!”

Brenda of Bristol’s televised comments in 2017, when told that another election was to take place, could just as well have been uttered when MPs voted to call a general election for 12 December this year. 

Almost immediately the politicking began. “A chance to transform our country”. “An opportunity to stop Brexit/get Brexit done”. ‘We can end austerity and inequality.” “A new revitalised parliament.” “Another referendum.”

Yet dig behind the language of electioneering and, for the first time that I can recall, there is mention of solving the housing crisis by all the major parties. I can welcome another election, if the result is a determination to build enough homes to meet everyone’s needs and everyone’s pocket.

That will require those who come to power to recognise that our housing system has never been fit for purpose. It has never matched the needs of the nation. It is not an accident that homelessness is increasing; not an accident that families are living in overcrowded accommodation or temporary accommodation, sometimes for years; not an accident that rents are going up and the opportunities to buy property are going down. It is not an accident that social housing stock continues to be sold off. These are the direct result of policy decisions by successive governments.

So with all the major parties stating their good intentions to build more homes, how do we ensure their determination results in enough homes of quality where people want to live, work and play? By insisting that current and prospective tenants are involved in the planning and decision making process from the start.

“Involved” is the key word. When we build new homes and alter the environment we must engage with the local community and prospective tenants. It is their homes and their communities we are impacting – they need to be involved in shaping their lived space. That means involvement before the bull-dozer moves in; involvement at thinking and solution finding stages, and with architects and contractors. It is not enough to ask tenants and community members for their views on plans and proposals which have already been agreed by the board or the development committee of some distant housing provider.

As more homes for social and affordable rent become a reality, we need tenants to be partners at the table deciding on where, how and why they should be built there, from that material, and with those facilities. We need them to have an effective voice in decision making. This means working together with tenants and community members to create good quality homes in inclusive and imaginatively designed environments.

I am a tenant of Phoenix Community Housing, a social housing provider. I am also the current Chair and one of six residents on the board of twelve. Phoenix is resident led with tenants embedded throughout the organisation as active members of committees and onto policy writing and scrutiny.

Tenants are part of the decision making process as we build to meet the needs of the community. Our recently completed award-winning extra care scheme has helped older people downsize and released larger under-occupied properties for families.

By being resident led, we can be community driven. Our venture into building is small scale at the moment, but we are building quality homes that residents want and are appropriate to their needs. Our newest development is being built to Passivhaus standard, meaning they are not only more affordable but they are sustainable for future generations.

There are a few resident led organisations throughout the country. We don’t have all the answers to the housing situation, nor do we get everything right first time. We do know how to listen, learn and act.

The shocking events after the last election, when disaster came to Grenfell Tower, should remind us that tenants have the knowledge and ability to work with housing providers for the benefit of all in the community – if we listen to them and involve them and act on their input.

This election is an opportunity for those of us who see appropriate housing as a right; housing as a lived space in which to thrive and build community; housing as home not commodity – to hold our MPs to account and challenge them to outline their proposals and guarantee good quality housing, not only for the most vulnerable but for people generally, and with tenants fully involved from the start.

Anne McGurk is a tenant and chair of Phoenix Community Housing, London’s only major resident-led housing association.