Labour housing views in the spotlight

Housing was one of the main issues dominating the Labour Conference this year, both on and off the floor. In Tony Blair’s speech, increasing home ownership by one million was at the heart of his vision for a third term. He told delegates: “Over this Parliament our aim is to increase home ownership by one million and in particular help young families struggling to be first-time buyers. Twenty years ago we gifted the ground of aspiration to the Tories. Today we’ve got it back and we’ll never yield it again.”

Closely related to this were arguments about housing supply, government support for shared equity and the state of the housing market.

Off the floor of conference, CBI director- general Digby Jones attacked the environmental lobby for preventing the building of new homes, which he argued are vital for the UK economy. He said the country could face a productivity and competitiveness crisis if it did not resolve the supply of housing. Attacking the environmental lobby, Sir Digby said that under the current regime “the great newt gets a better deal than a postal worker, teacher or nurse”.

A range of views were expressed, including those of Adam Sampson, director of Shelter, who spoke on whether home ownership for all is an impossible dream. He quoted research from Shelter, which illustrated that the aspiration of many to own homes is wrong. He also criticised the Prime Minister’s emphasis on a home-owning, assets-owning democracy as this does not take into account the affordability gap. Attempts to push people into expensive houses adds to the risk of owning a home in the event of an economic downturn, he added.

This was countered by the Council of Mortgage Lender’s Peter Williams, who said home ownership is important and will increase as incomes rise. He also pointed out that a different research poll showed 80% of people aspire to own a house at some point in their life. He went on to explain that it is difficult to convey risk and provide all the information the public needs to understand risk, even though new government regulation will improve this situation. He also said there is no point in pushing people into ownership if they fall out of it at the next economic downturn.

Andy Love MP countered Shelter’s view that the home ownership aspiration is over-stated. But he suggested this pressure might be due to cultural factors.

These debates will feed into political thinking in the next few months. The first indication will be the pre-Budget Report when we will find out if the talk turns into action.