Politicians should build on Labour's plans to help renters. Photo: Getty
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Why Labour's help for "generation rent" is not a radical enough offer

While Ed Miliband's plans this week are welcome, much more needs to be done to ease the increasingly hostile renting and housing conditions faced by a generation.

According to Labour, up to 9m renters would save more than £600 each in the next parliament under plans announced this week by Ed Milliband to ban letting agent fees and cap rent increases for longer-term tenants. While hardly earth-shattering, this is at least a start for those both renting and looking to save in order to get on the home ownership ladder in the future.

Indeed, if politicians are in any doubt as to the financial hardship and frustration the hostile housing market is causing "generation rent", then Saturday’s protest (with the corresponding hashtag #MarchForHomes) in London on the lack of affordable housing gives some indication of the difficulties faced by this group. For despite all the charms of the city and Home Counties, the fact is that if you find yourself single, in an average graduate position with a salary of around £25,000 - £30,000, you’re going to have to be saving for an awfully long time to afford even a modest property, let alone afford the exorbitant monthly rents that are set to continue to rise much faster than wages.

In London today, for example, you would be very lucky to get a two bedroom flat near Streatham station (Zone 3) for around £300,000. If you’re a 25-year-old single, don’t have the Bank of Mum and Dad to back you up, and are able to save £100 a month, you’ll have to wait (if you’re starting from scratch) until you’re 50 to put a 10 per cent deposit down on a property at this price. Even if you’re able to get a rare 95 per cent mortgage, chances are you’ll be 37 or 38 until you’re ready to take the plunge.

These figures also assume that house prices will stay static, which they almost certainly will not. In order to keep up with rising prices, savers will have to progressively increase the amount they put away  by no means easy given that wages for young workers have fallen more than any other group between 2008 and 2014, while house prices in the capital have rocketed by 25 per cent between the second quarter of 2013 and the same period in 2014. With such grim prospects on the horizon regarding "getting on" in life, as our politicians so often phrase it, it’s no wonder many workers feel the recovery hasn’t yet arrived for them.

Might shared ownership offer a way forward for locked-out young workers? For the unitiated, shared ownership offers a halfway house between renting and buying, with buyers able to buy a proportion of the property for a lower amount, paying the rest in rent. To many, this might seem a reasonable compromise, yet the handful that come on the market attract fierce competition and often go to families with children deemed (not unreasonably) to be in greater need than singles.

Put simply, not enough homes are being built.

In truth, the political powers that be have known this for years, yet under the current coalition fewer homes than ever have seen the light of day. Between 2012 and 2013 for instance just 109,370 homes were constructed. In accordance with such pitiful numbers, it’s no surprise that in places in high demand like London, prices skyrocket as more and more workers are pulled to the Big Smoke.

Furthermore, our housing crisis not only affects those who wish to buy, but also those renting. The logic here is similar: rents increase as tenants in a desirable area increase and the housing supply fails to meet the corresponding demand. This problem is arguably exacerbated by the lack of rental controls and legislation protecting tenants from steep increases. In other words, tenants are at the mercy of their landlords in relation to prices. Although at last it looks like Labour might be beginning to do something about this, its plans won't be enough.

It’s all good and easy to say "build more affordable houses" but how can this be done? The housing charity Shelter proposes a number of solutions. The first is an increase in direct government investment, which Shelter says has a track record of being effective and could be achieved while honouring national debt reduction commitments. A second possible solution would be to increase greenbelt flexibility, allowing developers of various sizes to build on land previously protected. This would be effective in cities too; 19 of the 32 London boroughs have greenbelt land. It’s also worth noting that in introducing this policy, Britain would not become an "urban jungle" as some suggest, and Britain’s countryside would still be maintained

While these and other solutions sound viable, is there the political will? Voters, while supporting increased housing, generally do not support expansion in their backyard. This risk of public anger perhaps helps explain the reluctance to date of elected representatives to really get behind housing projects beyond the occasional rhetorical noises of support. This presents something of a conundrum for our politicians: support housing expansion in their constituency and risk unpopularity with voters, or do nothing and increase pressure on hard-pressed workers.

Regardless of risk, politicians really must see the bigger picture here and build on the plans announced by Labour today. Our continued failure to build more affordable homes has wrought serious economic, social and cultural consequences, and will continue to do so unless something is done. By grasping the nettle on this issue and addressing a concern for millions in the UK, a post-2015 government could go some way to restoring confidence in a system many feel let down by, and reap the rewards at the 2020 election as a result.

But will any party be brave enough?

David Binder blogs at thoughtsofbinder.wordpress.com and can be found on twitter at @davidpaulbinder

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Want to send a positive Brexit message to Europe? Back Arsene Wenger for England manager

Boris Johnson could make a gesture of goodwill. 

It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Sam Allardyce, who coveted the England job for so many years, before losing it after playing just a single match. Yet Allardyce has only himself to blame and the Football Association were right to move quickly to end his tenure.

There are many candidates for the job. The experience of Alan Pardew and the potential of Eddie Howe make them strong contenders. The FA's reported interest in Ralf Rangner sent most of us scurrying to Google to find out who the little known Leipzig manager is. But the standout contender is Arsenal's French boss Arsene Wenger, 

Would England fans accept a foreign manager? The experience of Sven Goran-Eriksson suggests so, especially when the results are good. Nobody complained about having a Swede in charge the night that England won 5-1 in Munich, though Sven's sides never won the glittering prizes, the Swede proving perhaps too rigidly English in his commitment to the 4-4-2 formation.

Fabio Capello's brief stint was less successful. He never seemed happy in the English game, preferring to give interviews in Italian. That perhaps contributed to his abrupt departure, falling out with his FA bosses after he seemed unable to understand why allegations of racial abuse by the England captain had to be taken seriously by the governing body.

Arsene Wenger could not be more different. Almost unknown when he arrived to "Arsene Who?" headlines two decades ago, he became as much part of North London folklore as all-time great Arsenal and Spurs bosses, Herbert Chapman or Bill Nicholson, his own Invicibles once dominating the premier league without losing a game all season. There has been more frustration since the move from Highbury to the Emirates, but Wenger's track record means he ranks among the greatest managers of the last hundred years - and he could surely do a job for England.

Arsene is a European Anglophile. While the media debate whether or not the FA Cup has lost its place in our hearts, Wenger has no doubt that its magic still matters, which may be why his Arsenal sides have kept on winning it so often. Wenger manages a multinational team but England's football traditions have certainly got under his skin. The Arsenal boss has changed his mind about emulating the continental innovation of a winter break. "I would cry if you changed that", he has said, citing his love of Boxing Day football as part of the popular tradition of English football.

Obviously, the FA must make this decision on football grounds. It is an important one to get right. Fifty years of hurt still haven't stopped us dreaming, but losing to Iceland this summer while watching Wales march to the semi-finals certainly tested any lingering optimism. Wenger was as gutted as anybody. "This is my second country. I was absolutely on my knees when we lost to Iceland. I couldn't believe it" he said.

The man to turn things around must clearly be chosen on merit. But I wonder if our new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - albeit more of a rugger man himself - might be tempted to quietly  suggest in the corridors of footballing power that the appointment could play an unlikely role in helping to get the mood music in place which would help to secure the best Brexit deal for Britain, and for Europe too.

Johnson does have one serious bit of unfinished business from the referendum campaign: to persuade his new boss Theresa May that the commitments made to European nationals in Britain must be honoured in full.  The government should speed up its response and put that guarantee in place. 

Nor should that commitment to 3m of our neighbours and friends be made grudgingly.

So Boris should also come out and back Arsene for the England job, as a very good symbolic way to show that we will continue to celebrate the Europeans here who contribute so much to our society.

British negotiators will be watching the twists and turns of the battle for the Elysee Palace, to see whether Alain Juppe, Nicolas Sarkozy end up as President. It is a reminder that other countries face domestic pressures over the negotiations to come too. So the political negotiations will be tough - but we should make sure our social and cultural relations with Europe remain warm.

More than half of Britons voted to leave the political structures of the European Union in June. Most voters on both sides of the referendum had little love of the Brussels institutions, or indeed any understanding of what they do.

But how can we ensure that our European neighbours and friends understand and hear that this was no rejection of them - and that so many of the ways that we engage with our fellow Europeans rom family ties to foreign holidays, the European contributions to making our society that bit better - the baguettes and cappuccinos, cultural links and sporting heroes remain as much loved as ever.

We will see that this weekend when nobody in the golf clubs will be asking who voted Remain and who voted Leave as we cheer on our European team - seven Brits playing in the twelve-strong side, alongside their Spanish, Belgian, German, Irish and Swedish team-mates.

And now another important opportunity to get that message across suddenly presents itself.

Wenger for England. What better post-Brexit commitment to a new Entente Cordiale could we possibly make?

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.