This week, Liz Truss’s government is reportedly looking to drop two key Conservative housing commitments from the 2019 election: the requirement for affordable housing in new developments, and ending “no-fault” evictions. It’s a bad look for a government to break manifesto promises, and this one will likely sabotage the little hope the Tories had of building the electoral support they need among millennials and Gen Z. It increasingly feels like the government is struggling to think beyond its next U-turn, flailing about for any issue to distract from its mismanagement of the economy.
The Tories used to be a party of housing. Perhaps not in the way most people would think of, but they long argued that property should be the basis of political rights – if you owned (and later rented) property worth a certain amount, you should have the vote. That was the guiding principle of Tory policy: to get people – even the working classes – into housing and into property ownership. In the age of full democracy, the party committed to building housing. Harold Macmillan’s government built hundreds of thousands of homes; supposedly, he liked to see the numbers racking up like runs on a cricket board.
Abolishing no-fault evictions could sit pretty well with Tory ideology. It would promote stability, particularly of families, and enable people to save towards buying their own home. Affordable housing was another part of that vision, not the municipal socialism of council housing, but of affordable rent (Boris Johnson was a fan) and shared ownership to get people on to that property ladder.
Both policies are at risk from Truss’s desperate dash for growth, as if the workforce for those growth industries won’t need an affordable roof over their head or hope they have a future in the UK. Brexit impacts still looms over the workforce crisis, and a skilled worker could find better housing, work and prospects in another country. The UK has long had some of the worst housing (and housing policies) in Europe, along with a dizzying turnover of housing ministers – more than 20 since 1997.
It’s a bitter disappointment to those of us who have worked, researched, campaigned, lobbied, and made the case for a modern, sensible housing policy that will work for our society and our economy. Ending no-fault evictions brought together an unlikely alliance, from Michael Gove and Shelter through to radical grassroots groups who physically block evictions. Maybe some ideas are just too sensible for the Truss government – why keep them when they could be replaced by miserable, random chaos.