Are renters a new electoral coalition?

The BBC has published an in-depth analysis of the power of renters in politics.

It can be seen here, and says that Margaret Thatcher had Essex Man, New Labour boasted Mondeo Man, David Cameron secured the Mumsnet Mums, and Boris Johnson had Workington Man. Each of these archetypes symbolized key voter blocs who switched their votes, effectively deciding the election outcomes. Looking ahead to 2024, “Renter Ruth” could play a critical role in Labour’s potential victory, as current polls suggest.

In the last decade, the number of renters has increased significantly while the Conservative Party’s support among this group has declined. According to the English Housing Survey, the private rented sector in England accounted for 4.6 million or 19% of households in 2022-23, about double the size it was in the early 2000s. This number surpasses those renting social housing.

Issues affecting renters have become more prominent politically, highlighted by events such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the push to ban no-fault evictions after the Covid pandemic. The housing affordability crisis has also led to an increase in renters, especially in the private sector.

The Conservative Party’s manifesto commits to eventually banning no-fault evictions, a policy first proposed in 2019 but not yet enacted. Labour’s manifesto promises to abolish no-fault evictions and empower renters to challenge unreasonable rent increases. Keir Starmer has also pledged to pass new laws to prevent rental “bidding wars” if Labour wins the election.

The Liberal Democrats also vow to ban no-fault evictions and propose making three-year tenancies the default. The Greens support ending no-fault evictions and advocate for long-term leases. Conversely, the Reform Party does not back the Renters Reform Bill, instead aiming to enhance the monitoring, appeals, and enforcement processes for renters with grievances.

With each party vying for renters’ support, this influential bloc could significantly impact the election, particularly in constituencies with high numbers of private renters. In London, seats such as Kensington and Bayswater, Finchley and Golders Green, and Chipping Barnet—where over 20% of residents are private renters—are held by the Conservatives but are now vulnerable. Similar situations exist outside London in places like Colchester, Eastbourne, Cheltenham, and in the Red Wall, Burnley, where Labour or the Liberal Democrats are targeting these Conservative-held seats.

Historically, people living in social housing tend to be working class and of ethnic minority origin, and they have always leaned left. However, the tendency for private renters to support Labour is relatively new. In the 2010 general election, private renters were as likely to vote Conservative as Labour, with both parties receiving about 26% of their vote. By 2015, Labour had gained a 15 percentage point advantage over the Conservatives, partly due to coalition government reforms to Housing Benefit that made housing more difficult for some benefit-dependent renters.

This division has solidified over time, influenced by the age divide on Brexit and immigration. Younger people increasingly lean towards Labour, and most private renters are relatively young. For voters aged 18-34, housing is a top issue, according to the IPSOS Issue Tracker, whereas older groups do not prioritize it as highly.

Labour, therefore, has strong support among young private renters, but there is a risk that they may not vote. Younger people and renters have historically lower voter turnout compared to homeowners. This was exacerbated by the 2014 reforms to electoral registration, which disproportionately affected renters who move more frequently. In 2022, 35% of private renters were missing from the electoral registers, compared to only 5% of homeowners.

What parties say on housing will influence how private renters vote, but ensuring they vote at all may be equally important for the election outcome

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