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Election 2016 – introduction

Jules Birch introduces a special WHQ feature previewing this year’s elections in Wales and beyond and the campaign to push housing up the political agenda.

May 5 will see Wales and Northern Ireland elect new Assemblies, Scotland a new Parliament and London a new Assembly and a new Mayor. Housing seems certain to be a big issue in all four polls.

Yet as the 2015 UK General Election showed housing policy does not always emerge from
the other end of the political production line in the shape that the housing lobby wants or had intended. The Homes for Britain campaign was (with some Welsh input and a brief stop on the western side of the Severn) mostly about housing in England, an attempt to forge an all-party consensus about the need for new homes. There is indeed a new focus on supply at Westminster but running alongside it are a swathe of other policies that are set to change affordable and social housing forever.


The extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants, forced sales of ‘high-value’ council houses, increased ‘Pay to Stay’ rents for ‘high-income’ social tenants and the end of security of tenure for new council tenants are just the start of a long list of policies. Housing was already set to be a major issue in the battle for London mayor between the Conservative Zac Goldsmith and Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the changes have only brought it into sharper focus.

These radical reforms in England mean that housing policy is already diverging in the UK before the other nations do anything. However, we go into the elections with Welsh Labour committed to ending the right to buy and the SNP promising a huge affordable housing programme if they retain power. And national differences are also well illustrated in the different approach of the Welsh Conservatives, who have pledged not to follow their English counterparts in extending the right to buy and imposing a cut in social rents.

Most of this special feature on Election 2016 concentrates on Wales. We start with articles from Jocelyn Davies and Sandy Mewies, two Assembly members with a strong interest in housing who are standing down at this election. They reflect on what’s been achieved in the

Assembly up to now and draw out some lessons for their successors from their experiences.

That’s followed by a piece by Edwina O’Hart on Homes for Wales, the joint campaign by housing organisations to speak with one voice and influence the campaign and the new government. Culminating in a mass rally in Cardiff on 4 March (see back page), the campaign aims to mobilise public opinion and pressure the politicians to address a housing crisis that is felt in different ways in different parts of Wales.

Finally, Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, gives WHQ his perspective on the election campaign north of the Tweed. Research and hard evidence on the scale of housing need has already produced a startling commitment from the SNP Government to build 50,000 affordable homes over the five years of the next Parliament. In complete contrast to England but very much in line with priorities in Wales, 35,000 of those will be for social rent.

The next issue of WHQ will be published a few weeks before the elections and will include the key manifesto proposals on housing and highlights of the election debate at TAI. A debate at the Community Housing Cymru conference in November saw a six-way debate between the main parties that revealed some contrasting priorities. We also heard some predictions on the likely outcome from political consultant Rhodri ab Owen. He said he was expecting a coalition, with Labour remaining the largest party but short of a majority. Depending on how the votes fall, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats are potential coalition partners but UKIP seems set to win seats for the first time. Much can obviously change between now and May but one thing that won’t is the message to Vote Housing 2016.

If you like what you’re reading, find out how to get a print subscription to WHQ plus full online access to the current issue and archive: www.whq.org.uk/subscribe-to-whq/

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