As the General Election approaches, our news outlets will be full of opinion polls charting the very latest voter views on all manner of serious, and less serious, matters – from the economy to the party leaders’ latest hairstyles.
We tend to take them with a pinch of salt, amid advice from political commentators that the results are based on a small sample, what people say to pollsters is often very different from how they actually vote, etc, etc.
Having said all that, I was highly encouraged by the response to one question in a fairly comprehensive poll carried out by YouGov last week. It asked voters what they thought was the most important area for government capital spending (a one-off investment in new buildings or infrastructure). Unsurprisingly building new hospitals and NHS facilities came top, but – even ahead of new schools, new or improved road and rail networks and better and faster broadband – came social housing.
Admittedly the number of people interviewed was fairly small, just over 2,000, and in September a poll by Ipsos MORI said only 5% of voters who took it considered housing to be their most important electoral issue.
But it’s a start. Housing has not been seen as a vote winning or losing concern for as long as I can remember. In the Ipsos MORI poll it was ranked alongside crime and just a point behind three other key policy areas: pensions, defence and care for older and disabled people. Ipsos MORI’s survey also took place before the publication of the findings of the Lyons Commission on Labour’s housing strategy, which generated a great deal of media coverage.
I am hopeful therefore that the YouGov poll, in particular, indicates a growing acceptance of a message people involved in the housing sector have been shouting about for some time: there is a very real crisis which needs urgent redress.
The crisis is why The National Federation of Housing is spearheading the Homes for Britain campaign and why it is organising the first housing rally in living memory in Westminster next March, just a few weeks before the General Election.
It is why all the main political parties are talking about housing and putting numbers on the new homes they will build. It is also why, when the mainstream media reports on housing, it focuses as much on the shortage as it does on the latest average rise or fall in prices.
There is a momentum and we must do all we can to keep it going.