Cameron revives ‘home-owning democracy’ dream

The Conservatives have promised to help millions buy their own houses, putting home ownership at the heart of their manifesto. But why is it such a widespread aspiration? And should it be?

‘The dream of the property-owning democracy is alive,’ proclaimed David Cameron yesterday as he launched the Conservatives’ manifesto for the next five years of government. Under Tory plans, he announced, over one million tenants in social housing — homes that are state-regulated and offered at a lower rent — would be allowed to buy their homes at a discounted price.

The speech, in which Cameron promised voters ‘the kind of security that comes with owning your own home’, continues the legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 Housing Act, which allowed council house tenants to buy their homes. It puts home ownership at the heart of the Conservatives’ vision for the UK.

Property and democracy have shared a close relationship throughout British history. Before a series of suffrage reforms in the mid-19th century, only men were allowed to vote, and their right to vote depended on the value of their property. When a woman married, her property was given to her husband. In 1870 the Married Women’s Property Act enabled married women to own property, but they didn’t earn the vote for another 59 years.

Housing went through a massive change after World War One. Prime Minister Lloyd George‘s ’Homes fit for heroes’ promise brought many people out of squalor with a social housing project. In 1918, the year the war ended, 77% of the UK population were renting.

Ever since then there has been a dramatic trend towards people independently owning homes, promoted especially by Conservative leaders. Governments in the 1930s encouraged private companies to build of suburban houses for families, while Thatcher sold off much of the social housing built in the aftermath of World War Two.

Only in 2008, when the recession discouraged banks from lending money for mortgages, did the rate of home ownership decline.

The Conservatives’ vision for a home-owning country will be relief to many who want to buy a home. Others, however, are less happy. One journalist says the government’s plans ‘are unlikely to benefit those in the direst need’. Another says Thatcher’s housing legacy, akin to the modern Conservative vision, is one of ‘polarisation and growing inequality’ in society.

Glass ceiling

Property ownership is an aspiration for many, say Conservative supporters, and rightly so. Owning your own house allows you to live with dignity, security and self-reliance, free from dependence on a landlord or the state.

Others disagree. The fixation with property ownership, they say, ties people to their little patches of land and excludes those who can’t afford it, creating an avoidable societal divide. Politicians should strive to offer everyone security, not just those who want to buy their home.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to own your own home one day? How important is that to you?
  2. The Conservatives are offering ‘security’ — but does the idea of security amount to owning your own home?

Activities

  1. Research the pros and cons of home-owning. In pairs, act out a role play where one of you is a potential buyer, and the other is an estate agent. Tell your client the risks and benefits of buying their first home.
  2. Choose a historical period you have studied and do some research into how people lived: what kind of houses did they inhabit, how many people lived there and who owned the property?

Some People Say...

“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.”

Confucius

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m in no position to worry about housing.
It might not matter to you now, but housing is likely to be one of the most important issues in your lifetime. The UK is on the verge of a housing crisis: our population is increasing and we’re simply not building enough homes to meet demand. This has forced prices up, meaning that many who want to buy a house can’t afford to. If no solution is found, that could be disastrous news for your own finances and the economy as a whole.
Is buying a property always better than renting?
It depends on your lifestyle. Buying a home allows stability. It also means you could make a profit when you move. Renting is better for those who want the flexibility to move around, but when a renter moves the only money they’ll get back is their own deposit.

Word Watch

Security
In Cameron’s speech, he says that home ownership makes us feel secure, and offers a ‘secure start’ in life for young people.
Suffrage
This term refers to the democratic fight for the right to vote. The most well known usage of the word refers to women’s suffrage, when women fought for the right to vote.
Lloyd George
Lloyd George was a Liberal politician, and was Chancellor of the Exchequer before becoming prime minister of the Wartime Coalition Government.
Social housing project
Social housing means that local authorities manage, build and own houses. The aim of Lloyd George’s project was to break the class barriers in the country, wanting all local people, whatever their occupation, to live side by side with one another.

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