Are renters a new electoral coalition?

Montage showing a protest against rent rises with a demonstrator holding up a banner that reads "Ease up Mr. Land-lord!" alongside an image of a modern apartment block
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Margaret Thatcher had Essex Man and New Labour boasted Mondeo Man. David Cameron secured the Mumsnet Mums and for Boris Johnson it was Workington Man. They all symbolise voters who switched their votes in the election, effectively deciding who will lose and win.

So what of 2024? When working out the key electoral blocs, it is possible that Renter Ruth could be key if Labour are to win, as the polls currently suggest. In the last decade the numbers of renters has increased while the Conservative party has seen it’s share of support among the group fall.

In 2022-23, the private rented sector in England accounted for 4.6 million or 19% of households, about double the size it was in the early 2000s, according to the English Housing Survey. This is larger than those renting social housing.

The issues affecting renters have never been more visible politically, be it safety after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, or attempts to ban no-fault evictions after the Covid pandemic. The housing affordability crisis has also created more renters than ever, particularly in the private sector.

Protest against rent increases. A demonstrator holds a sign that reads "We can't pay!!"
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The Conservative Party manifesto commits to eventually ban no-fault evictions. The party first proposed this policy in 2019 but the bill did not become law before the end of the last parliament.

Labour’s manifesto says it will abolish no fault evictions and empower renters to challenge what are described as unreasonable rent increases. Keir Starmer has said Labour would pass new laws to prevent rental "bidding wars", if his party wins the election.

The Liberal Democrats also pledge to ban no fault evictions and say they would make three-year tenancies the default. The Greens also back the ending of no-fault evictions and say they want the introduction of long term leases.

The Reform Party do not back the Renters Reform Bill introduced in the previous parliament. They say will boost “the monitoring, appeals and enforcement process for renters with grievances.”

With every party vying for renters’ support and with often overlapping policy offerings, how might this influential bloc make a difference on 4th July?

There are a good number of the constituencies with high numbers of private renters where this vote might well decide the result. In London seats such as Kensington and Bayswater, Finchley and Golders Green and Chipping Barnet where over 20% of people are private renters are held by the Conservative Party but may be vulnerable. There are similar situations outside London with Conservative held seats such as Colchester, Eastbourne, Cheltenham and in the Red Wall, Burnley, all constituencies where more than 20% of people are private renters now targeted by Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

So how will renters vote? People living in social housing are more likely to be working class and ethnic minority origin, and have always been more likely to lean left. But tendency to support Labour among private renters is relatively new.

A hand holding a key
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In the 2010 general election, private renters were as likely to vote Conservative as as Labour - both parties got about 26% of their vote.

By 2015 this had shifted, with Labour gaining a 15 percentage point advantage over the Conservatives. Under the previous Conservative led coalition government there had been reforms to Housing Benefit that made housing trickier to come by for some reliant on benefits to help them rent privately.

Since then, this division has solidified, compounded by the age divide over Brexit and immigration. In recent years voting patterns have increasingly diverged by age, with younger people leaning increasingly towards Labour in particular. Most private renters are relatively young.

It is the youngest voters who are more likely to say that housing is one of the top issues facing the country - it is regarded as a top three issue for those aged 18-34 according to the IPSOS Issue Tracker and not as important for older groups.

Young people appear far more likely to vote Labour than any other party but it is also true that the Green Party enjoys its highest polling numbers among the same group.

For Labour there is also the very real risk that private renters do not vote at all.

Not only are younger people much less likely to turn out to vote than their older counterparts, but renters are also less likely to vote than home owners.

This has always been the case, but has been compounded by reforms in 2014 to electoral registration in 2014, which the Electoral Commission research shows disproportionately affected renters, who move much more often.

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