A former head of the civil service says top Tories saw social housing as toxic – synonymous with sink estates and Labour voters.
In an interview with The Guardian, Bob Kerslake said Theresa May had not grasped the scale of what is required to tackle the housing crisis – despite statements showing she understands a crisis exists.
To Kerslake it was “inexplicable” that May’s government had not lifted limits on councils borrowing to build more homes – but offered councils cheap loans to invest in commercial property.
“If I’m a council in South-East England and want to borrow money to buy a shopping centre in Scotland, I could,” he said.
“If I want to borrow to build housing I have to do that within a cap – there’s no rational argument for it.
“The resistance is in the Treasury – it is simply a worry about additional spend going on the public sector borrowing requirement.”
Kerslake believes the housing crisis could be bigger than Brexit in its potential to polarise Britain’s electoral politics – particularly given its disproportionate effect on younger voters.
The UK is 110,000 new homes short of the annual target of 300,000 set by the chancellor Philip Hammond in November’s budget to be achieved by the mid-2020s.
New homes for social rent – the cheapest rents charged for council housing – are only being built at the rate of 6,800 a year.
In symbolising widening social division, housing has become the most important policy issue at Westminster after Brexit.
“There were a few at the top of the Conservative party who saw social housing as toxic and some at a very senior level thought that it was synonymous with sink estates and some saw it as synonymous with Labour voters,” he said.
Describing the potential impact of the housing crisis on voters, Kerslake said: “Some might go to the far right, it could be exploited against migrants and others, and that has happened.
“There’s an equal chance they will become organised and vociferous within the mainstream political system – I would guess towards the left.”
Kerslake said this year’s election saw voting patterns shift as young people organised and exercising their vote in a very defined direction, energising larger turn outs in future elections.
A government Green Paper on social housing is due next year.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid has called the UK housing market “crippled by a long-term failure to match supply and demand.”