When the Conservatives last left office, in 1996-7, the UK started work on 195,000 new homes that year. Net migration was running at just 50,000 a year. It meant that there were additional homes to allow for new household formation, as young people left their parents’ houses, and as some people divorced.
By 2009/10, the last Labour year in government, new homes started had slumped to just 124,000. Meanwhile net migration surged to well over 250,000. The UK was not building nearly enough new homes to keep pace with the rate of entry into the country by new arrivals, let alone to keep up with the needs of young people and those wishing to live on their own who were already settled here .
Last year new homes started reached 160,000, still well below the level needed if we are to keep up with current migration levels. Fortunately Mr Cameron has made clear his wish to take further measures to get migration down to more manageable numbers. It will be part of his renegotiation with the rest of the EU if Conservatives win the election. The parties who do not favour limiting migration in the way proposed by Mr Cameron have to explain just how many homes they would need to build, and where they might be planning to build them. It is also difficult to see how they would be financed.
The last coalition government did take measures to control students coming to bogus colleges. More can be done to limit non EU migration by controlling the issue of permits to come and work here. The EU may well agree to changes to rules concerning the payment of top up benefits to recently arrived migrants who have not paid in to the UK system. It seems to be accepting tightening of the rules about those without work who say they are seeking work. The renegotiation will also need to include discussion of access to benefits for those seeking unskilled jobs and low skilled jobs which might be needed by people already here.
The measures taken to ease mortgage credit, help with deposits and reward those saving for a home of their own will assist. Some worry that any measure merely fuels further price rises. The main issue rem ains bringing supply and demand for homes into better balance. It is difficult to see how you can do this without some better controls on net migration.