Campaign groups like Generation Rent have been doing a great job of pushing renters up the political agenda. They’re in the Independent today with a story showing that renters will outnumber homeowners in 107 Parliamentary constituencies by 2021.
But political parties will take figures like those with a pinch of salt. Private renters, in particular, are filtered out of the democratic process and so have much less clout than their sheer numbers might suggest.
The first filter is that almost half of private renters aren’t even registered to vote. According to the 2012-2013 English Housing Survey, only 56% of private renting households are registered, compared to 78% of social renters and 87% of homeowners.
This obviously means that political parties will be less interested in chasing their votes.
The second filter is that they won’t then be canvassed on the doorstep. Parties will use the electoral register for this, because it makes sense to prioritise your scarce time by talking to people who can actually vote.
So almost half of private renters are invisible to the party elections campaigns.
Campaigners would do well to follow the example of Waltham Forest Renters, encouraging more private tenants to register to vote. Doing this visibly at a local level may persuade local political parties to take private tenants’ concerns more seriously, and getting more people on the register will naturally mean more private tenants being spoken to by parties and potentially voting.
There’s a third filter, created by private tenants moving around much more often than social tenants and homeowners. According to the English Housing Survey, every year one third of private renting households move, compared to just 4% of homeowners and 10% of social renters.
When local parties canvass door-to-door, they keep records on people they spoke to. They might use this for follow-up visits, targeted letters, or a knock on elections day encouraging you to vote if they think you might support them. But if you move every year, you’re unlikely to be tracked by the local political parties. The two thirds of private tenants who move within three years won’t be tracked between European and General Elections, and in many places between local elections.
So only around one third of private renters are stable enough for political parties to really engage with them.
There’s very little campaigners can do about this third problem, besides change the law so private tenants are more stable and secure in their homes, which makes it a ‘chicken and egg’ problem.
Thankfully, at least three parties in the UK look likely to go into the next General Election with policies to do that, to varying extents – the Green Party, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats.
So all tenants and campaigners can ask their local candidates about renting, putting the issue on the agenda in every local scrap for a Parliamentary seat.
You could also join one of the many fantastic local tenants campaigning organisations popping up around the UK, because while voting is vitally important if you want your interests to be heard, it’s not the only way of engaging with our democracy!