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General Election: the big issues

Roy Irwin is strategic policy advisor for Mears and former chief inspector for housing at the Audit Commission.The interconnection between UK-wide, national and local policies and practices has been getting more complicated and following the Scottish referendum these changes are going to rapidly accelerate over the life of the next parliament. With this in the fore-front of their minds, political parties are now gearing up to the next key electoral event which is of course May next year with the General Election.Gone are the days when an election could be held at a drop of a hat (well in six weeks, actually). With fixed-term five-year parliaments, political parties should (should!) have a more planned approach to developing their proposals to the electorate and their plans for delivery, should they be elected in one form or another next May.The final party conference season before the UK-wide elections kicks off very shortly and no doubt central to the formal debates, as well as the many fringe sessions, will be animated conversations about priorities and resources, policies and plans.Housing – national and localSo what are the big questions on care and housing? What do we all expect to see the parties focus on both in the run up to polling day and for the winners when they form the next Government?On the housing front, finding a sustainable way of normalising the delivery of additional new homes to meet population and household growth – whilst making a proper contribution to the economy – is probably the toughest challenge.Within this, important considerations are how a balance is struck between national imperatives and local views; how incentives can be prevented from creating self-defeating dependencies; and how to secure and maintain an appropriate supply of homes at below market costs – to rent or buy. All these need to be well-thought through if progress is really going to be made over the next decade.Big care questionIn the care world, with a closer and more direct association to the state of public finances, the big question is: how will the national, and therefore local, reductions in public spending play out in a world where the number of older people is increasing?How will the joint efforts of the ‘free at the point of delivery’ National Health Service and the ‘means testing’ local care authorities actually secure better value for money, in order to increase both the number of beneficiaries and the outcomes for those touched by either or both services?None of these policy areas work in a vacuum so the future interrelationship between housing and care and health, much talked about but not yet commonly in play at practioner level, will also need to be developed further. What would that look like?Affordability for the nation –and for the consumer – are of course intertwined. So how the cost of care, with the introduction of a cap on individual care costs contributions pencilled in for midway through the next Parliament, is managed at a national, local and personal level will be a key challenge for the Governments of the day.Focus on the futureFor housing, the rising cost of house prices, the move to private renting and the slow reduction in the scale of social housing is continuing to make the costs of housing consumption rise quicker than earnings, even with rock bottom interest rates. How could this, over time, be ameliorated to support the broader economy?These points, plus the shape and nature of the welfare system, pension provisions and take-up, energy efficiency standards and energy costs, will all interplay in the discussions.Will all these issues be covered during this conference season? Unlikely – not all parties will want to mark out their territory so clearly, even (or especially) when their views coincide with those on other sides.Regardless, political plans for the future of care and housing will emerge with more clarity from October and continue right up to the election itself albeit in the context of a more devolved and more federal setting.


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