Housing policy: A key battleground

It is official, with just over a week until the General Election, housing policy has become the battleground for the two largest political parties.

Today, Ed Miliband announced Labour's plans to exempt first-time home buyers from paying stamp duty. The policy is expected to save around 90% of buyers around £5000 on the tax and is expected to sway many young voters into supporting Labour in 10 days-time.

As well as this announcement, Labour has also said that it attempt to prevent foreign buyers from buying up property through increased tax on foreign investment and increasing council tax on empty properties and will also give local residents first refusal on new houses built within their local area, meaning that pre-application consultation is likely to be even more important to increase sales opportunities for developers.

These policies will not come cheap, however: it is expected that it will cost the Treasury around £225 million, which will be covered by tackling tax avoidance by landlords, increasing tax paid by holding companies that buy UK property on behalf of investors, and by cutting the tax relief for landlords who fail to maintain their properties.

Critics have already suggested that these plans will not hold up and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated that Labour (like the other main parties) is too reliant on "uncertain" revenues such as tax clampdowns, which currently do not give an exact figure of how much they will raise.

Earlier on in the campaign, the Conservatives announced they would re-invent the Right-to-Buy policy, allowing housing association tenants the ability to buy their home for a discounted rate. The policy received a mixed reception from commentators and newspapers alike. Some suggested the policy was aspirational and gave all people a chance at owning property; others criticised it as poorly thought-out, and likely to exasperate the housing shortage and increase property prices and rent throughout the country.

What both policy announcements do, though, is show us that housing policy is a key part of the election, and this comes as no surprise.

A key demographic that each party is targeting is young people (those aged 18-30). In March, a poll by the BBC showed that housing and housing prices were a key priority for 23% of young people, who were also concerned that they would not be able to buy a home due to availability and cost.

Labour's stamp duty plans are an attempt to rectify this problem. Labour also pledged to build 200,000 new homes a year in the next Parliament, which it is hoped will fix any issues of supply.

Whether this policy announcement works is another thing. Currently the two parties are still neck and neck in the polls, and it is now becoming very late in the day for either to pull out a true "game changer" that could force a swing in their direction. Ed Miliband will be hoping that his policy will not only deliver the important young vote, but will also bring with them, the keys to Downing Street.

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