1. Government
July 10, 2015

MPs are still six times more likely to be landlords than their voters are

By Jonn Elledge

So, this is kind of a good news/bad news kind of thing.

Bad news: Fully one in five of the MPs in the House of Commons is a landlord.

Good news: That’s actually an improvement.

These delightful and heart warming figures come from Generation Rent. The tenants’ lobbying group analysed the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which includes any MP receiving more than £10,000 a year in rent. (It’ll exclude those with spare houses that they’re not renting out.) 

In the last parliament, it found, 153 MPs were landlord; this time round, it’s 126, plus another 10 with commercial property.

To put that in perspective, that’s 19 per cent of the entire commons, down from 24 per cent last time. The prevalence of landlords in the population as a whole is just 3 per cent.

So, er, yay?

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For some, Generation Rent notes, with scrupulous fairness, this is a legacy of the previous, rather generous expenses regime. Some MPs “are letting out second homes bought when they could still put mortgage payments on expenses”. 

But “not all are accidental landlords: 52 MPs have more than one rented property”. (It might be more, because some just say “property”, without listing details.) That’s a pretty substantial level of commitment to the idea of cashing in on the housing crisis.

As to which party’s MPs are most likely to be landlords, the Conservatives top the chart: 89 Tory MPs own at least one spare residential property, which is 27 per cent of the party. A century and a half ago, it was literally the Conservative party’s job to protect the landed interest: perhaps more shocking are the 25 Labour MPs (11 per cent of the parliamentary party) who double as landlords. 

Perhaps most shocking, at least for those who voted for the SNP on the basis that it was to the left of Labour, no fewer than eight of the 56 Scottish nationalist MPs (14 per cent) are also landlords. And of the six MPs who’ve declared income from more than five residential properties – the ones who are really making a career out of this whole living-off-your-massive-property-wealth thing – two of them are Scottish nationalists (the other four are Tories). 

Those two include Michelle Thomson, the SNP representative of Edinburgh West, who owns no fewer than nine – nine – rental properties. Only the Conservative Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk & Malton) beats that, with 12. (The last Tory MP for Hertsmere, James Clappison, let out 31 homes. He stood down at the election, but don’t get too excited, because he was replaced by a man who’s promised to protect his constituents from the horror of having enough houses.)

Among the more minor parties – we probably have to call the Liberal Demcorats a minor party at this point – only two Lib Dem MPs declares themselves as landlords. But since the party now only has eight MPs, and one of those two is leadership contender Norman Lamb, this isn’t quite as reassuring a number as it could be.

Elsewhere, one of the three SDLP MPs, one of the eight Democratic Unionists, and both the Ulster Unionists are landlords. So is Douglas Carswell, the Commons’ single UKIPer.

Does this matter? Well, yes, obviously I think it does or I wouldn’t have wasted quite so many words making this point.

Conditions for many of Britain’s growing army of renters are pretty dreadful – tenancies are short term and insecure; rent can be hiked at will; revenge evictions are all too common.

And yet a significant share of the people whose support you’d need to change any of this have financial interests that would be directly affected – very possibly, damaged – by reform.

It’s perhaps a bit too cynical to suggest that makes such reforms impossible: people can and do vote against their own financial interests. But at the very least, it means that a significant proportion of MPs – and even more significant proportion of govenrment MPs – will see the world from the perspective of landlords, not tenants. They’re more likely to recall the students that stained their carpets than that time they were left homeless at two weeks’ notice. They’re more likely to see the arguments against reform than those in favour of it.

“Some of the most vulnerable members of society rely on private landlords for a roof over their head,” Generation Rent’s director Betsy DIllner said in a statement accompanying the figures. “They rely on Parliament to make sure they’re properly protected.” It’s far from clear a significant share of parliament will want to do any such thing.

SPECIAL BONUS DEPRESSING FACT: In its economic and fiscal outlook report, published to accompany Wednesday’s Budget, the Office of Budget Responsibility noted that

The government’s decision to impose 1 per cent annual rent reductions in the social rented sector for four years from April 2016 will directly reduce social landlords’ rental income, and therefore their financing for, and returns to, investing in new housebuilding.

This, it said, will mean 14,000 fewer homes get built by 2020. Also:

Relative to their pre-crisis peaks in 2007, real house prices at the end of the forecast are expected to be 13.3 per cent higher and the ratio of house prices to average earnings 7.2 per cent higher]

So, that’s just great.


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