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Grim economics are taking their toll on mortgage holders

(Alamy)

Luke Tryl

Luke Tryl

5 min read

It is sometimes easy to look at the latest round of grim economic statistics, be it interest rate hikes or stubbornly high inflation with a degree of detachment as just the latest data-points to highlight how badly 2020s Britain has lost its way.

But put those statistics into context, by talking to people about the impact on their everyday lives, and the real toll of the past few years becomes clear. Our focus group in Milton Keynes last night was a sobering case in point.

This group, selected because they are all paying off mortgages, felt beleaguered by the “double whammy”, as Guy a family photographer by trade called it, of skyrocketing prices and spiralling mortgage rates. Terri, a sales manager whose mortgage is due for renewal this year, told us the past twelve months felt like “a hamster wheel from which you don’t get any relief”. Diana, who works in finance, and whose daughter swims for Milton Keynes, explained she’d had to cut out almost everything else just to afford the swimming club subscriptions. While IT Manager and grandmother Jan told us that taking her grandchildren out for the day now involved scouring Facebook to find out what they could do for free. 

This was a group who felt like they’d worked hard, done the right thing all their lives and had never struggled before, but who now suddenly felt they were just keeping their head above water.

Some felt that the Prime Minister was at least competent and the ‘best of the bad bunch’, but for others, his wealth means he’s not the person who can empathise enough to lead us through a cost of living crisis.

If the group’s assessment of the state of their own lives and communities was bleak, their verdict on our political class was even more grim. Having voted Conservative in 2019 most of the group felt the party was headed out of power. They blamed the Government for not doing enough – particularly to take on energy companies and supermarkets who they saw as profiting from others' misery. 

As has become common in our focus groups, some felt that the Prime Minister was at least competent and the ‘best of the bad bunch’, but for others, his wealth means he’s not the person who can empathise enough to lead us through a cost of living crisis. As Victoria, who runs her own small business put it, it felt wrong that “someone who's got immense disposable income can call the shots and punish us for the cost of inflation and mortgages”. His line, delivered during an interview last weekend, that the public just needed to ‘hold their nerve’ went down particularly badly with these voters in Milton Keynes. 

But those who thought the Tories had had their chance, didn’t have much enthusiasm for the Opposition either. They told us they thought Labour would win just because people wanted this Government out. 

The group’s frustration with Keir Starmer was not based on hostility to the idea of a Labour Government but instead a feeling, one we hear regularly in our focus groups, that the Opposition Leader was very good at pointing out the country’s problems but hadn’t so far offered anything that makes them believe he and Labour could make their lives better. There is, so far, no liferaft in the form of a tangible offer for the future that these voters could grab onto.  

What can either party do to win back these voters who are losing faith in politics entirely? A proper offer on housing might offer one path.

That lack of enthusiasm might not matter in the short term. Labour can fairly comfortably win an election by default, but the twin challenge of securing a real mandate for change in Government and tackling democratic disillusionment is clearly going to require the Labour Party to offer a more tangible vision to the voters we spoke to in Milton Keynes last night. .

What can either party do to win back these voters who are losing faith in politics entirely? A proper offer on housing might offer one path. Most of the group were realistic that mass subsidising of mortgages would come at too high a price. Although they did wonder if targeted support for those most at risk of losing their home might end up being better value for money in the long run. 

What they really wanted to see was real effort into tackling the causes of the housing crisis. Building more affordable homes and penalising developers who sit on land, but also replenishing social housing stocks so that we can better support those who might not be able to afford their own homes.  Yesterday’s skirmish over housing during PMQs suggests that politics may finally be moving away from shadow boxing over SW1 scandals and into the realm of policies that really matter and can make a difference in communities across the country.

The question now is, if the polls are right, whether Labour on its path to victory or the Conservatives in the time they have left, can convince voters they’re serious about fixing a country which this group summarised last night as “ridiculous” “a joke” “collapsed” and “in crisis” when asked for their verdict on the state of the country.

Luke Tryl is UK Director of More in Common 

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