This year’s Conference season highlighted the stark differences between the support base of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. One Tory MP highlighted the party could be “out of business” unless they re-engaged with the needs of younger and minority ethnic voters.
The Tories lagged two percentage points behind Labour for voters in their 20s, and by four percentage points for those aged 18-24 in 2015. Just three years later these deficits had shot up to 26 and 40 points behind.
But all the signs are that the party has still not learned. On Wednesday this week, Justine Greening, the former Education Secretary, asked if the Prime Minister would support her cross-party Private Members’ Bill, the Creditworthiness Assessment Bill. The Prime Minister could not give a firm answer about whether the Government would support it, or if the Chancellor would back it in the Budget speech.
Greening’s innovative Bill would require credit service providers to take rental and council tax payment history data into account when assessing a borrower’s creditworthiness via a new rule from the Financial Conduct Authority. This legislation would overwhelmingly benefit young people. Votes the Tories desperately need to attract ahead of the next election.
Greening is trying to solve the injustice that Britain’s 14.8 million renters are discriminated against when it comes to access to credit as rent payments aren’t recorded or recognised in the same way as mortgage payments. This means some of the poorest are paying the most for credit services, insurance, white goods, utilities and mobile phones.
This Bill would also reward tenants making regular payments by rent prove to mortgage lenders that they can be trusted with a mortgage. Given the Conservatives’ natural preference to promote home ownership, any policy which aids that would seem like a natural fit. Particularly if a pilot scheme has shown it can work.
Already in the private sector, over 1.2 million tenants can see their rental payments on Experian’s credit reports as part of Rental Exchange, an initiative developed in partnership with The Big Issue to help tackle the challenges faced by rental tenants. Experian says it has already spoken to several big high street lenders who are interested in using the information to help assess mortgage applications.
Likely, the Government will make time for Greening to guide the bill through the Commons and allow it to be passed. Yet the failure of the Conservative Party to immediately jump on this policy as a cost neutral way of allowing young people to access cheaper credit feels like a missed opportunity.
It could have generated some much needed goodwill ahead of the Budget. Showing that the Conservatives have at least begun to think about how they can take Corbyn on with interesting policy ideas.
This was also a rare chance to claim a universally popular and cross party supported piece of legislation as a Conservative one. Instead it has been pushed into the Private Members’ Bill blackhole of Friday afternoons. Even for such a small policy change, the message this sends is clear.
Want to delve deeper into GK’s political analysis? Read our recent Labour paper.