Housing, energy, and education: a roundup of fringe events at the Conservative conference

This week Fair By Design are in Birmingham for the Conservative Party conference. Today (Tuesday 2nd October) we hold a fringe event launching our roadmap discussing the ways that we will get rid of the poverty premium and the stakeholders we intend to work with. But fortunately we’ve had time to visit a few friends and colleagues here, looking in on a few other events and panel sessions to get a sense of what the priorities are for government and the ruling party.

Firstly we jumped into a very interesting event run by the blog ConservativeHome on what the main political parties have to offer private renters— what the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last year called the “new home of poverty”. We heard from Matt Singh, founder of Number Cruncher Analytics, who showed the sheer scale of political influence that private renters now have, with many of them going over to Labour (as his graph shows).

Fair By Design raised a question about how the further worry for private rental sector tenants is not just the cost of getting together a deposit, but the costs when they’ve actually moved into a property — citing the extra cost burdens of prepayment meters, which many tenants are stuck with if their landlord doesn’t allow change.

Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield, spoke in support of getting rid of the poverty premium experienced by some tenants. He spoke in particular about work carried out through schemes and by private landlords in his area, especially some of the more deprived parts. He said in response to our question:

Some of the schemes in my area take old school properties and put in them new meters and hook them up to the cheapest tariffs and modernise the whole system. And it’s a charitable thing so it doesn’t cost the tenants anything and landlords can buy into it. So if there are ways to expand that and to recognise the shift in the ways people are living or to incentivise landlords to buy into schemes like that then that can be a positive way forward.

On a point made by Fair By Design that renters struggle to afford deposits, something the government and others should look to improving, Ben Bradley said:

I agree, anything that can take away that up-front cost, that is the biggest barrier for most people. If you want to move out of your parents house, which people are doing later and later, you have to find that money from somewhere. And if you are in an area like mine where you aren’t saving that’s increasingly a challenge.

After that Fair By Design rushed over to watch a panel session held by Bright Blue, the liberal conservative think tank, discussing greening Britain’s homes. We were particularly interested to hear Richard Howard, Head of Research at Aurora Energy Research, tell the audience that Britain tops the charts in terms of inefficient homes in Europe, which creates fuel poverty. Additionally, it exacerbates the poverty premium since where energy inefficient homes are powered by expensive methods of heating, say a prepayment meter, they increase the extra costs of being poor.

Having energy efficient homes would massively reduce the burden that poorer households carry currently through the poverty premium.

Later on we went to an all-star event by the Centre for Social Justice on whether the Conservative Party cares about social justice, featuring Tim Montgomerie, formerly of The Times, now UnHerd, Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory party leader and once described as “father of Universal Credit” by The Sun, and Justine Greening MP.

Andy Ratcliffe, from Impetus — the private equity foundation, made the point that what is good for social justice is also good for the economy: “they’re not pulling in different directions”. This prompted rapturous applause. It’s a subject close to Fair By Design’s heart — one we will be exploring later in the year when we write and publish our business case for reducing the poverty premium.

Finally we finished the evening by going back to the ConservativeHome tent to hear Nadhim Zahawi MP and Mike Haley from Cifas discuss young people and financial harm. Mark Wallace, executive editor of ConHome, discussed the importance of financial education to young people in equipping them with the skills to manage money early on, while Mike Haley talked about the new risks that social media poses for tripping up young people and the challenges ahead for financial services industries.