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Many Conservatives will be heading to Birmingham this week with a spring in their step. The economy, so long in the doldrums, has finally surpassed the level it was at when disaster struck in 2008. But the party should not expect the numbers to hand them re-election next May.

While the recovery looks good on paper, it is still failing to reach ordinary people – and particularly the young. A recent graduate enjoying her first pay rise since the recession is likely to find that the increase in her take-home pay is merely finding its way into her landlord’s pocket.

According to Homelet, rents for new tenancies rose by 7.8% in the last year; considering that private renters are paying two-fifths of their income on housing, this is stifling their efforts to save for a home of their own.

If there are any Conservatives who are unfazed by this, they are deluded. The longer people spend renting, the less likely they are to vote Tory. The party’s longest period in power was underpinned by Right to Buy, a policy that recognised Britons’ aspiration to own their own home and helped expand home ownership to 71% of the population.

The rise in home ownership was overtaken by the rise in house prices and since 2004 the need to take on ever higher levels of debt to buy your first home has seen the number of first time buyers plummet. As a result, the number of people renting privately has doubled, destroying the assumption that the private rented sector is merely a stopgap for students and young workers, and turning it into an awkward, second-class tenure for families and increasingly resentful professionals. There are nine million private renters in England alone and at the moment they don’t have much reason to think the Conservative party is on their side.

The party’s housing problem is a tricky one – home ownership is still the majority tenure and the Tories don’t want to spook mortgage holders with policies that might risk negative equity. At the same time, Right to Buy will never repeat the magic of the 80s – despite the extra discounts, there are not many more social tenants who have the means to buy their own home.

The government’s response to date has been to start underwriting mortgages through the Help to Buy scheme. This policy has helped around 50,000 households so far – but this is barely 1% of the total private renter population. Buyers only need a 5% deposit but will pay a higher interest rate that in many cases will mean a higher monthly outlay than the equivalent rent. The vast majority of renters will remain guests in their landlord’s house, and the Conservatives have not made much effort to improve their experience.

The government has developed a model tenancy agreement which encourages longer term tenancies – security that families with children at school are desperate for. However, without any requirement to offer them, letting agents can continue to insist on short term contracts, with all the renewal fees and rent rises that they currently entail. Obviously Conservatives will avoid intervention where they can, but a reform allowing some form of earned security for private renters – where the longer you live somewhere the harder it is to evict you – should appeal.

Recently the government announced a new policy for private renters – a Rent to Buy scheme that mimics Right to Buy, by offering a newly built home at discounted rent that allows the tenant to save the deposit to buy it after seven years. The scheme will only serve 10,000 households on current projections and may disproportionately benefit the developer – it’s unclear if the property will be sold at today’s price or 2022’s.

A generation ago, the votes of first-time buyers carried the Conservatives to 18 years of government. If the party wants the votes of their kids, it has a lot further to go.

Dan Wilson Craw is a spokesman for Generation Rent

Generation Rent and Bright Blue co-hosted a fringe event at the Conservative party conference at 12.30 on Sunday, Media Suite B. Click here for a full list of their fringe events