There is a growing inequality at the heart of British life which politicians desperately need to address. How can we bridge the widening gulf in our society between those who benefit from being on the property ladder and those who are kept off? This is a challenge that goes to the heart of the sort of society we want to build. For pressing reasons of social justice, and economic efficiency, Britain needs to spread the benefits of ownership more widely.
But for the thousands of potential first-time buyers, whose dreams of a secure home we want to bring nearer, the reality is grim. They're caught in the great British property trap. It's become increasingly difficult for young people today to buy. The average home in the UK now costs more than £175,000. And in the past 10 years the typical deposit put down by a first-time buyer has risen from £5,500 to £24,000. It's a huge sum - simply beyond the means of many.
So more and more first-time buyers rely on support from their parents. This only entrenches unfairness. If your parents are wealthy, they can transfer some of their wealth to you, to help you acquire a home. And you can then benefit from rising property prices. But if your parents don't have easy access to wealth, then you face a growing, sometimes almost insuperable, struggle to get on the ladder.
That struggle has only been made harder by the Budget. Gordon Brown's changes to stamp duty don't begin to keep pace with inflation. Average first-time buyers paid no stamp duty in 1997; now they have to pay £1,573. On top of that, the Chancellor wants to levy a development tax on building new homes. But, centrally set and collected by the Treasury, it will provide no incentive for a community to support additional development, and it will add £9,000 to the average cost of building a home.
And, notoriously, the Government wants compulsory Home Information Packs, costing another £1,000. These packs do nothing to help first-time buyers deal with the trials of gazumping, or the tricks played by dodgy estate agents. A Conservative government would address all these roadblocks to ownership - we'd get rid of Home Information Packs and look at all the ways in which the tax system penalises home ownership. As well as dealing with these barriers, the Conservatives would tackle the disparity between the demand for new houses and the supply. The consequences for our country are regrettable.
We still have worrying levels of homelessness in Britain, including rising levels of "hidden homelessness", with people living in hostels, bed and breakfasts, squats or with family and friends. The related problem of overcrowding, with children growing up in unsuitable surroundings, leads to poor health and lower educational attainment for future generations. And, crucially, the failure to provide an adequate number of new homes in Britain has contributed to the affordability problem. This situation is bananas. I say it's bananas because one of the problems we've faced is a system that encourages people to believe we should Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.
Our planning system doesn't give people a proper say in how their communities should grow organically. So it's not surprising that development is unpopular when it is foisted on communities; when it's unsym- pathetic to the environment; and when new houses come without roads, schools or hospitals.
We're reviewing the whole planning system to ensure that local people are more directly involved in shaping the future of their communities; there are clear rewards for welcoming new development; beauty is built into new houses; and house-building plays its part in the broader fight against climate change. Our goal is a Britain in which there are more beautiful, affordable, eco-friendly homes. And I passionately believe that everyone should have the right to own their own home, and have the chance to enhance our own environment. I think you'd have to be bananas to object to that.
David Cameron is leader of the Conservative Party