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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Housing is chief concern, say MPs
For sale signs in front of properties
Housing prices remain a worry for many voters
Housing is the biggest concern voters raise with their MPs, suggests a new survey by homelessness charity Shelter.

Nearly 100 MPs from different parties were questioned for the survey, with 79% listing housing as their biggest postbag topic.

Shelter says it shows the angst caused by rising home prices.

The news comes as the Tories complain that rising stamp duty has pushed up house costs. But the government says it is spending billions on housing.

Waking up?

In the Shelter survey, 43% of MPs said their constituents had complained that high rents were causing cash hardship.

And more than a third (38%) said high prices had made buying their own home impossible.

Peterborough MP Helen Clark told the survey: "Four out of five case work discussions in my constituency are about housing and when I go door knocking, it's all about housing.

"Unless you get proper housing you are not going to get proper health, education, law and order or economic prosperity."

Shelter's campaign director Ben Jackson said: "Housing is one of the issues which, when people look to the future, simply see things becoming worse, not better.

"For decades it has literally been the lost issue but the housing crisis has eventually begun to concentrate minds."

Investment schemes

Tony Blair last month predicted that housing, as well as pensions, would get much more attention in the political debate in coming years, with issues like healthcare dropping away.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: "Anyone who has looked at what we are putting out realises housing is something we're tackling."

Some 38bn of investment is promised between 2003 and 2008 to tackle shortages in southern England and boost the economy in the north of England, she said.

The Conservatives on Wednesday said the cost in stamp duty for buying the average UK house had more than doubled.

Hidden costs?

Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin said: "This is another example of Gordon Brown's 66 stealth tax rises.

"When house prices are rising, and stamp duty thresholds do not rise with them, the chancellor increases taxes for homeowners."

In 2000, Chancellor Gordon Brown raised stamp duty to 3% for houses over 250,000 and 4% for those over 500,000. It stays at 1% for homes between 60,000 and 250,000.

But the Inland Revenue said stamp duty remained a very small share of overall housing costs, with property transaction bills far lower in the UK than in the rest of the European Union or the US.

A spokesman said: "What no government has ever done is index stamp duty thresholds in line with movements in house prices or any other asset prices."

Stamp duty did not apply at all to a quarter of residential property transactions, including on homes up to a certain price in deprived areas, said the spokesman.

And the 1% rate was used for two-thirds of the homes where stamp duty was paid, he added.


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