Josh Buckland: How a new carbon pricing system can provide a credible path to Net Zero

30 Jul

Josh Buckland is the author of Bright Blue’s Green money: a plan to reform UK carbon pricing and a former energy and environment special adviser to the Prime Minister. 

Beyond simply raising funds for the Treasury, the tax system has long been used by governments of all colours to deliver other political and policy objectives. It has been used as a lever to drive social policy, as well as to stoke economic growth.

More recently, it has been used to improve public health, such as through the introduction of the sugar tax last decade. The tax system has always had to serve many masters.

One such alternative master is to tackle climate change. Despite the recent popular surge in political interest in green issues across the political spectrum, this is nothing new. At his final Budget in 1993, Norman Lamont introduced VAT on domestic energy bills, linking it to honouring the country’s commitment to stabilise emissions by 2000 made at the 1992 Rio Summit.

Ever since, chancellors have seen the potential of putting a price on carbon emissions. A combination of carbon taxes now delivers around £50 billion annually to the Exchequer, around seven per cent of total tax receipts and equivalent to 2.3 per cent of GDP.

While by no means a silver bullet, there is a strong free market case for taxing carbon emissions. The environmental damage done through emitting carbon is not automatically factored into the price of the goods we buy and sell, whether it be a plane ticket or a product online.

Just a small change in the price of a carbon-intensive goods to reflect this true ‘cost’ can potentially have a significant impact, as we have seen through the reduction in plastic bag use driven by the 10p charge on the same. If done well, it can allow market competition to take the lead in finding the green technology solutions needed, avoiding the need for costly public subsidies and continual state intervention. 

However, any tax is fraught with political risk. While there is general support for government taking action to cut emissions across both the right and left, the majority of the public favour being incentivised to do so, rather than government acting to restrict choice or increase prices. Ministers are rightly all too aware of a basic political rule – people never vote for tax rises. 

Notwithstanding this obvious political challenge, since the passage of the Climate Change Act in 2008, government has taken steps to align the tax system with the need to reduce the impact we all have on the natural environment. A tax on carbon emissions in the power sector has driven down the use of coal power to the point that it now meets less than two per cent of annual power demand. Businesses and households also pay a range of carbon taxes across what they buy and sell, incentivising companies to make products that use less energy. 

Despite numerous examples of successfully mobilising private investment through taxing emissions, the Government’s approach to doing so has been piecemeal. There are significant inconsistencies – the tax we all pay for using electricity in our homes is three times what we pay for using gas for heating. Much of the tax system is effectively ‘carbon blind’ and many pro-environmental measures effectively place a flat tax across all consumers, putting the greatest burden on those on the lowest incomes. 

With the UK hosting the climate conference COP26 in November, there is an opportunity to champion a free market approach to tackling climate change. In order to do so, the independent think tank Bright Blue has today published a report, Green money: a plan to reform UK carbon pricing, setting out how government can turn the tax system green. 

The report recommends that the Government should leave no hiding place for carbon by placing a consistent price on all emissions. This would be done through tailored measures across each sector of the economy which ensure the market can adequately respond, rather than simply increasing the prices consumers pay. It also argues that the revenue generated through green taxes should be recycled back into UK green innovation to cut the costs of tackling climate change, as well as reducing the energy bills of those least well off to ease the green transition. 

The political and economic challenges in reaching the UK’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050 are significant and public backing must be achieved to make it possible. While some on the left argue that this means we must revert to an overbearing state, unlocking the power of market competition remains our best hope. We can only do so if we get serious about putting a proper price on carbon emissions.

Sam Robinson: It’s time to deliver a progressive alternative to Council Tax and Stamp Duty

21 May

Sam Robinson is a Senior Researcher at Bright Blue. Bright Blue’s new report, ‘Home truths: options for reforming residential property taxes in England’, is available here.

As the economy gradually reopens, jobs return to the labour market, and the vaccine programme roars ahead, it looks as though – after being blown wildly off course by the Covid-19 pandemic – the Government can soon return to its central mission of ‘levelling up’.

So far, the Government has prioritised spending and investment as the key levers to levelling up. But this approach is far from new. There have been countless regeneration initiatives since the 1960s, and governments of all stripes have pledged to improve life for deprived areas of the UK.

To truly address regional disparities and deliver on its levelling up agenda, this Government will need to be broader and more radical in its approach. That means reforming tax too.

The Government could start with our regressive and arcane system of property taxation. Council Tax, which still operates on property valuations from 1991, is laughably disconnected from today’s house prices. A house in Camden that cost £320,000 in 1991, for example, could now be worth £3,650,000, and still be in the same Council Tax band.

Property taxes in their current form also punish those in low-value properties, who pay proportionately more in Council Tax than higher-value properties. A property worth £25,000 in 1991, in a local authority charging the English average Band D rate, pays Council Tax at 4.7 per cent of its 1991 value. Conversely, a property worth £500,000 in 1991 pays Council Tax at just 0.7 per cent of its 1991 value.

Geographical variation in house price increases has exacerbated this trend further. While median house prices in many areas of London have risen eightfold between 1995 and 2020, prices in towns such as Blackpool have only increased by 2.7 times. The essential point is that those in the ‘Red Wall’ and so-called ‘left-behind’ areas are therefore paying more than their fair share in terms of Council Tax.

Meanwhile, Stamp Duty acts as a tax on aspiration, slowing the housing market and making it harder for people to find the right house for them. As witnessed during the pandemic, sudden changes to the Stamp Duty regime, such as the Stamp Duty holiday, can lead to significant fluctuations and spikes in the housing market.

It is little wonder, then, that figures from across the political spectrum – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat alike, as well as economists, think tanks and campaigners – are united in calling for a fundamental reappraisal of the way we tax property.

There is now widespread, cross-party agreement that our property taxes are in urgent need of reform. The key challenge now is agreeing upon a way forward.

Bright Blue’s new report, Home truths: options for reforming residential property taxes in England, comprehensively assesses and ranks alternatives to our current system on a number of economic and political criteria. The report recommends replacing Council Tax and Stamp Duty with an Annual Proportional Property Tax (APPT) levied at a flat rate on the value of houses.

The APPT would have a £50,000 exemption threshold and a 25 per cent surcharge for second home owners. The tax would be charged on owners, rather than occupiers. Revenues would be split between national and local government. The fixed national component would be set at 0.11 per cent (0.14 per cent for second homes) of property value in order to replace Stamp Duty revenues, with English Local Authorities (LAs) free to set their local tax rates independently.

To explore the possible distributional implications of a move to this APPT, the report devises five plausible scenarios for the local APPT rates different LAs might choose to set post-reform.

The impact of a move to APPT is shown in two ways. First, by illustrating the proportion of LAs where a typical resident would pay less overall in expected property tax, in a scenario where LAs each charged the same local rate, designed to yield the same revenue as Council Tax does at present. With this, 78 per cent of all English LAs would see the typical resident face a lower expected property tax liability post reform.

Comparatively, those who face a higher expected property tax payment would be a typical resident in Greater London and the South East of the country.

Second, we simulate the impact on expected property tax payments before and after the proposed reform, using different scenarios for the local APPT rates charged, on a range of houses in ten representative LAs across England. The results show a pattern of reduced expected tax liabilities for those in poorer LAs such as Newcastle, and those in less expensive housing. In the lowest-priced housing market in England, Burnley, the cheapest houses are winners in all scenarios, and houses with a price at the market median also gain in all but two scenarios.

Combining the results of all the different scenarios, 76 per cent of the lowest-priced houses in the ten LAs pay less tax from moving to APPT, and 48 per cent of median priced houses and 24 per cent of the most expensive houses would also see reduced expected property tax liabilities. It is worth bearing in mind here that house prices are not normally distributed; there are relatively few expensive properties, and many more cheaper properties.

In other words, while the current system is regressive and distortive, an APPT would change this by rebalancing expected property tax liabilities and putting money in the pockets of those from modest backgrounds and areas.

Of course, such an ambitious overhaul of the property tax system will bring with it substantial challenges, including accurate valuation. But that is not a good enough reason to continue ducking this issue. To truly address the inequities and inefficiencies of Council Tax, the Government will have to face revaluation at some point. And to avoid a gradual return to the unfair discrepancies we see today, revaluations will have to be done on a regular basis.

The challenge of regular revaluations is also surmountable in a way that it wasn’t in decades past. Price data, house characteristics, and locations are now readily available, enabling house prices to be modelled. This modelling-based approach is a practical and comparatively cheap method for calculating property taxes; indeed, at least 15 countries have already implemented statistical mass appraisal systems for use in property valuations.

The flaws of Council Tax and Stamp Duty can no longer be ignored. Moving to an APPT makes both economic and political sense. If the Government is serious about levelling up in the long term, it needs to be bold now.

Adam Afriyie: Self-interest will drive up EV use and drive down pollution if charge points are available

18 Feb

Adam Afriyie is the MP for Windsor.

Elephants in the room have been spotted. Too few charging points and inadequate energy networks will crush any hopes of zero emissions by 2050 or wholly fossil-free vehicle sales by 2030. To keep our hopes alive action will be needed from both government and the private sector, as identified in excellent papers from Policy Exchange and Bright Blue.

With a viable route out of the pandemic in the form of vaccines and our EU relationship now settled, it is time to look to the future.

The Prime Minister is rightly looking at policies that will shape our country in the years and decades to come.

The green agenda

While some people sometimes bristle at the phrase “green agenda”, few would bemoan the aim of reducing travel costs, boosting energy efficiency, and placing the UK at the forefront of emerging high-tech industries which are kinder to the environment. I suspect that most of us are also comfortable with the concept that the polluter should pay.

From the raft of green priorities, it is zero-carbon transport that has captured my attention. We have already passed a tipping point. Not only have electric vehicles (EVs) come of age, they have become cheaper to run than traditional petrol and diesel vehicles.

Gone are the days of stressing over charging points. EVs have evolved from a slightly quirky city run-around to a smooth and dependable workhorse that is quietly displacing polluting vehicles.

The Government is right to continue encouraging their uptake when seeking to reduce emissions. Transport is one of the few sectors where emissions have actually risen since the 1990s due to increasing car ownership. EVs not only cut carbon emissions, they also reduce the emission of other harmful gases which are, literally, clogging our minds and choking people to death. Our towns and cities will be healthier places and our NHS will save billions on treating respiratory-related illness. If we can see an end to petrol and diesel car sales by 2030, then all the better.

The rollout of EVs is a highly conservative endeavour. Dictating that people must drive EVs today would be foolish and dangerous authoritarian madness. But it is a deeply Conservative approach to incentivise their uptake and to let people know that they can choose to save themselves a small fortune on fuel, fuel duties, emission fees, congestion charges, vehicle tax and gaining purchase subsidies in the short term. It is also rather virtuous to say that you are covering the cost of your own pollution!

Fragmented Infrastructure

Yet despite the benefits of EVs there is more to do on the infrastructure front.

Chief among them are doubts surrounding the reach, reliability and security of the charging network. Having used an electric vehicle for some time, I understand first-hand the practical infrastructure issues EV drivers are facing and the urgent need for government action to give charging confidence to the millions of drivers who will be switching to an EV.

While many people can charge at home with a three-pin plug or home charger, many more cannot. So we will need an extensive network of public and shared charging points for those who live in flats or cannot safely run a cable to their home overnight.

Charging points are best in convenient locations which are close to people’s homes, commercial areas and workplaces. Ideally, we would see a charging point available beside every on-street parking space and at every bay in a car park. It is a big ask. Yet to this end the Government must insist that local authorities give a clear roadmap to when, where and how charging infrastructure will be installed. Indeed we must install charge points five times faster than today and avoid charging black-spots particularly in rural areas.

The current rollout is fragmented at best. It is being managed by over 300 local authorities across the country using different operators, different standards, different security levels and a disparate divergent range of charging ports. Consumers are understandably bemused, uninspired, and lacking confidence.

The Government can also focus on supply-side measures, such as boosting our domestic production capabilities. An excellent example of this is the new £2.6 billion car battery factory, dubbed the “giggaplant” in Northumberland.

We could also look to expand the support made available to consumers when installing charging infrastructure in their homes and change the regulations so that all new homes must have a charging point.

The National Grid

Today, about one per cent of vehicles are electric. It will be a big ask to see that rise to 100 per cent within 10 years, but it is achievable if we act on infrastructure today.

This means preparing our energy network for the increased demands of millions of electric vehicles on the roads. Hundreds of thousands of charge points and thousands of petrol stations and public spaces must be serviced by both the national grid and transmission network. What works for 200,000 electric cars will not work for 20 million.

The national grid clearly has work to do as a vital aspect of our national infrastructure. Overall capacity and transmission networks must be able to meet demand but there is an even more critical aspect to consider. Our electricity supply must be protected from external threats, such as cybercriminals and hostile governments. We simply cannot be in a position where millions of Britons wake up unable to charge their cars and travel to work because the EV charging network has been hacked overnight.

A conservative approach

Protecting the environment need not cost you more than destroying it. It is right that, for now, the Government helps with the upfront costs and nudges people in the right direction with a range of incentives. The good news is that as the production of EVs is rising, the costs are falling. It is already cheaper to drive an electric vehicle than a fossil fuel vehicle, particularly if you have a home-charger, and the differential continues to grow.

Whatever the merits, the Government has set a hard deadline of 2030 for the sale of new petrol and diesel to cease. Instead of forcing people into electric vehicles, it is best if we continue to persuade them with incentives and inspire the confidence. Switching to an EV isn’t just good for the planet it is also good for your wallet.

Patrick Hall: A demand-led on-street chargepoint scheme will be essential to the electric vehicle revolution

4 Feb

Patrick Hall is a Senior Researcher at the think tank Bright Blue.

Last year, the Transport Secretary expressed the Government’s “unwavering support for a cleaner, greener transport future”.

The Government certainly appears to be living up to its rhetoric, recently bringing forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles so it takes effect from 2030, committing large amounts of funding to support the manufacturing of electric vehicle  (EV) batteries in the UK, and most recently offering a £20 million boost to support the rollout of on-street chargepoints across towns and cities in the UK.

Ministers are right to address the rollout of on-street chargepoints. Recent polling shows that 44 per cent of drivers thought that a lack of local chargepoints held them back from purchasing an EV – the second largest barrier to EV uptake after their high upfront price.

For those who live in homes with no off-street parking, a lack of nearby charging infrastructure is a significant barrier to EV ownership. Off-street parking provides EV owners with the opportunity to install their own EV chargers on their premises, such as in a garage, driveway, or private parking bay. Being able to charge an EV at or near a driver’s home is important for prospective EV owners, given that this is how the vast majority of EV charging takes place.

But about a third of homes in England do not have off-street parking. If homes do not have off-street parking, EV drivers are reliant on either on-street charging infrastructure or ‘at destination’ chargepoints located in places such as the workplace, supermarket or shopping centres.

A look at the number of public chargepoints by region and local authority reveals the postcode lottery when it comes to accessing on-street charging infrastructure near drivers’ homes. London had the greatest availability of chargepoints, with 57.3 chargepoints per population of 100,000. However, this varies significantly between different London boroughs. For example, Havering only has five chargepoints for every 100,000 people whilst in Kensington & Chelsea, this figure is 197.9

The North East and South East of England have 30.4 and 27 chargepoints per population of 100,000 respectively, whilst the West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber both have the poorest ratio in England of 17.30 chargepoints per population of 100,000.

The need for on-street charging infrastructure is especially important for London, where two thirds of all EVs parking in residential areas overnight will require on-street charging in a high EV uptake scenario.

Currently, local authorities determine where on-street chargepoints will be installed in residential areas, funded in part through the On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme. In Bright Blue’s new report, Driving uptake: maturing the market for battery electric vehicles, we recommended that this process should instead be demand-led, with an onus on local authorities to install on-street chargepoints when requested by residents within three months unless there are reasonable grounds for objection. This would be based somewhat on such a scheme in the Netherlands, which has the greatest density of chargepoints in Europe.

Drivers should be able to access an online portal established and administered by local authorities for making their request. Drivers would be required to show proof of purchase of an EV to their local authority, before making a request through the online portal for the installation of a chargepoint near their place of residence. The request could be assessed on various criteria, for example whether the driver has access to off-street parking, the walking distance to other existing or planned chargepoints in that area, and the occupancy rate of nearby chargepoints.

If the request is approved, the local authority would open a consultation period of six weeks, where stakeholders could challenge or propose amendments to the plan. Following this, and assuming no setbacks as a result of the consultation period, the chargepoint would then be published on a map and other nearby registered EV drivers could be notified of its location before being installed.

Local authorities could either own the chargepoints or tender out their ownership to a private organisation. The operation of the chargepoint could also be tendered out to a charging network.

In Bright Blue’s report, we also recommended that interoperability be a condition for central and local government funding towards chargepoints. This would mean all chargepoints across a borough or district would be easily accessible regardless of the charging network they are connected to. But, if this was not implemented, any new on-street chargepoints in the borough should be grouped under a single tender to one charging network. This would ensure that all chargepoints within a borough or district would be accessible via the same charging network.

A demand-led, online on-street chargepoint scheme such as this would ensure that households with no off-street parking are more reassured about purchasing an EV. Additionally, such a scheme would ensure that chargepoint installation is targeted towards areas where they would be utilised.

If EV uptake is to increase significantly within the next nine years, policymakers should, among other measures, introduce this demand-led on-street chargepoint scheme.

Sam Robinson: The case for comprehensive property tax reform is long-standing and crystal clear

31 Dec

Sam Robinson is a Senior Researcher at Bright Blue

Recently, yet another Conservative Research Group – this time the Property Research Group, comprising 29 Tory MPs – was launched.

With the vaccine arriving in the UK, it seems attention among those on the centre-right is starting to shift towards what happens after the pandemic is under control: specifically, making sure things do not just go back to normal on housing policy.

One of the Government’s main tax interventions during the Covid-19 crisis, the stamp duty holiday on the first £500,000 for any buyers, is set to come to an end in the next fiscal year. But we should be asking ourselves: do we really have to go back to the default settings of stamp duty and council tax when we come out the other side of Covid?

The short answer is that there is no good reason to.

Economists have long been in agreement that the UK’s current system of property taxes is horribly designed and inefficient. The evidence is incontrovertible. Stamp duty distorts the volume and timing of housing transactions; just look at the wild spikes in transactions during the current holiday. Indeed, a two percentage-point increase in stamp duty is estimated to reduce the mobility of homeowners by around 40 per cent.

And council tax regressively hits low-value homes located in less prosperous regions hardest: a person living in a property worth £100,000 may pay six times more, as a proportion of their property value, than someone in a house worth £1 million. As Paul Johnson of the IFS succinctly put it: ‘it’s rather like charging VAT at a lower rate on Bentleys than on Fords’.

The sticking point for reform has always been the politics. Partly, this is driven by competing priorities: many on the left want a tax system that is redistributive, while the right often slams policies such as stamp duty as a ‘tax on aspiration’.

But when it comes to property taxes, this is a false trade-off. There are many alternative models out there, such as proportional property taxes or land value taxes, that ensure a more equitable impact across regions and across the income distribution but without the economically damaging impacts of a transaction tax.

Many policymakers recognise this, but retort that while such ideas are good on paper, implementing them would be costly and unworkable, in particular due to the need for accurate and regular valuations. Perhaps this was true in decades past. But it’s worth noting that we already have an administrative system in place for regular property valuations, in order to calculate business rates liabilities. And with the rise of Automated Valuation Models, the digitisation of property and location-based data, and technologies such as AI and blockchain on the horizon, the administrative strain of property valuation is on a downwards trajectory.

Even the difficult task of valuing land is possible. Not only are there methods available to estimate the value of land in the absence of a deep market with many transactions, but several governments including Denmark and Estonia, as well as numerous US and Australian states, have experience of implementing land value taxes.

To be sure, radical property tax reform would bring implementation challenges. But such proposals are very much grounded in reality.

The real political issue is in truth electoral: substantive property tax reforms will create winners, yes, but a lot of losers too. But given that, eventually, tax reform will be needed both to pay off the escalating budget deficit and to address the complexity and inefficiency of the tax code, the question of winners and losers cannot be skirted indefinitely.

Analysis from the IFS lays bare the political economy of reforms to council tax, which the Treasury has allegedly got its eye on. If council tax were revalued and moved to a flat-rate, proportional system then council tax bills (assuming central government funding to local authorities was adjusted) could reduce by 20 per cent or more across much of the North, and conversely increase by a similar proportion in London and the home counties.

It is not difficult to see the political risk to the Tories of pursuing this line of reform. But this also presents political opportunities: the winners of a move to a fairer system of property taxes would comprise people in the regions paying over the odds on their council tax bill relative to those living in London and the south-east, as well as those in low value properties, who are often young and on modest incomes. Surely, these are the very people this Conservative Government purports to champion through their ‘levelling up’ agenda?

Aside from the principled argument for levelling up, if the Conservatives are to prosper in the long term then they will need to maintain their electoral coalition of voters in the red wall and shire seats; and they will need to win over young people, millions of whom would consider voting Conservative but have yet to be persuaded to do so in elections. Reforms that reduced tax bills on low-value properties and lowered the penalty on buying a house would reward the ‘just about managing’ yet deeply aspirational households that Conservatives have long sought to win over.

Evidence bears this idea out. Recent polling conducted by the Property Research Group shows that council tax is the most unpopular tax in the country: 51 per cent of people dislike or hate it. And levels of dissatisfaction are higher still in the North East, where the Tories will be hoping to consolidate their ‘Blue Wall’ ahead of the next election. In any case, roughly seven in ten around the country want to see council tax reformed to make it better reflect house prices.

Admittedly, stamp duty is potentially an easier political sell, for the simple reason that it is a ‘voluntary’ tax insofar as it is only incurred when you buy a house. Nevertheless, with the average home in England incurring £2,300 in stamp duty – £6,000 in the South East – the tax weighs heavily on purchase decisions and successfully deters many transactions. With the end of the stamp duty holiday in sight, around a third of buyers recently suggested they would pull the plug on their move if they had to pay stamp duty, with a further 43 per cent saying they would ‘most likely’ do the same. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

The economic case for comprehensive property tax reform is long-standing and crystal clear. But not enough attention is given to the political rationale for such reforms. Hopefully, with the birth of the Property Research Group, that could well be about to change.

Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield: Ministers should add legal aid to the ‘levelling up’ agenda

2 Dec

Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield is a Researcher at Bright Blue.

Perhaps over half-way through the pandemic, thoughts are turning back to the levelling up programme the Government has promised to pursue.

September saw eager Conservative MPs launch the Levelling Up Taskforce and the newly-formed Northern Research Group is putting pressure on the Government to deliver on its promise to level up the North.

But if Conservatives are serious about addressing regional inequalities across the country, then legal aid must make the cut and appear alongside transport, investment levels and R&D on the levelling up agenda.

This is vital. Austerity-era cuts and a lack of funding have created a system in which access to legal advice is highly regional. These damaging geographical inequalities now exist across England and are especially stark in the housing law practice area, and they will soon be made even starker by the effects of coronavirus.

The problem first emerged when 2012 cuts to legal aid saw the number of providers plummet, and plummet unevenly. The resulting creation of ‘legal aid deserts’ means that there are vast swathes of England and Wales where legal advice for housing issues is simply non-existent locally. These yawning gaps mean that as of 2019, 37 per cent of people in England and Wales – some 21 million people – live in a local authority area where there are no housing legal aid providers.

These figures have to be viewed in the context that housing legal aid covers the gravest problems that a tenant can face, including severe disrepair, repossession proceedings, and eviction.

Eviction is already the single biggest cause of homelessness in England and an estimated 227,000 renters have fallen into arrears since the beginning of the pandemic in March. The Government has responded to fears of a wave of pandemic-related evictions with an eviction ban that was effectively extended over the second lockdown, and by extending notice periods till March 2021.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people have already been made homeless as a result of the pandemic and sooner or later, the Government’s alleviating measures will come to an end. When they do, official forecasters have made it clear that the economic scarring of the pandemic will still be here, predicting soaring unemployment.

As harried tenants, months behind on rent with depleted savings, are eventually served eviction notices, they will need legal advice. But they may well find that a housing legal aid service simply does not exist in their area.

Busy Northern Research Group MPs may be pleased to learn that they can cross one thing off their list – when it comes to legal aid, the south trails the north. In the south west, a shocking 92 per cent of people live in a local authority with one or no provider. Cornwall must make do with a lone housing legal aid provider serving just over half a million people across an area of some 1,300 square miles.

The situation is also dire in the East of England, where 91 per cent of the population, more than five million people, live in a local authority area without a housing legal aid provider. A resident of Jaywick – named England’s most deprived area for the third time in a row last year – attempting to reach their nearest housing legal aid provider without a car, must make a two hour journey each way, taking two trains and a bus in the process.

Meanwhile, northern cities including Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield, have plenty of housing legal aid providers to go around. London stands apart as a veritable oasis, with an incredible 49 per cent of England and Wales’ housing legal aid providers concentrated in the city.

The regional disparities encapsulated in the legal aid desert phenomenon hamper the abilities of those living outside major cities to exercise their legal rights, to make good decisions, and to challenge unfair processes. This critically overlooked issue will continue to loom as the pandemic bites into next year, and more and more people face the terrifying prospect of eviction without access to solid legal advice.

For this reason, legal aid must urgently appear on the levelling up agenda, and Conservative MPs must pressure the Government on the matter, just as they do on coronavirus support measures or poor transport links.