Following the 2010 General Election the Conservatives reinvigorated the Right to Buy scheme which had originally been instituted by Margaret Thatcher. The issue of Right to Buy has always been a contentious issue, not so much the principle of council residents buying their own homes but what would happen to the money raised from these sales. In the 1980s critics of the scheme said that the money generated from the sale of council houses wasn’t reinvested in building new council homes. Now the 21st Century incarnation of this policy is accurately receiving the same criticisms.
In 2012 the Conservative-led Coalition government reinstituted a policy that was popular when it was first instituted by Thatcher: Right to Buy. The principle is well known: letting residents of council homes buy their homes from the local authority. Many on the Left don’t hold my view that private property shouldn’t exist and therefore have nothing against the theoretical principle of the scheme, but do oppose this policy. The reason behind this opposition is that the money from these sales often is not used to replenished the council’s housing stock. This opposition is not a theoretical fear, as the reason that the policy was stopped was for the collapse in councils’ housing stock.
Despite the protestations of the Left, the Tories did reinstitute this policy ad council once again selling their houses. A new report from the housing charity Shelter has harshly criticised this policy for exactly the same reason. The Tories are making the same mistake as they did under Thatcher, and it is having real world consequences.
The Shelter report I mentioned above is scathing, not because of the tone but because of one statistic. Since 2012 Shelter discovered that 38,479 council homes have been sold and only 4,594 have been built. This is not acceptable. This policy needs to be scrapped because it is decimating housing stock and only exacerbating the country’s existing housing crisis.
The reason for this disparity between sales and investment is because of one important aspect of the policy. Of the revenue gained from the sales of council houses, councils receive just one third. Because of this gap councils have less money to invest in new council homes and Westminster is refusing to allow councils to keep all of the revenues. This aspect of the policy results in Conservatives in local governments uniting with us on the Left.
Right to Buy needs to end so that councils’ housing levels are not continually decimated. Britain needs to invest in housing, not institute policies that make the problem worse. Homelessness has already risen as a consequence of cuts to welfare payments and social services, and these people will not be moved out of this unfortunate position if housing stocks are not rising. Young people looking to get into affordable housing and people on low incomes will not be able to improve their economic situation if the current housing shortage continues.
The Tories are trying to portray themselves as the ‘party of aspiration’ and often point to this policy as evidence of it. The grand irony is that they are actually keeping people down by continuing Right to Buy. Labour, if in power, must stop this policy, and propose a bold stimulus into building council homes across the country. A housing bubble will not be created because land valuation and speculation would not have increased, and if councils are given the powers to confiscate land from developers that do not build housing such speculation will decline. We must act to stop the Tories, and a way to do this is to share Shelter’s findings with as many people as possible.