Here’s why it isn’t ‘Right to Buy’ the UK’s diminishing stock of social housing

Headcase in a hard hat: you can be sure the houses Johnson was helping – if you can call it that – to build weren’t publicly-owned.

I just heard a cautionary tale about a family who had a disabled child.

This youngster needed a lot of extra attention and help, so the family needed to be close to what might nowadays be called their “support network” – family members and friends able to help out.

Fortunately, they were able to rent a council house exactly where they needed it.

All was well for some time – until Margaret Thatcher introduced her “Right to Buy” scheme that allowed tenants to purchase their council houses, taking out mortgages on them. The houses lost to the private sector in this way were not replaced.

The family in my story took advantage of the offer and bought their home.

And then the child’s father lost his job.

The family became unable to keep up payments on the mortgage and the lender foreclosed. They lost their home – and were rehoused a considerable distance away, meaning they also lost the “support network” on which they had come to rely.

Nobody bought the now-empty former council house – not for a number of years anyway, and certainly not to the knowledge of the person who told me this tale.

So, as a result of Thatcher’s “Right to Buy” scheme, a family lost their home and it went empty – and this was not a unique situation. Homelessness increased exponentially under Thatcher, and this was a major contributor.

I mention all this by way of introduction. Now let me direct you to an article by the I newspaper’s housing correspondent Vicky Spratt (link below), arguing strongly against Boris Johnson’s plan to revive the “Right to Buy”.

It’s a long read, which I strongly advise you to take the time to absorb. One significant point is that failure to provide good-quality social housing leads to the spread of disease, and private landlords will never be able to provide the quantity or quality of homes people need.

But I’ll cut to the chase. Her verdict on social housing is as follows:

Social housing was a national asset, both because it was state-owned and because it benefited society, empowering people with secure, healthy homes.

Social housing allows people not merely to survive but to build their lives.

On “Right to Buy”:

The problem is that it enabled the transfer of social housing – and the rental income it generates – from local authorities to private landlords, who can charge renters as much as they like. Between 1980 and 2015, it resulted in the sale of more than 2.8 million dwellings. In the same period, we did not come close to replacing these with new social housing.

Jim Strang, former president of the Chartered Institute of Housing, wrote in 2019 that this made it “the biggest act of economic and social self-harm ever inflicted on this nation”.

Who has benefitted most from the policy over the decades? Right to Buy homeowners turned private landlords, and investors who bought up former social homes to rent out. Right to Buy became Right to Buy-to-let.

Hundreds of private landlords now own five or more Right to Buy properties; they are hoarding them and it’s good business. This means that Government pays significantly more in Housing Benefit than they would have if they had kept council properties in state ownership – and it is going straight into the pockets of private landlords. It has become a state subsidy to private landlords.

Delivered through Universal Credit, Housing Benefit is calculated through the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). In his 2010 austerity budget, Osborne announced that he would cut LHA from covering the lowest half of rents in any given area to the lowest third. He also made it impossible for single people under 35 to get Housing Benefit for a place of their own, thinking this would encourage people to look for cheaper properties. In 2016, the Government announced a four-year freeze in LHA.

But rents kept rising, causing low-income renters to have to choose between eating and paying their rent. It forced many out of their homes. And none of Mr Osborne’s cuts reduced the amount that private renters had to pay their landlords – they simply took cash out of renters’ pockets. The private rental market was out of control, with both rising house prices and the social housing shortage enabling it.

Ms Spratt’s comments on the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic – and Rishi Sunak’s pathetic offer to tenants – are also well worth noting.

And on Johnson’s new plan, she says:

His policy unit, led by Andrew Griffith, is beginning to examine how up to 2.5 million households – or five million people – who rent from housing associations could be allowed to buy their homes at a discount of up to 70 per cent. Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said the “hare-brained idea” is “the opposite of what the country needs”.

But Boris Johnson has always been about doing “the opposite of what the country needs”. Look at Brexit. Look at his overall response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the thousands of people who died needlessly. Look at his lawbreaking and his lies.

He wants to help private landlords buy up more of the social housing stock because it will put millions more people into housing insecurity; because it will force more of you to have to choose between eating and paying the rent; because it will make more of you homeless.

What do you think of that?

Source: Social housing saved my grandparents in 1956, but Right to Buy has betrayed today’s young families

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4 thoughts on “Here’s why it isn’t ‘Right to Buy’ the UK’s diminishing stock of social housing

  1. jake

    I see the problem…but it wouldn’t be a problem if they built/ replaced, ideally aiming for between 10-20% above what they lose to right to buy… would also keep the construction companies going, expand them, more money circulating economy…multiplier effect. With everything else ‘subdued’ atm this would be a great way to get things going again….imho….and this from somebody who was illegally denied right to buy my poxy little flat from 2002 until 2006….they’ve been using the whole place as a film set, until they finally got around to refurbishing them. Last shown on Dr Who….

  2. Jon Lisle-Summers

    Did you realise that the Thatcherists also banned LAs from using the proceeds of RTB sales to build new accommodation?

  3. El Dee

    I’m not sure about the situation in Wales but Scotland has now ended the Right to Buy to ensure that social housing is not further decreased. I’ve seen so many social housing areas, nice places, being snapped up by dodgy landlords when the elderly original purchasers died. These have gone from decent areas to ill kept and high turnover.

    If this isn’t done nationally then we’ll end up with the situation that the US has where rdinary working people can hardly afford their rent. This on top of the high cost of fuel/heating/petrol/food will see even MORE people in poverty and many more on the streets – like the US..

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