It’s time to rid ourselves of Right to Buy.
I can remember the applause that welcomed the Thatcherite policy of Right to Buy throughout the land, even by some on the left of British politics.
This was the flagstone of the Conservative dream of a property-owning, shareholding, individualist democracy – a society where your house was your castle.
It was followed by giving workers free shares in their newly privatised industries. Public assets, such as water, energy, public transport and telecommunications, were offered up and sold to the market.
The sell-off of profitable public assets was justified by the performance of the lame duck heavy industries that had drained the nation’s finances in the 1970s.
Public unease was sated by the issuing of paltry handouts in the form of shares and tax cuts, which in the scheme of things were, in hindsight, little more than crumbs from the institutional investors’ tables.
Each worker owning their own home and owning a stake in their workplace: the stage was set for the creation of a mythical land to rival Shangri La.
A generation down the line and much of the dream has turned into a nightmare. The loss of these public assets has had a deeply profound impact, with rising utility bills, fares and rents.
Today’s crises were well prophesised – prophecies that sadly have been proven right.
Millions of public homes were sold off and taken out of the social rented sector altogether, with up to two-thirds of them now in the private rented sector.
London is an often-cited example of a chronic lack of affordable housing. But up and down these lands and islands, every community struggles to offer sufficient affordable housing, from the smallest hamlets to the largest cities. Demand has soared and millions are now unable to afford the crippling private rents being charged.
“No government of any political colour has had the backbone to stand up and admit Right to Buy was an abject failure”
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence that rent subsidy is far more inefficient than subsidising building, we spend tens of billions of pounds on housing benefit to shore up the private rented sector.
Even when people’s pockets are (just about) deep enough to pay their rents, they are often forced to live in appalling conditions.
For those unable to afford private rents or access social housing, a grave choice awaits them. Too many people die on our streets every year – deaths that are entirely avoidable. That human cost is the real legacy of what I consider to be the biggest single act of economic and social self-harm inflicted on this nation.
We have systematically failed to replace the homes lost to the public rented sector. No government of any political colour has had the backbone to stand up and admit Right to Buy was an abject failure, let alone set about building homes to replace those lost.
As a result, we are now in the midst of the biggest housing crisis ever to face this country.
It’s true that the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have now done something about Right to Buy. Commendable as the abolition is, it took 20 long years of deliberating on the matter before they did something about it. During this time, the damage continued to be inflicted on our people, with young people suffering disproportionately. Scotland is missing half a million public homes – building 35,000 homes for social rent over five years is merely tinkering at the edges. All the while, waiting lists grow and private rents rise as demand soars.
We haven’t got the right homes in the right places to house our people. Children live in overcrowded conditions that will affect their education and therefore their futures. People can’t afford to pay their rent, so families leave bills unpaid and miss meals.
“It doesn’t have to be like this. So, like so many other housing professionals, I demand the total end of Right to Buy in every part of this country”
It doesn’t have to be like this. So, like so many other housing professionals, I demand the total end of Right to Buy in every part of this country.
I call for a social housing building programme that will dwarf the achievements of the late great John Wheatley.
Most of all, I demand good quality, affordable homes for every person in this country as a right of residence. I know and those reading this know we can do this. Too much is at risk if we don’t.