Article @ Left Foot Forward, published 11 June 2018
News that the Right to Buy scheme is doomed to failed in the coming five years did not come as a surprise to anyone fighting for affordable housing in Britain. But the Tories’ contempt for working people’s lives is a travesty nonetheless.
A report by the Local Government Association (LGA) revealed today how councils’ ability to replace social homes sold under the Right to Buy programme will soon be over.
The umbrella group for local authorities in England and Wales commissioned a study on how the scheme, coupled with restrictions on councils’ ability to borrow to build new homes, is affecting social housing stocks. And the findings were alarming.
In the last six years, over 60,000 homes were sold under the Right to Buy programme, which allows social tenants to buy their homes from the council at a discounted rate. But with councils only allowed to keep a third of each Right to Buy receipt to build replacement homes, the social housing stock has dwindled to near-extinction.
Profits from the 60,000 homes sold left local authorities with just enough money to build or buy 14,000 new ones. Two thirds of English and Welsh councils will be left with no option but to give up on replacing the sold off homes within the next five years.
By the LGA’s own calculations, if the average British family is now 2.4 big, then councils have by now lost the capacity to home the equivalent of Lincoln’s entire population.
Commenting on the data, Tory councillor Martin Tett, spokesman for the LGA, said:
“Councils urgently need funding to support the replacement of homes sold off under the scheme, or there’s a real chance they could be all but eliminated. Without a pipeline of new homes, future generations cannot benefit from the scheme.
“Councils are closest to their communities and it’s essential this money is reinvested in homes in those areas so our residents can access secure, affordable housing. This money is badly needed to deliver homes for our residents – instead of resting in an account in Whitehall, it should be sent back to where it belongs.”
The Right to Buy scheme was first introduced nationally by Margaret Thatcher in 1979. It was resurrected by her fellow Conservative leader, and then prime minister, David Cameron in 2011, with increased home buying discounts. The policy was heralded by Conservative supporters as the jewel in Cameron’s New Tory crown, despite several warnings from social housing professionals.
But is it that surprising that the scheme is now proving a massive washout?
Right to Buy came at a time when local authorities were increasingly being encouraged to transfer social housing building responsibilities onto private providers. Housing associations mushroomed under this environment, replacing more and more a local authorities’ affordable housing provision duty.
A 2015 decision to classify housing associations as public sector enterprises was neatly reversed last year under the direction of then communities secretary Sajid Javid.
The now Home Secretary said at the time:
“Freed from the shackles of public sector bureaucracy, (housing) associations will be able to concentrate on their core, crucial mission – building homes.”
That, of course, did not happen in the bountiful way we were promised.
What did happen was a direct transfer of social housing stock onto private hands. First via the Right to Buy scheme, and then by drying up social housing replenishment through a series of policies that either transferred home building duties from public to private interests, or shackled local authorities, removing their power to build new houses.
Homelessness and exorbitant housing costs have to be solved with a injection of funds into social housing building that is under the control and which benefits local authorities and their constituents’ needs. Homelessness and exorbitant housing costs will not be solved by the Right to Buy scheme.
But then again that was clearly never the point.