David Cameron will announce changes to the ‘right to buy’ scheme for council house tenants, established by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was a flagship of Conservative housing policy for her government in the 1980s.
Cameron says that he wants to increase discounts offered to tenants in England who want to buy their council house. During the term of the last two Conservative Governments – Thatcher’s and Major’s – social housing stock dropped by 1.2 million units, almost twenty-five percent of the total housing stock. It has never recovered since and this has lead to excessive rents being charged in the private sector.
The ‘right to buy’ has been heavily criticised for drastically reducing the stock of social housing and causing an over-reliance on the private housing market with typical rents more than double those charged by Local Authorities. It was completely wrong to sell social housing homes for as little as one third of their market value and has lead us into the £20bn annual cost of Housing Benefit.
However, the Prime Minister, who is in Manchester for the Tory conference, will say the government’s aim is to build one new home – to be let at up to 80% of the market rent – for each property sold. What possible good will that do to the economy? The current rents charged by the free market forces of the private housing sector have driven this administration to despair. Current council house rents are set at less than half those of the private sector and a rent set at eighty percent of the current exorbitant private-sector levels will do little to see the ‘Housing Benefit Bulge’ reduced.
The Coalition government seems to be pinning much of its aspiration for boosting the economy on stimulating the construction sector. What it is doing, in reality, is preparing the social housing sector for complete privatisation, despite the fact that history has shown this blueprint to be nothing short of a disaster for the economy and too for many low-income families.