In the fight against the housing crisis, some things are more obvious than others.
I have never thought (even when it seemed to be working) that selling off Council Housing was a good idea. In the present crisis it seems like madness. Yet this government, far from looking to stop it, wants to take things further!
Why? What possible arguments could there be in its favour?
The Pros and Cons of ‘right to buy’
When researching for this post I came across this article in the Guardian, written in 2002, which sets out the pros and cons of right to buy.
Here is a brief summary:
The pros of right to buy
- It allows people who would normally never be able to afford to buy property to do so
- Owning property gives people financial security
- Owning your own home is no longer the preserve of the middle and upper classes
- It gives people something to show after years of paying rent
- It gives people something they can pass on to their children
- The equity in the property can be used for the cost of care when owners become old
- Having a mixture of owner occupiers and rented accommodation helps create a mixed communities
- The presence of economically active households reduces the social exclusion of an area
- If you own your own property you are more likely to look after it and your local community (and less likely to trash it).
The cons of right to buy
- It has reduced the amount of social housing as Councils have not been able to build or buy new properties to replace those sold
- The right to buy created social housing deficit which is particularly acute in areas of greatest housing need – such as London and rural areas
- Council housing was built to benefit the community not individual families – it is unfair that certain people have made a financial gain out of what is a social asset
- Former Council homes can prove difficult to sell
- The system is open to abuse with private property companies often profiting from scams
- People who cannot afford to buy their council house are further marginalised
- Local Authorities have suffered with all the good properties cherry picked leaving them to manage the worst properties no-one wants to buy
- Major repair programmes are more difficult on blocks where there have been a large proportion of right-to-buy homes and Councils are often unable to recover the cost from right to buy owners.
That article was written in 2002, fifteen years ago.
The picture today
Most of the points made by the Guardian in their article still apply today. However we also have a major shortage of affordable housing which in no small part is due to the sell off of much of our social housing stock.
In the light of this it seems increasingly unfair that a few families are able to benefit from buying their Council home.
Speaking personally – I am very happy for my taxes to be spent building houses so desperate families to have somewhere to live.
However I am not at all happy about those families then being given a windfall of up to £100,000 or so under the right to buy. Whats fair about that? They are already jolly lucky to have a Council house in the first place! Bearing in mind the huge waiting lists.
The fact that those on the waiting lists will have to wait longer and longer as more and more properties are sold off and therefore removed from the pool of available Council housing makes it even more unfair..
Here are a few more points:
- Councils are unable to use the right to buy proceeds of sale to build new houses (I don’t know the financial details but I understand most if not all of the money goes to the Treasury)
- Reports have shown that 40% of right to buy homes end up in the hands of private landlords
- If these are let to tenants on benefit, then public money is going to enrich private landlords rather than going back to the Councils, plus
- The private rents will be higher than the rent would have been had the property still been a Council property
- Councils still have a duty to re-house families in ‘priority need’ but no longer have homes to put them in.
In view of all this, surely it is obvious that we should stop Council House sales NOW. Not extend it to Housing Associations.
Stopping council house sales is the ‘low hanging fruit’ contribution to the solution of the housing crisis. They have stopped it in Scotland. They are stopping it in Wales.
Only in England is it remaining and being extended. Right to buy seems to be a sacred cow which Tory orthodoxy considers an essential good. But it isn’t. Indeed it is arguable that removing the right to buy is an essential part of solving the housing crisis.
While the Conservatives are in power this policy will probably only be changed if it is shown to be really, really unpopular.
At the moment we can only assume that Conservative MPs see Council house sales through rose-tinted spectacles showing grateful former Labour voters turning into Tories.
So probably the best thing to do is to make it clear to your MP (if Tory) that you really, really object to selling off Council House stock (and are even more opposed to the selling of Housing Association stock) and that if this practice is not stopped it will incline you to vote Labour.
There is also signing a petition. However, I have not been able to find any against Council sales per se – if you decide to start one let me know and I will link to it here.