Philip Hammond should know that as long as Right to Buy exists there’s no point building affordable housing

There’s little point building affordable homes only for them to be sold off under Right to Buy at a profit when the circumstances of its owners change

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The Independent Online

If you were to help a relative to buy a car only for them to sell it on for a quick buck, you’d understandably be more than a little unhappy. 

It’s curious, then, that the Government doesn't take more flak for doing the same with the money it invests on our behalf into housing. 

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s decision to allocate more than £1bn to the provision of new affordable homes is, on the face of it, a very good thing. It might even be considered as one of the highlights of his budget. 

The deployment of new resources to tackle a social problem is something we should all welcome, and the lack of affordable housing is a pressing social problem. There is a chronic lack of provision. This can leave people in desperate circumstances. Imagine trying to bring up a family in a succession of cockroach infested B&Bs without cooking facilities. That isn’t an extreme example. It occurs with alarming regulatory in places where the housing supply is tight.

So we should be more than happy for some of the taxes we pay to be spent on providing people in situations like that with affordable accommodation. You’d have to be pretty callous not to support the idea. 

It wouldn’t be hard to make a fairly convincing case for still more to be spent. Just ask some of the housing charities. 

Hammond: We will double spending on housing

The trouble is, at least some of that money will go to waste because the Government insists on subsidising the purchase of the homes it wants to build by those whose circumstances improve to the extent that they can get mortgages to buy them under Right to Buy.

There is precious little point building new affordable homes if you give people a bung (which is what the Government does by selling them at below market rates) to take them off your hands a few years down the line. It leads to particularly perverse outcomes in parts of London. Ex council properties often end up being added to the supply of overpriced places that only bankers can afford to buy. 

Even if the proceeds from the subsidised sales are used to build new homes, it takes time for the replacements to come on stream and the overall stock of social housing doesn’t increase. 

The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have rightly abandoned the Right to Buy policy, arguing that the cost to the supply of social housing is too high to justify it. 

They’re right. Unfortunately, England is way behind when it comes to devolution, where the Conservative Party in Westminster has opted to double down on it. Former Chancellor George Osborne extended the policy to housing association tenants despite the desperate shortages that have developed. 

There is no practical justification for this. It is a Thatcherite relic, born of a desire to create “a property owning democracy” and convert a legion of tenants to the Conservative cause. 

In the midst of a housing crisis this sacred cow is ripe for the slaughter. And yet it continues to graze on, making a nonsense of the Government’s housing policy. 

You’d think Mr Hammond, who clearly wants to give the impression that he is a safe pair of hands, would realise that there’s more than enough nonsense to go around in the world at the moment.