David Cameron will try to extend the Conservatives’ appeal and transform their image as the “party of the rich” by promising to allow 1.3m families in social housing to buy their homes.
Launching the Tories’ election manifesto, the Prime Minister will claim that they are “the party of working people” as he pledges to extend to housing association tenants Margaret Thatcher’s landmark policy to allow council tenants to buy their homes at huge discounts.
The new giveaway would be funded by forcing local authorities to sell off their most expensive housing when it becomes vacant to raise £4.5bn a year. Although some experts worry that the social housing stock would be reduced by extending the right to buy, the Tories insist they would ensure “one-for-one replacement”.
A Tory government would ensure that councils built 400,000 new homes over five years through a £1bn new fund to unlock brownfield land. Local authorities would submit projects to clean up derelict or contaminated sites.
With the opinion polls neck and neck, the Tories will use their manifesto to reach out beyond their core vote by appealing to low income groups. They may try to outflank Labour on the national minimum wage, which Ed Miliband pledged yesterday to raise to more than £8 an hour by 2019. The Tories have already said they would ensure that workers on the minimum wage would not pay income tax by 2020, by raising the personal tax allowance to £12,500 by then. But they may go further in today’s manifesto.
After criticism that the Tory campaign lacks passion, Mr Cameron will invoke the memory of Margaret Thatcher by saying the right to by extension would mean “a new generation [being] given the security of a home of their own. So this generation of Conservatives can proudly say it: the dream of a property-owning democracy is alive – and we will fulfil it.” He will add: “We are the party of working people, offering you security at every stage of your life.”
Under the existing scheme, people who have been council tenants for more than five years can buy their home. Tenants in houses get a 35 per cent discount, increasing by 1 per cent for every extra year they have been a public sector tenant. Tenants in flats get a 50 per cent discount, rising by 2 per cent every year. Discounts for houses and flats are currently capped at the lower of 70 per cent or £102,700 in London and £77,000 in the rest of England.
About 800,000 housing association tenants have a limited “right to acquire” but the maximum discounts is between £9,000 to £16,000, so most cannot afford to buy and sales are low. Under the Tory plan, they would get the full discount.
Local authorities would be ordered to sell off expensive properties ranking among the most expensive third of all homes of that type in their area - including private housing --and replace them with new affordable housing. But this would happen only as they fall vacant and nobody would be forced to move. More than 210,000 local authority properties meet these criteria --5.2 per cent of all affordable housing in England. About 15,000 homes would be sold each year.
Ruth Davison, director of policy and external affairs at the National Housing Federation, said last night: “We fully support the aspiration of home ownership, but extending right to buy to housing associations is the wrong solution to our housing crisis. Following 40 years of successive governments’ failure to build the homes the country needs, soaring rents and house prices and the biggest baby boom since the 1950s, ensuring that there enough homes today and tomorrow must be our nation’s top priority.”
She added: “These are people already living in good secure homes on some of the country’s cheapest rents. It won’t help the millions of people in private rented homes who are desperate to buy but have no hope of doing so, nor the three million adult children living with their parents because they can’t afford to rent or buy. To use their taxes to gift as much as £100,000 to someone already living in a good quality home is deeply unfair.”
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