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Right to Buy isn't aspirational, it's a club that is battering Britain’s needy

It is a policy out of touch with modern reality, as the Scots and, perhaps, the Welsh, have increasingly come to realise

James Moore
Thursday 22 January 2015 17:58 GMT
Margaret Thatcher introduced the Right to Buy scheme in 1979
Margaret Thatcher introduced the Right to Buy scheme in 1979 (Keystone /Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

One of Thatcherism’s sacred cows is being prepared for slaughter, at least in Wales.

If Labour win the next election, to the principality’s devolved Assembly it has pledged to abolish the Right to Buy scheme that played a major role in ushering in 13 years of Conservative hegemony in 1979.

Millions of people who might never have been able to afford to buy their homes used it to join the late Lady Thatcher’s vision of a property owning democracy. It was a hugely popular measure upon its introduction, and was seen as aspirational, even progressive.

However, times change, and with a chronic housing shortage affecting large parts of the country, it is increasingly exacerbating a real crisis.

That shortage of affordable homes extends beyond London and the prosperous South East as can be seen in the fact that in part of Wales - Camarthanshire - Right to Buy has been already been suspended.

Announcing its decision, the council pointed out that it had 16,000 homes in 1980 compared with 9,000 today. Hence the need to avoid losing any more.

In England the situation is somewhat different. Councils are once again being encouraged to build. Recent reports have even suggested that the Treasury plans to encourage many more to form their own housing development companies.

However, according to Construction News, the majority of those slated to be built by those owned by the four local authorities that have already taken the step are set for private rent and not for the social housing sector where the need for new homes is most pressing.

Enthusiasm for right to buy remains far higher in England (where subsidies under Right to Buy can reach £75,000) than in Wales (where they have been cut to £16,000 ), and even if a wave of new council owned companies ear-marked all their produce for social housing under council ownership, the danger is that you simply end up creating a case of two steps forward, two steps back with one home moving into the private sector for every new one built.

In the meantime we are left with the perverse situation in London of the scheme providing a lottery win for those in the right postcode, with many of the flats or houses bought by council tenants either being sold to private landlords or rented out by the proud new owners themselves.

And all the while waiting lists grow, and resentment builds. It was (the lack of) access to council housing that, in part, fuelled the rise of the extreme right in Dagenham a few years ago. And when even a wheelchair using Paralympian (David Weir) can’t secure a home with a downstairs bathroom (it was only resolved after a media outcry) it’s clear that the problem is getting worse.

Increasing numbers of people in desperate need are being left bereft, forced to live with parents, or on floors, or on the street.

Right to Buy, far from being aspirational, is now serving as a club that is battering Britain’s needy.

So it isn’t anti-aspirational to stand in opposition to it, as one Welsh Conservative has suggested. Because quite simply, it is a policy out of touch with modern reality, as the Scots and, perhaps, the Welsh, have increasingly come to realise.

Just not the English. That needs to change. Fine, if you want to re-heat the programme at a later date when the situation changes, do so. Suspend it. Call it temporary if you like. You could even allow places where need is less pressing to carry on.

But in the midst of a housing crisis that seems to be getting worse by the day the Government of the Union’s largest component needs to follow the example of its Celtic neighbours.

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