Socialist Worker

New right to buy scheme will worsen homes crisis

The housing crisis in Britain is causing misery for millions—and it is about to get even worse as the Tories plan more sell offs, writes Annette Mackin

Issue No. 2456

Houses have been bricked up on the Cressingham Gardens estate in Brixton, south London

Houses have been bricked up on the Cressingham Gardens estate in Brixton, south London (Pic: Socialist Worker)


The Tories launched their new right to buy scheme for housing association tenants last week. 

Under Margaret Thatcher’s previous scheme only council tenants could buy their homes at a large discount. 

It was a disaster that saw the loss of 1.88 million council homes while just 345,000 were built to replace them. Now it is to be extended to 1.3 million more homes. 

Defend Council Housing chair Eileen Short told Socialist Worker, “This is the exact opposite of what needs to happen. We will end up with less homes. 

“If you look at figures for London alone, 88 percent of the housing need backlog is for affordable homes. 

“It’s not the only problem—11,000 families were evicted in England and Wales in the first three months of this year.” 

Eileen added, “The extension of right to buy is the extension of the Tory onslaught against council housing.” 

The new right to buy plans might look enticing. In London it is estimated some could save around £100,000 when buying their home. But it is a swindle. 

Money

It’s true that many will get a lump sum of money to help them buy their home. But much of the housing will be then sold on to private landlords—stripping social housing from the children of the people who first benefitted from right to buy. 

And the government will pay for the discounted selloffs by making councils flog their most valuable properties. 

Across Britain there are 11 million private renters. Some 3.3 million 20-34 year olds live with their parents due to exorbitant private rents. And there are around 1.3 million households in England on local authorities’ housing waiting lists. 

Right to buy will make this situation worse. The Tories claim every house purchased will be replaced “on a one-for-one basis” with affordable homes. 

But since 2012 only 46 percent of properties sold under recent right to buy legislation have been replaced. 

There is resistance to this crisis. Defend Council Housing along with others including the Radical Housing Network, the Unite union and Disabled People Against the Cuts have organised a housing summit. 

This will be for tenants and activists to build the fightback for rent controls and a new council housing. Eileen said, “This has to be a real fight. Councils, who will be at the frontline of the coming attacks, and trade unions have to get involved and resist. This is not a time for handwringing. 

“It will be a place for anyone who wants to fight for housing.”

Tenants and housing summit 13 June, 11am–4.30pm, central London. defendcouncilhousing.org.uk

Rich gain from sell offs

The Tories are keen to paint the latest right to buy scheme as a boost for poor people to own their own home.

But this is a lie. Look at who has benefitted from the first scheme set up by Thatcher.

A third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s are now owned by private landlords. In Wandsworth, south London, of 15,874 homes acquired under right to buy some 6,180 are owned by private landlords -  nearly 40 percent of dwellings.

The scheme has worked out well for tycoon Charles Gow and his wife Karin. In Putney, south west London, they own 40 ex-council flats on one estate. 

Charles’ father Ian Gow was Tory housing minister at the peak of Thatcher’s right to buy scheme. It is estimated the Gows’ properties could be worth up to £10 million.

Some 30 years after right to buy was introduced, it is clear that one generation has benefitted—and it’s not poor families stuck on an ever growing waiting list.


‘Let’s step up the fight’

Liz Kitching is an activist with Hands Off Our Homes in Leeds, South Yorkshire. She is also a tenant who has been hit by the hated bedroom tax. 

She told Socialist Worker, “The extension of right to buy is an assault on us all. 

“It’s an attack on the idea of publicly owned and democratically controlled housing. 

“It is an appalling idea—especially as the bedroom tax looks like it will be extended. There aren’t any suitable homes for people to be rehoused in as it is.” 

The Tories also used the Queen’s Speech to signal a further assault on benefits. 

Liz said this will also make the housing crisis sharper for poor people. “The Tories want to make housing benefit even more stringent. They are planning to attack discretionary housing payments. This can help cover the cost of the bedroom tax.  

“We know it is going to be reduced, and we know this will hit poor people hard.”

Liz urged activists to attend the housing summit. 

She said, “We will be coming down from Leeds, where we’ve been having monthly meetings.

“We have to step up the fight. We have to organise to take on the Tories and make this parliament extremely difficult for them.”


Homelessness crisis deepens

Official homeless figures in London have risen 79 percent under the Tories—outside London the increase was 14 percent.

Homelessness charity Crisis says, “Welfare reform, benefit cuts and a chronic shortage of affordable homes mean more and more people are coming to their council as homeless.”


Refusing to assist evictions

Firefighters in the FBU union unanimously voted to refuse to assist in evictions at their conference last month.

A motion was put by Merseyside FBU which condemned police and non-union firefighters’ storming and clearing an occupied former bank.

It said firefighters should “collectively resist by all means any instruction to participate in similar evictions”.


Rough sleepers using caves

A homeless woman fell 30 foot down an embankment in Merseyside and broke her spine after seeking shelter in caves.

The caves are being used by homeless people regularly, despite the danger of gaining access to them.


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