Friday, May 25, 2012

Right to Buy: the wrong policy then, the wrong policy now

It is perhaps in the nature of a government that it is schizophrenic. Indeed, it might be a virtue for a government to appear so, allowing differing audiences to take away different messages. That a coalition government should veer between the progressive and the reactionary is not surprising. But what continually fascinates me is how Mr Cameron, the Witney Wonder, wanders between wanting to shake off the Conservatives' 'nasty party' label and then promotes a return to those Thatcherite policies that won them the title in the first place. One such policy is, of course, Right to Buy.
We know well the rhetoric of home ownership that was used to justify it; we also know -- in a city like Oxford with a chronic housing shortage, we are acutely aware -- of the reality of the loss of social housing. We also know of the scams that were created, with speculators conning tenants into using RtB only to find they were passing on the house to a money-making landlord; and we know about the individual tragedies of repossessions and of homelessness.
But the government consulted and then came up with its revision of the scheme for Right to Buy reborn. Did the Conservatives listen? The increasing of the possible discount to a single national cap of £75,000 suggests not, to put it mildly. Of course, it might be argued that, if the proceeds from each sale could ensure an equivalent amount of social housing was built in the same area, then the policy could meet both individuals' desire to buy a property and the wider social need to have housing for all. Our Liberal Democrat colleagues in government have at least fought the corner to achieve recognition of that. But it seems as if the Conservatives still don't get it. Even on a quick glance, the numbers don't look as if they will stake up: the proportion of income coming back to councils, plus the requirement that the receipts fund only 30% of the cost of replacement homes, will make it hard for councils to have the finance to replenish the stock, even if land could be found within the authority's boundaries. The reactionaries will shrug their shoulders at that, but for the progressives it means this policy continues to be the wrong one, now as then.

There is a useful briefing, released today, on RtB policy available from the LGIU .

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