Right to buy: the Tories continue their campaign to erode the welfare state

The Tories seek to revisit Thatcher's legacy with a policy that will promote social cleansing


The launch of Labour’s manifesto yesterday revealed plenty of initiatives to confront the UK’s growing housing crisis. The manifesto stresses doubling the number of homes to be built annually to 200,000; meanwhile the Tories have announced today the extension of the right-to-buy to housing associations.

The clear dividing line between the parties is Labour’s intention to expand housing supply and extend fairness, while the Tories obsess about dwindling home ownership and seek to revisit their Thatcherite legacy.

Extending the right-to-buy to the country’s 2,000 charitable housing associations, which manage around 2.5m social homes, or around 60 per cent of the total, will confirm the Tories’ aim of furthering the demise of social housing. It will be a part of a wider Tory erosion of the welfare state.

Despite Cameron’s promises to replace social housing sold under the right-to-buy on a one-for-one basis, barely one quarter of those sold since 2011 have been replaced so far.

The extension of the right-to-buy will see thousands of housing association tenants a year take up a discount that will be capped at £103,000 in London and £77,000 for the rest of England.

Looking back over the lifetime of the right-to-buy from 1980 shows that one third of ex-council homes are now in the hands of private landlords who are able to charge much higher rents, often supported by housing benefit, than the former social rents. Coincidentally, more than one quarter of Tory MPs are private landlords.

A further depletion of the social housing stock will be achieved by local councils’ being legally required to sell the most valuable and desirable 210,000 properties from their remaining housing stock. The £4.1bn generated will be used to provide cheaper social homes. So the ‘best’ council homes will be sold leaving social housing as a residual sector just for the poor. London is likely to see further social cleansing.

In contrast, Labour’s emerging housing policy seeks to enact the Lyons review, increase supply and embed fairness. Labour will create a Future Homes Fund by ensuring cash in Help to Buy ISAs is invested in new housing supply. Developers will be required to release land for house building in a new ‘use it or lose it’ powers to be given to local authorities. And smaller builders will be supported to increase competition in the house building industry.

Alongside, local councils will have to prioritise capital investment in housing and council housing financing will be reformed. Councils will be empowered to bring some of the 610,000 empty homes in England back into productive use.

The private rented sector will be reformed with minimum three-year tenancies becoming the ‘norm’ and a rent rise ceiling will be imposed. Councils will be able to negotiate rent reductions on behalf of tenants claiming housing benefit, with savings re-invested in new homes. And a national register of private landlords will be compiled, and a ban will come into effect on excessive letting agent fees.

On benefits, the bedroom tax will be abolished and a review of universal credit to check its affordability and viability will be undertaken. The total household benefit cap will be retained but the Social Security Advisory Committee will be tasked with exploring if it should be lower in some areas. Labour will also tackle the causes of homelessness and rough sleeping.

Finally, a new generation of garden cities will form part of the 200,000 new homes envisaged every year.

Kevin Gulliver is director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research. He writes in a personal capacity

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24 Responses to “Right to buy: the Tories continue their campaign to erode the welfare state”

  1. GTE

    You can’t have the poor getting rich can we. Then you’d be out of a job.

    So keep the boot on the neck of the poor, then you can winge about the inequality that your policies have caused.

  2. TN

    No, it gives aspirational working class households/families an opportunity to own their own homes.

  3. Asteri

    Thatcher’s policy created the modern problem of private slum landlords and turning of some of the nicer estates in luxury yuppy flats like the ones in Peckham and Brixton, all under that banal claim of “aspirational working class households/families”, instead the last 30 years has created a huge underclass – not an aspirational working class. No wonder that the poor are being forced out of london and young people can never afford to move out. Never has a policy proven more that the Tories have total contempt for the people of this country and are a party of oligarchy and corporate cronyism.

  4. AlanGiles

    It is an extremely grave mistake to start selling off Housing Asscn stock, because it will just repeat the problems caused by the sale of council homes in the early 80s. It really needs to be stopped.


    I live in a former council home and the son of the original tenant bought it for her knowing when she snuffed it he would make a small fortune and did. Unfortunately I had to leave my council home because the council allowed drug addicts and criminals into our scheme supposedly to rehabiitate them. Housebreaking became the norm and the area became a shit heap in a short period. My attitude towards the so called human race has changed. Glasgow City Council were neglegent however Gordon Brown cleared the housing debt and the housing transferred over to the GHA. I bit too late for me though.

  6. jayaston

    ***A further depletion of the social housing stock will be achieved by
    local councils’ being legally required to sell the most valuable and
    desirable 210,000 properties from their remaining housing stock**

    Wow. This is extremely worrying, especially for people in London, where many council properties have a high value. Where will all the current tenants be displaced to?

  7. Politics & Society

    Did you read the article? Or did you skim it tutting throughout because it doesn’t fit with the preconceived ideas that you have? Try reading it again with an open mind and then see how your comment doesn’t fit. I don’t mean to sound condescending, apologies if I do! I’d love to get in your head while you read the article, see which parts you ignore and how it would be completely pointless for you to read it because the comment you’ve left is exactly what you were thinking before you read it. Pretty much conservative thinking in a nutshell, ignore evidence and stick to the beliefs you hold, never changing your mind inspite of all the evidence against. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, nothing shameful in changing your mind, in-fact it’s a good thing, it’s how we should all be, it’s how society moves on and progresses! It’s essential to our existence.

  8. Chris Kitcher

    So we give away more housing which like the 30% of Thatchers give away now rests in the hands of rich “buy to let” landlords. Fuck all to do with reducing inequality just feeding Tory greed.

  9. 2catlady

    What I don’t get is how they will be able to make charities sell their houses/flats. Will this be some sort of compulsory purchase scheme? Also, it they do this will it put at risk other charity assets? RSPCA kennels, Age Concern day centres, church halls…

  10. sarntcrip


  11. sarntcrip

    they can’t it’s another tory con

  12. sarntcrip

    wow you are right there has already been social cleansing in boroughs like barnet where council estates have been sold or threatened with sale to developers for gated community style exclusive luxury housing it is utterly wrong and could yet herald the return of cardboard cities if the current right wing junta are returned to power

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    You’re wrong. The government can order it.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    I’m betting on “The Tories don’t care”.

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    By changing the law. It’s exactly a compulsory purchase scheme, and it does indicate nothing is safe.

  16. Guest

    Yes, thanks for your plan, as you complain about anything checking lower inequality, as you blame than for…inequality. RIght.

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    Of course, modern Labour share the conservative mindset.

  18. Politics & Society

    Labour are better under Mili than Blair though!

  19. Leon Wolfeson

    They moved right, so I can’t agree.


    Leon you are right the law is the law. I am surprised at the silence in London about those tenants that are being moved out. It is not ethnic cleansing but just economic cleansing. I have watching on the telly that londoners are being offered alternative housing in other towns where rent is lower. Is this true?

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes. I live in Barnet, and it’s absolutely going on here – I’ve spoken to people who have been made the offer.

  22. treborc1

    Ball’s now backs it saying great idea so long as we build more.

  23. Guest

    Yes, you were allowed there, right. And I don’t see you nice today…change, right.

  24. Harold

    what a strange view? Why not allow the poor to get wealthy? The minimum wage and then moving on to better paid jobs has been one of the best ways of getting working people a better share of the rewards of work. I recall many “poor” who and a real and substantial pay rise when the minimum wage came in, I also recall my local MP was strongly against it, which I think echo’s your point. Regardless of the rights or wrongs under Blair and Brown real wages grew by about 5% in the last five years any growth has been small and not evenly spread. Though I do think this new “Right to buy” will eventually create more poor people then reward them, Council housing many many years ago was many peoples first home, near work and which they could afford, I know people who now rent ex-council houses from private landlords at about 20% above what the LHA charges, this is made up by claiming in work housing benefit. Our local Council owns no housing stock as it was all given to a Housing Association which went bust and is now owned by a better run LHA.

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