An extension of Right to Buy will segregate communities, especially in London
The Tory manifesto launch has put housing centre-stage.
But while Labour’s manifesto includes a pledge to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020 and a roadmap to get there, the Tories’ headline policy is little more than an ill-conceived ploy to win a few votes at the cost of social housing.
The policy would extend right-to-buy to housing association properties, allowing those tenants the same deep discounts currently available to those who live in council-owned properties.
The result will be a further haemorrhaging of social housing, putting the promise of a secure place to raise their families even further out of the reach of low income workers.
London is going to take more than its fair share of the hit. A third of all right-to-buy sales are already in the capital. We can’t afford to lose even more of our social housing.
The Tories claim that homes lost to this new breed of right-to-buy will be replaced. But they’ve made that promise before, and it’s been revealed as a farce. Since the government increased the discount for council housing right-to-buy in 2012, nearly 26,000 social homes have been lost – only 2,700 have been replaced.
To make matters worse, the Conservatives also plan to force councils to liquidate about 5 per cent of their high-value council stock. This will segregate London further as the remaining council housing will be in polarised communities where the values are not so high. This is a hammer blow to the mixed communities that have become a hallmark of London.
The loss of social housing has damaging implications for people in all sectors. It makes it less likely that the hundreds of thousands on housing waiting lists will be given a place in social housing. That drives them into the private rented sector, where unscrupulous landlords who know the government will foot much of the bill through housing benefit drive up the rents.
That makes it even more expensive for those who do not receive housing benefit to find a decent home at a decent cost in the private rented sector, and those that do are unable to save up to afford a deposit to eventually buy their home as more and more of their income is spent on rent.
This announcement is no surprise – it is simply a continuation of the Conservatives’ systematic dismantling of social housing. They took away housing association grant. They forced providers to charge so-called Affordable Rent at up to 80 per cent of market rate, which is anything but affordable to Londoners on low and even middle incomes. The Tories don’t believe in the principle of social housing.
But we do. At a time when the average house price in London has topped half a million pounds, Labour realises that without social housing many Londoners will be left with the choice between squeezing into sub-standard private accommodation or moving out of the capital altogether. This is not the kind of London we want, nor is it the kind of London that would thrive as an economic and cultural hub.
That’s why Labour has a real plan to get house building going, including social housing. The roadmap laid out by Sir Michael Lyons in his Housing Review report recommends a more active role for local government in the assembly and preparation of land and in risk sharing partnerships with developers. It also calls for local authorities to establish New Homes Corporations as local delivery agencies to provide homes that people need in areas where they want to live.
Labour offers a positive and workable vision for addressing the housing crisis. All the Tories have been able to put out is an election gimmick that will do nothing except further drive up house prices.
Nicky Gavron is a member of the London Assembly and a former deputy mayor of LondonLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.