In the middle of a crisis, the government is selling off our social housing

Over 18,000 homes were flogged off through Right to Buy last year in England - when our social housing stock is needed more than ever.

This Wednesday, the Chancellor told the Commons he would deal with the housing crisis. 

But figures released just a day later suggested something very different.

In his budget speech, Phillip Hammond told MPs:

“Successive governments over decades, have failed to build enough homes…or, indeed, to meet the needs of those who rent.

“In Manchester a few weeks ago, my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister made a pledge to Britain’s younger generation that she would ‘dedicate [her] premiership to fixing this problem’. Today we take the next steps to delivering on that pledge.”

But he went beyond just saying they’d build more homes. Affordability was at the centre:

We…want to help low-income households in areas where rents have been rising fastest.

“…The best way to help them is by increasing the rate of support in those areas where rents are least affordable.”

But his solution was to bung more money into the Local Housing Allowance – essentially housing benefit: a subsidy for landlords that fails to deal with the root of the crisis.

While the government try to hail moves like this as a triumph for affordability, the real picture is that the best way of making housing affordable – increasing the social housing stock – is being rapidly and actively undermined.

The government is subsidising the sell-off of our only genuinely-affordable housing supply.

18,110 social homes were flogged off in England last year – at a time when council housing is needed more than ever.

This graph shows the surge in social housing sell-offs through ‘Right to Buy’ since the financial crash (graph taken from DCLG data):

Right to Buy sales in England since the financial crisis

And while the number of social homes being taken out of supply surges, the government are totally failing to build new ones. That grey bar? The number of new council homes built in the past few years: 

Gavin Smart told Welfare Weekly:

“Social rent is the only truly affordable option for many people on lower incomes.

“These figures emphasise just how much further we need to go to make sure we have enough social rented homes available”

The Chartered Institute of Housing think almost 250,000 homes for social rent could be lost between 2012 and 2020.

England could follow Scotland’s suit and scrap Right to Buy. That – and letting councils borrow to build new stock – would do more than almost any policy to solve our housing crisis.

As the SNP’s MSP Bob Doris, who chairs Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee, said:

“There’s of course nothing wrong with people buying their own homes – but when it comes at such a high social cost, it is clear that a policy has failed.”

We are all paying the price for the systematic sell-off of social housing. It’s time to put that right.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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