Friday 6 August 2010

'End right to buy' says Simon Hughes, as Coalition housing argument deepens

He is surely not speaking for the Coalition government - it so rarely seems to be the case that anybody is these days - but LibDem deputy leader Simon Hughes has opened up a new front, proposing the end of Margaret Thatcher's flagship "right to buy" policy, to end a week which has suggested the Coalition parties have very different instincts when it comes to housing policy.

It looks a strong political scoop for the South London Press, whose interview with Hughes could well create some waves at Westminster. The Hughes interview is not yet online, but the South London Press have splashed today's weekend print edition on the interview with chief reporter Greg Truscott, under the front-page headline:

MP's radical solution to housing crisis

Hughes' proposal is that localism could mean councils deciding that the right to buy was not right for their area, if facing acute shortages of housing stock.

The South London Press quotes Hughes saying this in the interview:

"The local housing authority should be free to say that they are not going to grant the Right to Buy, just as the Welsh have done.

I represent a constituency with more council tenants than anywhere else in England. We have lost thousands of homes and we can not afford to lose more.

Right to Buy was a Tory policy and I accept it would be difficult to agree a national policy. But the Conservatives are signed up, like us, to give more power to local councils and it could give them the right to say no to 'right to buy' when there is a desperate shortage of rented accomodation".

Hughes is aware of the totemic status of 'right to buy' as a symbol of the Thatcher government. So his comments may well exacerbate existing arguments over several different housing policies, as Hughes repeats his concerns about the impact of the government's proposed cuts in housing benefit.

The strength of Hughes' concern over David Cameron's tenure proposals surely reflects the importance of social housing in his own constituency. However, Downing Street suggest the measure could be legislated for as early as this Autumn with Nick Clegg's support.

Conservatives are likely to want to defend right to buy from Hughes' localist challenge.

Yet, perhaps ironically, David Cameron's own proposals to remove security of tenure could well lead to the right to buy being lost or weakened, albeit by the back door. Tenants need to have five years residency to be eligible, so if fixed term tenancies were of a shorter length, the right would be lost by those tenants. And part of the point of the Cameron approach is for council housing to be still more focused on those in greatest need. If the result was to residualise council housing further predominantly among those out-of-work, then the right to buy will be rather more hypothetical anyway if fewer social housing tenants could afford to exercise it.


Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has been among those to acknowledge the social consequences of not replenishing council housing stock sold to tenants, in an interview last year with Fabian Review.

As The Telegraph reported

Getting the economy back to a point where it was profitable and we had some sort of enterprise was [vital].

"But yes, what happened next was in some ways [unfortunate]. We forgot that, while the economy was moving on, society itself was not really ready for this. Swathes of the population got left behind in the process ...The gap between the bottom socio-economic group and the rest started to grow, and it's grown ever since. Under Labour it's grown almost faster in some senses.

"While I'm not going to point the finger and say the changes made in the Eighties were wrong, we didn't have any real sense of where this might go and what needed to happen. Big social reforms should have taken place then, and they never did."
Duncan Smith also questions some aspects of the great council house sell-offs - which was considered one of Mrs Thatcher's greatest initiatives. He said what was needed was to invest the profits made into social housing.

He said: "Nobody really thought about what happens if you allow only the most broken families to exist on housing estates. You create a sort of ghetto in which the children who grow up there repeat what they see around them."


Bluenote said...

Assume Simon Hughes already owns his own pad. No problem then denying others the same right. Hypocrite!
He should join the Labour party where he belongs.

13eastie said...

So what is the FS/Labour policy on Right to Buy and public housing?

No clues in this piece, but the intralinear message seems to be:

1) We can offer no ideas of our own
2) Our sole debating tactic for the foreseeable future will be to excoriate potential sources of discord within the coalition
3) The only promise we can fulfill will be to mention the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher (who left office before some voters had even been born), not less than once per paragraph

It will be a very long time indeed before there are any more Prescottish peerages at this rate!

Sunder Katwala said...


This piece was simply flagging up quite a significant policy suggestion by the LibDem deputy leader, which though the South London Press had splashed it in print had not been mentioned at all online in the media/blogs/twitter.

It is a complex issue, as both Hughes' and IDS' comments suggest. My colleague James Gregory wrote about right to buy and proposed a 'right to sell' in a detailed housing policy report "In the Mix" last year.

Gregory's proposal in summary:

"Reassess the ‘right to buy’ and the ‘right to sell’

On the ‘right to buy’, we should admit that Labour in the 1980s was wrong about the benefits of the individual freedom it gave people. But the Tories got it disastrously wrong by failing to plan for the reduction in the housing stock it created. It also led to the increasing concentration of poverty in the public housing that remains. A right to buy a home should not mean that tenants should have a right to take public housing stock with them if and when they choose to leave the tenure.

So we need a rebalancing: a remodelled and reassessed right to buy with a right to sell. Labour should introduce a flexible option to sell, in which households are given the option of transferring some or all of their equity to their Local Authority, thereby reducing mortgage payments to a manageable level".

Jane Chelliah said...

A rebalancing is needed, clearly, given the high level of demand for public housing. However, there are people living in social housing who are looking forward to the day when they can own their own home. Some of these people will be the first in their families to own a property. The welfare and social argument often forgets the intangible human feeling of pride. I hope any reassessment model will incorporate such well-being factors. Social housing cannot be just a supply and demand model based on maths.

laminat said...

Maintaining the coalition has been and will remain a challenge. It was one of my goals and when I asked and tried to give some leadership.

HOA Management