Another nail in the coffin of social housing

As they head into the general election, all the parties recognise that there is a severe housing shortage, which is having a devastating effect on people’s ability to afford a decent home to call their own. For thirty years governments of all stripes have worsened the shortage by failing to build anything like the numbers of affordable homes we need. But you can’t solve an affordable homes shortage by selling off affordable homes – and unfortunately that is exactly what today’s proposal from the Conservatives would do.

This proposal is a double assault on genuinely affordable housing: one in three council homes will be forcibly sold off in order to fund giving away the other half of the social stock owned by housing associations.

Loss of genuinely affordable homes

Selling off the most valuable council housing stock will create affordable housing deserts in the parts of the country where it is needed most.

Waiting lists for council housing and rising homelessness are just two indicators of the desperate need for genuinely affordable homes – homes which are already in dangerously short supply. Working families stuck in the expensive, insecure private rented sector and waiting desperately for a decent, secure place will now know that they will never get to the end of the queue, because all of the social homes in their area will be sold to the highest bidder as soon as they become available. The chance of an affordable home in the area they have lived, worked and raised their families will be gone for ever. And the prospects for the growing numbers facing the nightmare of homelessness will be even worse.

Condemning millions to a life of private renting

Though it may benefit a small number of people, giving huge discounts to allow housing association tenants to buy is also the wrong target. Social tenants are already have a secure, affordable home – something eleven million private renters can only dream of. What’s worse is that homes sold under the Right to Buy have a nasty habit of reappearing in the private rented sector – replacing low rents with high ones. The message to those struggling to pay sky high private rents – let alone save for a deposit – is that the ladder will be pulled away from them before they can take the first step. Public assets which have been built and paid for with taxpayers’ money will be sold off, leaving them stuck in the private sector for life. And because Conservatives will also freeze working age benefits, the 1.4 million renters struggling to pay the rent every month will be hit twice. The implications for renting families are clear.

Worsening the housing shortage

The real answer, of course, is to build more genuinely affordable homes in the places people need them. But the promise to replace any homes lost to this latest extension of the Right to Buy will not ring true, when the government’s own figures show that the similar promise made three years ago has not been kept. Barely one in ten of the council homes sold under the revived Right to Buy have been replaced – despite assurances of ‘one for one’ replacement. And what few homes may be built as a result will, by definition, be in the places that need them less. It is precisely where housing costs are high that genuinely affordable housing is most needed: replacing these homes with new ones many miles away is no replacement at all.

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14 Comments
  1. Absolutely right. Labour pledged to regulate the private renting sector, that will help Millions, whilst this will help a very few, and make it worse for many more. Let’s fight for decent “Continental” stile renting rights, get more affordable homes built and help the many not the few. The nasty party is trying to con us again! Open your eyes and fight for our rights!

  2. Why did labour let so many more people into the country in the first place? building more homes whilst letting in hundreds of thousands each year is like continuously filling up a bucket that is full of holes.

    1. You’ve got it arse about face. The high cost of housing is a key driver of immigration. If you can bear to share a 3-bedroom house with 5 of your mates from Poland or wherever, it becomes affordable to work here for a couple of years in low-paid jobs, save money, and move on. Making housing cheaper would cut down on labour migration by making it possible for residents to afford to take on the low-paid entry level jobs that currently won’t pay the rent.

    2. The main source of the problem is not immigration but yet another baby boom at the end of the 20th century.
      Added to this is the current level of house building which is at it’s lowest level since 1929!
      In the post WW2 years there were large areas of council houses built but this ceased in the 1980’s. Council house waiting lists were long in the 1970’s with an average wait of 2 years but now there is no hope of social housing unless you have several children and are living on benefits.

      What limited social housing remains should not be sold off to the tenants without a stipulation that each one sold is replaced by at least one new house, in the same locality, within 12 months of the sale.

      1. immigration plus ridiculous subsidies for the workless with lots of kids then. few working people can afford large families. i can because i do a 90 odd mile round trip for work every day to get a better wage and live in a cheaper area. north staffs to manchester. oh, and my kids have never been abroad.

        1. This problem is not recently caused but a cyclical problem emanating from the end of WW2 when there was an increase in the birthrate. This happens about every 17 – 25 years when these babies mature and have children of their own. The difference now is that these new parents are still having to live at home with their parents (the grandparents of the new generation) because there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing.
          House building is at it’s lowest level since 1929 with the result that the supply of housing is very low and the demand is very high. The effect of this is the ever increasing house prices across the country.
          House prices today are 40 times what they were in 1971. As a comparison, if the same increases were applied to your shopping bill, you would be paying £47 for a chicken and £20 for a jar of instant coffee.
          Average wages in 1971 were about £2,000 with the average house costing £5,632 (just under 3 years wages)
          Average wages now are about £25,000 but the average house price has increased to £238,874 (just under 10 years wages).
          Part of the cause of the increase in house prices is due to the relaxation of lending with mortgage lenders permitting borrowing of up to 9 years salary compared to 2.5 years salary (or 3 times the combined couples salary) in 1971.

    3. This article is not about immigration or what labour could have done to stop people coming into the country.

      The article is about the threat to the existence of secure socially rented homes at realistic level of rents related to the average levels of incomes. The threat is that the current government’s proposal is likely to lead to a decline of stock because the arrangements for finance is unlikely to allow replacement on a 1 for 1 basis, despite the assertions made.

      The government are seeking to push the Housing Associations into building homes at so-called “affordable rents”, which are usually defined as being 80% of market rents. That level of rent is by most housing advisers view, not affordable;in addition a shorthold tenancy does not provide for any stability for tenants, in particular for families.

      1. my post was in regards to the blatantly biased response to the article. labour and tory are as bad as each other. labour didnt reverse right to buy and i dont think that was the answer anyway. to me right to buy should always exist as the poor should not be kept down and dependent on the state. where its wrong is that the proceeds of homes sold should be used to build more new homes. that is how the system should operate. this will maintain the social housing stock whilst allowing council tenants to buy their home if they want.

    4. OH deary me blame the immigrants again, you must know they contribute to our society and are proud to do so . Our NHS would collapse without them.. Oh and what about all the Brits who have emigrated within the EU and further. Why not blame the elderly for living too long or people for having children, or the young on their zero hours contracts with no security, or mountains of debt to better their education. Please focus on the real problem by reading Colin’s response

      1. im not blaming immigrants, im blaming labour (and the tories, and the lib dems). immigrants just want a better life (such as my mum). now my mum is old and knackered and is a burden on the nhs just like all of us end up being. (actually she isn’t as she moved back ‘home’) I myself think working for the nhs is a good job, shame our educational system can’t churn out enough quality so we can man it ourselves it seems. how about making uni free for those studying much needed qualifications such as health? the real problem is that we have an economic system that depends on perpetual population growth. housing, health, education all suffer because capitalism ultimately fails us all. and when we have built on the last scrap of land?

  3. My posts seem to get deleted on Shelter blog.

    “Worse is that homes sold under the Right to Buy have a nasty habit of reappearing in the private rented sector”

    Who is to blame? The big discount was given to ex-council tenant. If they try to sell their property and no one is interested, then of-course a private Landlord will is just as likely to buy it.

    When Council have been handing out £50,00 bills for improvement works, then no wonder so many ex-council were forced to sell up. It is councils playing politics.

    There is nothing to stop housing associations to buying ex-council properties when they appear on the market. I spoke to a few managers, and they were not interested. They rather spend the money on building new properties.

    1. I don’t think anyone’s blaming private Landlords for buying up cheaper property – this article is highlighting the long-term disadvantages of reducing lo-cost housing stock

  4. “But you can’t solve an affordable homes shortage by selling off affordable home”

    They are only affordable because of the £100,000 subsidy.

    Give me a £100,000 subsidy and I can charge council rents for my property.

    1. Bet you wouldn’t though – you’d get as much rent as you could for it, like the vast majority other Landlords.

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