Why an incoming Labour government needs to suspend the ‘right to buy’

Posted On 30 Aug 2019 at 12:01 am

I was really pleased on Tuesday to welcome new tenants to new homes in Kensington Street alongside Councillor David Gibson from the Green Party.

These are really good quality homes that anyone would be pleased to live in. And homes that we are proud that the council built.

They meet high energy and water efficiency standards so will be cheap to keep warm and will help to minimise the city’s carbon footprint – both really important considerations today.

Seeing those homes reminded me of when I was a child and the council estate I lived on.

The Spearhead

It was a great place. Everyone knew everyone and our home was everything we needed – solid, well-built, warm and spacious.

All my neighbours rented their home (and their telly!) and no one thought any less of us for that.

Me and my two brothers were happy there and, as far as my parents were concerned, they had a home for life.

But of course all of that changed under Margaret Thatcher. All of a sudden, you weren’t considered a success unless you owned your home – and the “right to buy” scheme really fed into that.

I cannot blame people for wanting to take advantage of the huge discounts that were on offer and initially it was assumed that all the money from these sales would go to the council to build new homes. But, as we all now know, that didn’t happen.

And the outcome? In 1979, 42 per cent of Britons rented council homes. Today that figure is just under 8 per cent.

And those that were sold to tenants are now too often in the hands of private landlords who charge high rents for accommodation that isn’t always up to standard.

Often it is housing benefit that picks up the bill. So tenants lose out, the council loses out and the public loses out.

The answer absolutely has to be that we build hundreds more council houses – at rents that mean people don’t struggle to pay.

And an incoming Labour government needs – at the very least – to suspend the “right to buy”.

Who knows? Maybe we could get back to a place where renting a decent home is considered a good option.

Councillor John Allcock is the Labour chair of the Housing Committee on Brighton and Hove City Council.

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