There are not enough homes to meet demand in much of the UK, and
the tragedy is that despite recent fine words, Government policy
still seems on course to keep it that way.
With depressing lack of vision, ministers continue encouraging
council and housing association tenants to buy their homes at a
discount; forcing local authorities to sell their best stock to pay
for it under the Right to Buy legislation, whilst the Help to Buy
scheme has worked primarily to prop up already high prices.
There is nothing wrong with home ownership, of course. But it
isn't the only way to put a roof over people's heads. With
unfortunate timing, the Right to Buy project has left the two main
providers of social housing for low rent demotivated from building
new stock, just as renting is becoming more widely accepted, and
indeed promoted by the Government.
In addition, there is an unreasonable expectation on private
developers to take up the slack. They won't. Private
developers, who have shareholders and employees and their own
survival to focus on, will always and quite properly search for
profits and sales. They are not in the business of building to meet
the social needs of wider society.
The extension of the Right to Buy scheme championed by George
Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has sapped the morale of
local authorities and housing associations, who should instead have
been made a key part of the drive to provide more housing.
In theory, a home sold by a council should be replaced. But that
isn't happening. The Government's own
statistics show that 13,000 council homes had been sold at a
discount under Right to Buy this year. But only 2,200 council
houses have been built. In other words, only one in six homes sold
has been replaced.
Shelter, the campaigning housing charity, estimates that only
one in eight of the 312,000 homes sold under Right to Buy, Help to
Buy and Help to Buy: Shared Ownership since 2010 has been
So, whilst it was good to hear the housing minister Gavin
Barwell more or less acknowledge recently that David Cameron's
focus on home ownership has been diluted, sales should in fact be
paused completely until the like-for-like replacement policy can be
seen to be working.
His speech may represent an encouraging change of emphasis, but
the plain truth is that the UK cannot meet its housing needs if
Government ignores the vital role that must be played by councils
and Housing Associations.
Successive governments have left the housing ladder in many
parts of the country as more of a sheer rock face: impossible to
get on to let alone climb. When key workers with good salaries,
such as doctors, struggle to find a family home they can afford in
London, there really is a very severe problem.
Outside of London and the South East, where housing is
considerably more affordable, Government must work harder to create
employment and desirable communities that spread the focus of
housing demand. The private rented sector also needs to be made
more attractive to both renters and long term institutional
There are about 28 million residential properties in the UK, of
which some five million are either in the social or affordable
housing category. This is not a small part of the market, but in
other comparable countries the percentage is larger.
The Government must do more to keep local authorities, housing
associations and institutional investors in the business of
providing affordable homes for rent, whilst also doing everything
possible to assist and encourage private developers to increase
their output of new homes to buy. The fetish for home ownership,
embodied in the Right to Buy legislation, has had its day, and
should be repealed.
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