Thursday, 22 January 2015

Wales to scrap Thatcherite Right to Buy Scheme

Socialist Wales has taken the decision that should Labour win the Assembly Elections in 2016 it  will look to abolish the Thatcherite policy of the Right to Buy Council House scheme. There have already been the expected "nanny state" accusations from the Tories and  Mark Isherwood the Shadow Housing Minster in Wales accusing Labour of being "anti aspiration".

Before we all get carried away on the sea of  laments going out regarding this somewhat controversial move by Welsh Labour, let's stop and assess the current social housing situation in Wales, which in all likelihood is not much different to the rest of the UK. Thatcher's landscape of 1980 Britain when the Right to Buy your council home was first introduced is highly different from today's  landscape.  Thatcher preyed on working class vanity and aspiration.  "You too can be a home owner like the ruling class" she said. And we fell for it. I remember as a teenager in 1980, it became a standing joke when walking through council estates to spot the right to buy house. The new owners always made altering the exterior of the house a priority with a new porch or stone cladding so it did not look like the standard council house any longer. "We're now better than you" was  meant and only whispered in corners. In 1980 Britain, a decent union negotiated wage meant a mortgage was affordable at a time when there was only 1 full time wage coming into the house. If a couple both worked then the council home was bought, transformed, extended and there was still room for a weeks holiday in Spain.

So while the working class bought and aspired to home ownership, and councils sold off their properties often with discounts of up to 60% of the market value, social house building declined dramatically. When  Thatcher came to power in 1979 we built 150,000 new council houses every year. By 1991 this was down to 1500. While huge swathes of social housing was bought up, there was nothing built to replace them and so waiting lists have become longer and longer, and the working class forced into the hands of the private buy-to-let landlord.

Labour's housing minister Lesley Griffiths AM, says "now we have to protect social housing stock for people who really need it". Hence the decision to look at abolishing Right to Buy in Wales in 2016. Since Thatcher's time in office, Wales has seen a 45% decline in its council housing  stock. More than 130,000 houses in Wales have been sold under the scheme and virtually none built to replace them. Wales is already implementing a decrease in the maximum discount allowed for buying from £16k down to £8k.

But while those who bought under the scheme and those who will rush to buy before 2016 will defend Right to Buy, let's look at the terrible consequences of a policy where houses were sold but none were built to replace them.

The consequences are happening now and are painful for those involved. London has been a ripe peach of a target for private buy-let Landlords. Vast numbers of former council homes are now in the hands of greedy opportunistic landlords with sky high rents that are now completely unaffordable to ordinary working class people. Indeed, an article I read this week showed a one bed boxroom in a shared house with shared kitchen and shared bathroom at a staggering £1k a month rent in London against a 6 bed detached house in Redcar for rent at the same amount! The Tory imposed benefits cap has seen people moved from London to Hull as housing benefit and low paid work simply are not enough to live in London anymore.

Buy to let landlords attend property auctions of reposessed council homes throughout the UK and have no problem buying up ex council homes and renting them out at huge profits to people who are then back in the social housing queue with their local councils. A vicious circle and one we need to stop.

Cameron and co are always telling us of the cost of the welfare bill. But the costs of the welfare bill
include huge housing benefit costs, where working poor people cannot afford the rent on zero hours contracts and are forced to apply for Housing Benefit which then lines the pockets of the greedy landlords who are imposing the rocketing rents. Add on the pernicious Bedroom Tax fixated on social housing tenants where there is a race to downsize to 1 or 2 bedroomed properties and local councils simply cannot meat the demand. Indeed in my own county there is a 10 year waiting list for 3/4 bedroomed homes for larger families.

Aspiration is a word used by government and by the ruling classes to con the working class into thinking there is something wrong in living in social housing and working in a factory or shop and that we should want more. We bought that word "aspiration" hook, line and sinker and still do today to an even greater extent than we did in 1979 with our celebrity -inspired aspiration.

Due to our housing landscape becoming something out of  an Orwellian novel, where owning a house by the working class is a distant memory and our young people even unable to afford the rent on a
property, is it not wise and prudent to follow Wales' bold stance and say enough is enough? The Welsh budget is handed over from Westminster. It is limited to the fact it cannot build anymore social housing, but it does have the right to protect the levels of social housing we have right now.

Making extortionate amounts of money from working class people desperate to put a roof over their heads is everyday Tory mantra. It's what they do best. Selling us the dream of becoming just like them is where we have let ourselves down.

I am both proud and lucky to live in a socialist Wales who will be calling time on the Right to Buy scheme. Yes I have aspiration! I aspire to see all working class people  housed in decent homes at affordable rents with enough money left over for a decent way of life. Not too much to ask.