For those slightly out of the loop Right to Buy is basically the sector’s kryptonite (the green version, not the red one, no-one is going to go BS-mental on Metropolis just yet). It raises passion, anger, worry and acts as a unifier to a sector so often at odds with itself. Though funnily enough, like green kryptonite it does severely weaken us.
The reaction of the sector to the potential rolling out of Right to Buy has been fairly standard (i.e. we all went a bit cray cray, myself included). But what has been surprising is that all these emotions appear to be coming from people outside of the sector as well. Media that has usually at best been ambivalent, and often borderline hostile, have come out against the move (here’s looking at the Daily Telegraph). Hell even the general public is a little bit unimpressed (hats off to YouGov for that poll), not even those who considered themselves pro-Tory. Commentators, ‘experts’, housing insiders and a whole host of politicians have come out against it. Embarrassingly for the Conservatives, so did they, well at least to members of the Coalition in 2013. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.
In terms of popular policies Right to Buy is up there with the best. But a counter attack via the Daily ‘racist in public so you don’t have to’ Mail (fyi still one of Russell Howard’s best jokes) has highlighted how negatively the policy has been received this time round. But as Colin Wiles notes even at the Daily Fail not everyone is on board. Peter Hitchens providing some unflattering comments on the policy (that being said I still always prefered his late brother, Chris). Either way you know things are getting nasty when pay gets involved. I could make snide comments about Conservative MPs, duck ponds and public money. But I’m above all that. Actually I’m not, what an utterly moronic set of circumstances.
So what does this all mean? Well the answer, is partly provided by Julia Unwin and the guys and gals over at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Julia et al quite rightly point that the debate over housing has long been skewed to home ownership. And that arguably the most efficient way of helping to alleviate poverty and provide stability and security (social housing) is ignored. Right to Buy, rent to buy, the promise of buckets more housing (to buy) are all geared around a political consensus that buying
votes is preferable to renting. Consequently each party is keen to show that they will provide the best opportunity people to purchase their own home. Sadly for all the fluff and bluster little has been put forward as to how to increase supply as well as actually deal with an acute affordability issue. Though the boys in blue fare particularly poorly and the public is definitely not convinced. Especially those who rent, with the Tories polling badly around housing policies. On a side note a majority of the public appears to back greater borrowing to build more affordable housing.
Elsewhere the BBC Panorama programme the Great Housing Benefit Scandal showed that for once a TV could tactfully highlight the plight of ordinary people on benefits. Showing the suffering of folks like you and me (only they are poor, apparently that makes them different) at the hands of sub-quality housing as opposed to being some glitzy Jeremy Kyle look at the poor people hate-fest. It also did a very good job at showing some of the sorry excuses of landlords out there. Before the National Landlords Association gets its knickers in a twist I doubt any of those highlighted in the show were paid up members. Good private sector landlords do exist. But it is hardly surprising when a few rogue private landlords put profit before both the quality of the housing they provide and the unfortunate souls who reside in their dwellings.
So where does this all leave us? Well frankly in exactly the same place we always have been. A country with a housing market that is fundamentally failing to meet the needs of the suckers who live in it. I will leave you with a quote from a mate of mine, it neatly sums up the situation for a lot of people.
“I just want a house, not a mansion or anything like that, just some stability for my little boy. I’m fed up of moving all the time.”