Barely more than two years after the British working class celebrated the demise of one of their bitterest enemies, Thatcher’s toxic spirit lives on in the Tories’ recent proposal to extend her Right to Buy policy to Housing Association properties. Sam Ashton explains how the crisis of housing is yet another reflection of the crisis of capitalism.
Amongst the plethora of deeply reactionary policies the Tories are attempting to shop to a largely dubious electorate, their recent announcements on housing stand out as some of the worst. Barely more than two years after the British working class celebrated the demise of one of their bitterest enemies, Thatcher’s toxic spirit lives on in the proposal to extend her Right to Buy policy to Housing Association properties.
The UK is in the midst of a deep housing crisis. Tens of thousands of families are homeless while millions more languish on ever growing waiting lists for social housing. Yet house building is at its lowest level since the 1920s. This has left families forced to pay sky-high rents to private landlords in exchange for insecure and often substandard accommodation.
Thatcher’s original Right to Buy policy helped lay the foundation for this crisis. It led a decimation of council housing stocks at the same time as she forbade councils from building more homes. But the chronic shortage of housing today is also the result of thirty years of inaction by both Labour and Conservative governments who failed to address the crisis.
Far from addressing the crisis, this latest Tory policy is actually a double pronged assault on what little genuinely affordable housing remains. Under the Conservatives proposals, not only will Housing Association properties be opened up to the Right to Buy, but councils will be forced to sell 210,000 of the most valuable remaining council houses in order to fund the Right to Buy discounts. These valuable council homes are inevitably those in more prosperous areas, which the Tories deem too good for working class people. Instead the Tories plan to restrict council housing to modern day ghettoes.
Housing in the hands of the few
Many beneficiaries of the original Right to Buy policy have become private landlords or sold their homes on to other landlords. Estimated figures show that over a third of those houses sold under Right to Buy are now rented out by private landlords. The irony is the tenants of these properties are most likely families who formerly would have been housed by the council. Now councils are forced to spend millions in housing benefit, which goes straight into the pocket of private landlords to house people in homes that were built with public money!
It’s hard to imagine the same thing won’t happen to the Housing Association properties the Tories are now so desperate to put up for sale. Indeed, there is already a number of private companies who prey on council tenants, bribing them into agreeing to buy their home and then sell it on to the company, which goes on to make a healthy profit. Such companies are probably already delirious with joy at the thought of the many millions this policy could net them. The reality is that public assets which have been built and paid for with working people’s taxes will now be sold off for private profit.
Of course the Tories claim that every property sold off will be replaced a new affordable home. But who can believe them when they said the same thing about the revived Right to Buy in 2012, yet three years later barely 1 in 10 sold properties have been replaced.
Crisis of housing; crisis of the system
If this policy is so disastrous it begs the question as to why the Tories even propose it in the first place. The reality is it part of the decades old programme of privatisation where Capital, no longer interested in productive investment, has turned to cannibalising public assets for profit. As such, this isn’t simply an ideological assault on the homes of working people, but part of a wider process demanded by a system in crisis that can offer no way out for the working class.
While the Labour leaders have correctly come out against this policy, they still shamefully support the continuation of Right to Buy for council homes. Although the party does indeed acknowledge the existence of the housing crisis, their programme to solve it is woefully inadequate.
With the general election looming, it is paramount that we kick out the Tories to prevent these attacks. But the reality is that whoever is in government next, the housing crisis will continue; it will continue as long as a system that only provides housing on the basis of whether it can make a profit continues. The fight for affordable, decent and secure housing for all therefore goes hand-in-hand with the fight for socialism.