You can usually tell when a government’s running into difficulties of its own making when – 48 hours before polling office doors open – a steady stream of daft ideas start to ooze out. The shallower and dafter the ideas, the easier it is to sell them before the pack of cards start crumbling down. The Irish Sea Bridge that never was, and (in a much earlier age) the “Cones Hotline” were examples of the daft but highly colourful. This week’s Right to Buy for Housing Association residents is another one.
When a Prime Minister gets a bee in his bonnet about complex social legislation or foreign policy matters when lives end up – often, literally – on the line. Remember the carefully devised dossier on ‘Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which turned out to be a copy and paste of some humble MPhil dissertation? Or the ideas for massive “Nightingale Hospitals’ to cure the nation’s Covid afflicted without realising you needed – er – specialist staff to do that?
Right to Buy
And now, tumbling out of the swing doors of the last chance saloon the wheeze of extending “Right to Buy” to tenants of “Registered Social Landlords” (Housing Associations to the rest of us). Never mind that in the few short minutes between some bright spark whispering into the addled ear of the greased piglet, this piece of wisdom and it being trotted out to the No 10 Lobby, that nil, stix nix, nought, nada or zilch had been done on the policy sound worthiness of the notion. All that needs to be said (as has been trailed all day) is that Boris “is extremely excited” about extending housing association sell-offs. At least this makes a change from the throbbing of a tractor engine….
I suspect, in the grim light of dawn, we will hear little more about this idea. Although Housing Associations are a million miles away from their philanthropic origins or their genesis as Council Housing Departments, and have gone out of their way to alienate many tenants and workers, they are still part of the public social security underpinning, and thus have to be defended.
The policy is not an improvement
Such a policy will worsen – not improve – the housing crisis. If housing associations have to fund the discount under Right to Buy they will have less money to build new homes and maintain existing ones. If the government reimburses the housing associations for the discount there will be less funds overall for the government to support the supply of new social housing.
There are already mechanisms to help people get on the property ladder such as “shared ownership”. The fundamental reason that many find it difficult or even impossible to get on the property ladder is that we are not building enough homes. This increases the price of those that are built, and you don’t have to be a modern day Old Mother Shipton to see why. Lack of capacity in the building industry, speculative land banking by developers, rapidly increasing costs of materials, supply chain stresses and failures, increasing numbers of single person households, age changes to the rate of family formation all contribute.
A better solution
This government, indeed, any government, would be far better advised to concentrate on boosting supply overall rather than ram raiding the limited amount of social housing coming on stream. But then; that’s boring old “social policy” and it’s not all that exciting to our modern porcine Prometheus.