It’s hard to find people in Britain who don’t have an opinion on the late Margaret Thatcher; her politics were, and still are, divisive at best. Of her myriad policies which forever changed the landscape of British politics one of the most commonly overlooked decisions was the “Right to Buy” scheme which was introduced in the 1980 Housing Act. At the time it was heralded by the Conservative government, and many others, as a deliverance from the supposed squalor and stigma attached to many council houses and estates - undesirable qualities that the Tories themselves helped create through years of subtle but effective classism. For the first time a large proportion of the population was promised the opportunity to make owning property a reality. The fulfillment of this promise, however, came at a price.
The money that was to be made from the sales of the council houses was effectively stolen from the councils and the public as the councils were disallowed from using the profits garnered from the sales to reinvest in new housing projects. In time, this resulted in a deficit of affordable housing, especially in the more ‘desirable’ council housing areas as these were often the first to be purchased. The negative effects this had on the majority of the populace have only increased in time. Especially now: during the worst recession since the Second World War.
It’s no real surprise then that the SNP have announced an end to the Right to Buy scheme in Scotland. This is due to become effective in 2017. The decision arises from the massive and urgent desire for cheap housing as the vast majority of councils in the country are struggling under the gargantuan weight of austerity to continue to provide the most basic of services, let alone provide cheap and decent housing for increasing number of people being pushed to the edge and potentially being made homeless.
The news was welcomed by several organisations such as the charity Shelter Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. Both of these groups echoed the cries of around 150,000 families (around 400,000 people) - who are on council housing waiting lists around the country due to a critical housing shortage - when they called the Right to Buy scheme an outdated policy that only ever benefited a minority. This is a view backed up by a Scottish government consultation from November 2012 and it also showed that even large numbers of private landlords and their tenants supported the move.
As mentioned previously, the ugly side of council housing that the Conservative government is ever so keen to press is the skewered, dystopian image of overcrowded colossal structures. Inhabited by stigmatised, underdeveloped, impoverished and unemployed (and unemployable) masses of people, the Conservatives saw themselves as saviours with the Right to Buy scheme, allowing the ascension of these people into the property market and a ticket into the middle classes.
Although the signs were always there to see it has only really been in the last few years under the omnipotent presence of the recession has forced the issue into plain view. The scheme has made conditions much worse for the majority of the working class. Especially the younger generations who are now struggling to leave their parents and carers homes’ as there is literally nowhere for them to stay where they can live sustainably, independently and without having to worry about falling into debt.
It is perhaps embarrassing then that it has taken this long for the scheme to be stopped. The Labour Party in the years following Thatcher’s time in power had avoided the issue despite callings for them to act. It was no surprise that Thatcher called Blair one of her best legacies. It may also be a more condemning point on Labour’s inactivity, depending on your point of view, that people had to wait for the SNP to bring about change rather than the party that is supposedly meant to be looking out for them. This is yet another reason why we should all be perpetually moving for a change in the Labour Party; to bring it back to its roots so it can effectively battle similar schemes and austerity measures put in place by the Conservatives and their cohorts.
It is the fondest hope of an ever increasing number of people in Scotland that the end to the scheme will give local councils back their freedom to develop and manage the housing shortage in a more fair and accessible manner to the poorer sections of the population. So that the lower echelons of society can aspire to decent and respectable means of living rather than living in fear of debt and being forced to be homeless from badly regulated private landlords; something that I myself have unfortunately become accustomed to.
Assuming that SNP proceed with their plans there is also a hope that a similar move will be undertaken in other part of Britain. Unfortunately at the moment this isn’t looking likely as in Wales and Northern Ireland the policy regarding the Right to Buy scheme remains relatively unchanged and in England things appear to be moving more in favour of the scheme with the discount on buying council homes being increased and the required occupancy period of tenants (the amount of time that a person has to live in a council house before they can buy it) being reduced.
The Labour leaders, in Scotland and the rest of the UK, should demand an immediate end to the Right to Buy scheme and put forward a socialist programme as an alternative. Such a programme would involved taking the construction companies, land, and banks into democratic public ownership in order to build hundreds of thousands of new council homes.
Under capitalism there is nothing but the contradiction of empty homes alongside homelessness; of idle construction workers alongside a tremendous need for new construction. A Labour government, armed with a socialist programme, would put an end to these contradictions and guarantee a job and a home for all.