The Tories are planning to revive Thatcher’s flagship ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, by extending it to two million housing association tenants. This has nothing to do with attempting to solve the housing crisis. Instead, it is a desperate attempt by the Tories to reverse their tumbling popularity.
The original Right to Buy in 1980 was marketed as a means of helping working-class families onto the property ladder. Council homes were sold off with massive discounts of up to 70% off their market price. For some, this proved very popular.
In reality, however, the scheme was simply a means of opening up social housing to the market – to become another source of profits for the rich.
Before Thatcher, public sector housing was primarily funded by the central government. Not only did the Tories put a stop to this, they also forbade local authorities from using the money they made from sales to build replacements.
Today, an estimated 4-in-10 former council homes sold off under the scheme are now owned by private landlords – charging two or three times the level of council rents. And of the 2.6 million homes sold, only 5% have been replaced.
It is clear from this that the real goals of Right to Buy were austerity and electoral gains in the short term, and expanding the portfolios of landlords and mortgage lenders in the long term.
The idea of extending the Right to Buy to housing association tenants has been floated by Tory governments since 2015. But it was consistently kicked into the long grass due to a backlash from housing associations, whose profitability would be hit hard.
The Tories are resurrecting the policy now in a desperate bid to win over working-class voters, whose support they are haemorrhaging due to the cost-of-living crisis and endless government scandals.
No doubt many Tories are nervous that unless something is done to ‘level-up’ their ‘Red Wall’ seats, it will end in tears for them at the next general election.
But with capitalism in a deep crisis, the Tories are well aware that further austerity is necessary. With no money to invest in healthcare, education, or housing, all they can offer to a thin layer of workers is the sell-off of semi-publicly-owned assets, at the expense of housing associations, paving the way for an ever-worsening housing crisis.
Ultimately no amount of gimmicks can save the fortunes of this government, which will be battered from pillar to post as it attempts to manage the crisis of capitalism.
The experience of the last four decades has demonstrated what a disaster the Right to Buy ultimately was.
Britain is currently faced with the worst housing crisis since 1945. One million families are currently waiting for social housing. 282,000 single people, couples, and families are homeless, despite over 600,000 homes being empty. Rents continue to drastically increase as wages stagnate or fall.
The solution to the housing crisis is simple: abolish the Right to Buy in England (as has already been done in Wales and Scotland); embark on a mass programme of council house building; and expropriate the empty properties of the super-rich and the speculators to house the homeless.
The reforms that would solve this crisis are achievable. But they could only be carried out if the working class takes power into its own hands, and breaks from the logic of capitalism.
Solving the housing crisis is not a technical question. Plenty of land and resources exist in order to house everyone at a good standard. But under capitalism this isn’t done, as it's not profitable to do so.
So whilst plenty of luxury flats are built for millionaires as investments, millions of people are consigned to live in overcrowded or poor quality homes, whilst thousands of others are left homeless.
The wealth to end the housing crisis already exists. It is sitting unused in the accounts of the banks and big businesses, where it will remain until the capitalists can find something profitable to invest in.
To solve the housing crisis, the only option is to nationalise the banks, land, big construction companies and developers, and to bring them under a socialist plan of production.
The capitalist system is unable to meet the most basic of human needs, even when there is the wealth to do so. The best that its representatives can do is offer a few people the right to buy their own property, the flip-side of which is the ‘right’ of the banks to profit from their mortgages, or for landlords to later acquire these homes.
Instead of the right to buy, workers must demand the right for all to live in a decent and affordable home.