Today’s Conservative’s pledge to expand the right-to-buy to housing association homes shows that it’s not a long-term plan but short-term politics driving the Tories.
Of course housing association tenants benefit by buying their home at a big discount, but only at a long-term cost to everyone else – including the taxpayer who helped fund those homes in the first place.
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The fact is that when you sell off a council or housing association home you don’t just sell off the future for the next family to stay somewhere affordable. You also sell off a public asset, built up over decades and generating rental income, which itself pays for the next generation of homes. And let’s be clear: this move would add millions of pounds to the housing benefit bill over the next Parliament.
A short-term gain for the Tories perhaps, but a long-term problem for any country that wants to properly house its people.
Even Margaret Thatcher protected housing association homes from the original right to buy because she knew it would kill off investment. But the modern Tories are shallow and short-termist. And desperate to kick-start a stuttering election campaign. They have no such qualms in trying to buy votes whatever the cost.
The public won’t be fooled by Cameron and Osborne’s cheap Thatcher tribute act – a recent YouGov poll found
only a third thought extending the right to buy was a good idea.
And this gets to the heart of the Tories’ problem in this election. On the range of big problems that Britain faces from public services, to living standards, to balanced growth, to housing, it’s increasingly clear they’ve run out of ideas and given up.
The lack of affordable housing has become a
mainstream concern this election and home ownership is at the
lowest level in a generation. The Tory response? Sell off affordable homes, and increase the supply of housing finance without actually building more homes. Their paper pledge today to build more based on right to buy receipts is completely unbelievable. This is no way to govern a country.
There is a better way. Rather than stifling affordable house-building, a Labour government will build big and build well to tackle the housing crisis, bring down the cost of living and shrink the benefit bill at the same time.
The Tory gamble on right-to-buy is a totem of the election at large – false hope and failed promises with the Tories or a better, fairer long-term plan with Labour. That’s the big choice that we must help make clear to electors over the next three weeks.
John Healey is Labour's candidate for Wentworth and Dearne, a seat he has held since 1997. He was Minister of State for Housing from 2009 to 2010.