At the core of Tory policy is a desire to shift publicly-owned housing into private hands
Two pillars of current Tory thinking have been pushed together in today's announcement on housing. First, their unflinching desire to reduce social housing through right-to-buy, and second their belief that council tenants should only be allowed to live in the less-desirable parts of town.
With the right-to-buy central to Tory Thatcherite ideology, their party's current leaders have been constantly looking for ways to extend it. Over the course of this parliament we have seen discounts greatly increased, millions spent on promoting it to council tenants, and now the wheeze of extending it to housing association tenants – despite all the legal and practical difficulties of doing so, never mind the long-term damage it would cause to the country's stock of affordable homes.
Such an extension of right-to-buy to housing association tenants was floated in media reports earlier this year – and at the time, even those in the housing association sector who supported the change raised concerns about how the discount would be subsidised. Thus in their announcement today, the Conservatives have attempted to explain how it would be funded by bookending it with another policy: that of forcing councils to sell their most valuable assets.
This later fixation has been floating around since it was first mooted in a 2012 report from the Policy Exchange think tank. It was supported by the then-housing minister, who brushed aside any consideration of its effect on neighbourhoods' social and economic balance as “a perverse kind of Left-wing dogma”.
And so today, by bringing together the extension of right-to-buy and the sell off of council homes, the Tory policy puts at risk 1.5m genuinely-affordable homes. Up to 1.3m housing association homes and around 200,000 council homes could be lost into private hands forever.
In fact, by bringing these two policies together, this new announcement means – as the National Housing Federation Chief Executive David Orr points out – that every time this new right-to-buy is exercised it would put at risk not just one, but two homes for social rent.
Of course the Tories have also tacked onto their core policy a few distractions about investing in new homes, to try desperately to insulate themselves from the charge that they will be depleting the nation's social housing stock. So alongside a vague pledge about brownfield regeneration, they offer another vague promise about requiring homes sold to be replaced on a one-for-one basis.
'One-for-one' has been government policy for the last few years, over which time 26,000 social homes have been lost through right-to-buy, with barely 2,700 replacements being started. Why should they expect – or should anyone believe – that continuing the current policy will produce any different results next time?
At the core of Tory policy is a desire to shift publicly-owned housing into private hands. Public money would be spent in the near-future subsidising the sell-off of housing association homes, and then again in due course as history repeats itself when the housing association homes are sold. We know from recent experience that these homes will then often get rented out privately – meaning residents in expensive areas will likely need housing benefit to cover the much-inflated rents.
The Conservatives want to spend public money in a way that continues the housing crisis and makes it worse. They are spending money to cover the rents they've pushed up, and now to extend the right-to-buy. We should argue instead for money to be invested in building new homes including those for genuinely-affordable social rent. That is how we'll build the homes we need, and how we'll make a lasting difference to our housing crisis.