Don't be fooled, selling council houses won't solve homes crisis
SELLING council homes to tenants was one of the pillars of Margaret Thatcher's re-engineering of British society.
At a stroke it gave equity to consumers which they could borrow against. The money they borrowed was used to buy goodies and fuel a retail boom.
Needless to say, the profit from this borrowing and spending went in billions into the pockets of the bankers.
Thatcher's idea of redistributing wealth was always to unlock money tied up for the public good and give it to the rich.
The sale of council homes also divided the working class and removed one of the last easy identifying features around which solidarity was based. Initially all sales were opposed by Labour, but Tony Blair realised that it was too popular a policy to be opposed.
Now Housing Minister Grant Shapps has increased slightly the discounts to tenants and is encouraging them to buy. At the same time, he is expecting every house sold to be replaced by a new affordable home.
Simon Harris, the ever-vigilant head of the local Citizens' Advice Bureau, is right to warn local people of the individual dangers of rushing to buy. Future repair bills, rises in the mortgage rate, or just the general hassle and inflexibility of home ownership make this an option that won't suit everyone.
Beware of Tories bearing gifts. That would be my advice.
The Thatcherite push to sell off council housing should also teach us that it is not the impact on individual families that is the most important feature of this policy. Maggie's shift of equity to tenants led to the misery of debt for many, the artificial inflating of property values, and the eventual collapse of our banks and many businesses.
She famously didn't believe in society. Her denial of that obvious reality was certainly exposed by the effect on us all of her supposedly individualist policies.
The sale of council houses must not be seen, therefore, as a matter that affects just individual tenants or families. It perpetuates the situation in which houses are seen not as somewhere to live, but as an investment. They become a source of borrowed money which is a substitute for manufactured wealth.
Homes will continue to have an inflated value in the UK as long as we have a shortage of them. Thus the shortage actually suits the rich.
What the Thatcher, Blair and Shapps policies are doing is taking our attention off the need for more homes. Instead of ensuring that every person is well-housed, they concentrate on whose name is on the deeds. They encourage competition for this scarce resource instead of homes for all.
Young Grant says that every house sold must be replaced. Sounds good, but, of course, it is not happening.
In any case, they do not have to be replaced by homes at the same rent levels as those sold.
We have thousands of families on waiting lists locally and hundreds of thousands nationally.
While these families suffer misery, the Government offers us only distractions about who owns your house or whether you get it for life, and whether rioters should get one at all. These are all totally irrelevant.
The solution to our housing problems is not to rearrange tenure, but to build more homes.
Until Maggie started trying to fool us with the mirage of owning our future, house-building was a cornerstone of government policy for both main parties.
Make no mistake, if the unfortunate Coalition were to decide to build its way out of recession, it would be wonderful news for this area. New homes would all require sanitary ware, tiles and bricks. Making these locally would give us many of the jobs we so desperately need.
Central government clearly has a major role to play in delivering enough homes for the nation.
It should be encouraging private sector building and commissioning publicly-funded schemes. Our MPs should be shouting loud and long about this matter until we have tangible results.
Local government too has a role to play. It could prioritise home-building and the conversion of empty buildings for residential uses. It could give empty tracts of cleared land or boarded-up terraces to those with the skills to organise self-build projects to create homes.
We have a crisis in this country because we have too few houses.
The only thing that won't build homes for our people is more endless discussion about who owns what, or what sort of people deserve to have one.