Government proposals to sell off housing association properties have been branded “hare-brained” amid warnings they will worsen the shortage of homes for more than a million Britons on waiting lists for affordable accommodation.
Boris Johnson is reported to want to grant 2.5m housing association tenants in England the right to purchase their homes at a massive discount, in an echo of Margaret Thatcher’s popular “right to buy” policy of the 1980s which saw a huge proportion of the nation’s stock of council homes sold.
But Labour branded the plan “desperate”, pointing out that it repeats a policy from David Cameron’s 2015 Conservative manifesto which failed to deliver any sales.
And the chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter said the “hare-brained idea” was “the opposite of what the country needs”.
“There could not be a worse time to sell off what remains of our last truly affordable social homes,” said Polly Neate.
“The living cost crisis means more people are on the brink of homelessness than homeownership – nearly 34,000 households in England became homeless between October and December last year, more than 8,000 of them were families with children.”
Ms Neate said that the original right to buy scheme tore “a massive hole” in England’s stock of social housing, as less than 5 per cent of the homes sold were ever replaced with new affordable homes to rent.
“These half-baked plans have been tried before and they’ve failed,” she said. “Over one million households are stuck on social housing waiting lists in England, and with every bill skyrocketing, the government should be building more social homes so we have more not less.”
Details of the scheme were floated just days ahead of local elections in which Tories are thought to be heading for a drubbing – and during the period of “purdah” when government departments are banned from policy announcements that may impact on voting.
An unnamed government source said Mr Johnson was keen to find ways to help the “generation rent” of under-40s who have been priced out of the housing market to become home-owners.
Conservatives have long viewed home ownership as a key driver for voting Tory, and party strategists are concerned at the prospect of a generation coming into middle age without any stake in the housing market.
“The prime minister has got very excited about this,” the source told the Daily Telegraph. “It could be hugely significant.
“In many ways it is a direct replica of the great Maggie idea of ‘buy your own council flat’. It is ‘buy your own housing association flat’.”
But shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said: “This is desperate stuff from a tired government, repackaging a plan from 2015.
“Millions of families in the private rented sector with low savings and facing sky high-costs and rising bills, need far more ambitious plans to help them buy their own home.
“These proposals would worsen the shortage of affordable homes.”
And the chief executive of the Demos thinktank, Polly Mackenzie, said that the proposals would disadvantage some of the groups of younger voters whose support the Tories need to attract.
Right to buy offers huge financial benefits to those who qualify for social housing, while providing nothing for those – often young professionals – who pay much higher rents in less secure private tenancies, she said.
“Half of tenants are in the social sector and half in the private,” said Ms Mackenzie. “I cannot fathom the politics – let alone the justice – of helping one group with a subsidy of up to £100,000, while offering the others only a tiddly Help to Buy ISA and equity loans that have to be repaid.
Those who got by on their own, and never had to fall back on state housing, get the worst deal. Extending Right to Buy is a really good way to p*** off young renters, a group the Conservatives really need to stop letting down.”
Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “Instead of copying and pasting from old manifestos, Boris Johnson should be helping families on the brink. “Instead of talking up policies of the past, Boris Johnson should be slashing taxes right now and ensuring every pensioner can afford to heat their home.”
A government spokesperson said: “We want everyone to be given the chance to own a home of their own, and we keep all options to increase home ownership under review.
“Recent statistics show that the annual number of first-time buyers is at a 2-year high, helped by our Help to Buy Scheme for first-time buyers and Mortgage Guarantee Scheme to expand the availability of low-deposit mortgages”