Whatever happened about the idea of a “Property owning democracy”? Where has it gone?
It is a bitter cruelty in late middle-age, or during retirement, when your children have grown up and left home, to be told that your rent is going up because you now have a “spare room”. How dare you imagine you can live on, into retirement, in the home in which you spent most of your life, brought up your family, developed friendships and support groups among friends and neighbours, and have your memories!But what of the young adults, in privately owned or rented housing, who simply cannot leave home as they face the ‘Twin Tory evils’ of low incomes and ever-rising housing costs?
The Tories are, of course, in a difficult position. But nobody else created it for them. They want the votes of owner-occupiers in their well-heeled heartlands. As there is a housing shortage the value of those voters’ homes will stay high. But a significant increase in ‘affordable’ homes would have the opposite effect – that is to say genuinely affordable homes. Ever rocketing property prices would slow down and stabilize – perhaps even settling at affordable levels. But by announcing policies in which “affordable” is defined as prices vastly beyond reach for the vast majority of the lower-paid population do they have one eye on the propaganda advantage without the risk of alienating many of their core supporters?
Under a housing shortage who benefits? Right wing propagandists slag off housing benefits claimants as being allegedly subsidised from the public purse. But where does the money go? Who is really being subsidised? A significant part of the answer seems to have come from the National Housing Federation’s Chief Executive who is reported to have said: ‘… it was “madness” that billions in public funds are used to subsidise private landlords instead of investing in much needed truly affordable homes.’ The report continues, to explain that about £6.5bn is now being paid to private landlords – a rise of nearly £2bn since 2006.
That money could be used to build socially owned homes providing secure tenure with a high standard of maintenance. Not all private landlords are bad – but standards are extremely variable and Wirral has taken steps to ensure that private landlords must maintain acceptable standards.
Tory governments have, ever since the Thatcher years (instead of meaningfully and sufficiently encouraging low cost provision of housing for purchase or rent) sold publicly funded social housing on “right to buy” schemes. This is done at a huge subsidy – so great that for each house sold off, at way below value, the income of several such sales is required to build just one replacement. And on top of that a huge number of ‘right to buy’ housing stock is soon re-sold at market value and what was once social housing is bought up by private landlords and re-let at vastly higher rents.
Meanwhile Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (who received a great welcome at a recent public meeting at Birkenhead Town Hall), has reported on the government’s ‘Isa’ scheme. Many thought it would provide £3000 of help for first-time buyers. But that seems not to be what they will get. Instead of providing the money up front it should, according to financial firm Hargreaves Lansdowne, be made “… absolutely clear…” that the “bonuses” are not paid until after buyers have actually completed the purchase.
Commenting on that Rebecca observed: “It is typical of the Tories to design a scheme that doesn’t help working people get on the housing ladder but instead only provides a little perk to those that can already afford it”.