UK

Conservative Manifesto Right-To-Buy Pledge Is 'Wrong Solution' Say Housing Campaigners

14/04/2015 07:43 BST | Updated 14/04/2015 16:59 BST

Housing experts have torn into the Conservatives' manifesto pledge to grant 1.3 million housing association tenants the right to buy their homes, with the policy called the "wrong solution" to the housing crisis dubbed 'Generation Rent'.

The extension of the Right to Buy scheme is a centrepiece of the Conservative manifesto for the May 7 General Election, being launched by the Prime Minister with an audacious claim that the Tories, rather than Labour, are "the party of working people".

It would be funded by requiring councils to sell off the most expensive social housing when it becomes vacant, replacing it on a one-to-one basis with more affordable property, David Cameron will say today.

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A placard during a demonstration dubbed 'The March for Homes' calling for solutions to housing problems outside City Hall in London

The proposal was branded "deeply unfair" by housing associations, with industry body the National Housing Federation warning it would involve handing over £5.8 billion of taxpayers' money - much of it paid by people stuck in private rentals or unable to move out of their parents' homes - as "gifts" worth up to £100,000 each to tenants in some of the country's most secure and affordable social housing.

When the idea was first leaked back in February, NHF's director David Orr said that "if there is a serious proposal to legislate again, it will fail again.

"We have a housing crisis. All the efforts of housing associations, local authorities and others are geared towards ending this housing crisis by building new homes and regenerating existing homes where that is the best solution. The Right to Buy makes that more difficult. "

NHF director of policy Ruth Davison said the extension of Right to Buy to housing association properties was "the wrong solution to our housing crisis".

"Halfway through a programme of austerity and in the grips of a housing crisis, if you had £20 billion of taxpayers' money, would you just give it away as a gift to some of the most securely housed people in the country on some of the lowest rents?"

"A very conservative estimate of this policy puts the cost to the taxpayer of at least £5.8 billion."

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And Labour housing spokeswoman Emma Reynolds dismissed it as "yet another uncosted, unfunded and unbelievable announcement" .

She said: "Having exhausted the magic money tree, the Tories now want people to believe that they can magic up billions of pounds a year from selling off a few council homes.

"Last year that raised just over £100 million, while this policy costs £4.5 billion a year.

"Labour will help people own their own home, that's why we support Right to Buy. But in the 21st Century that means building homes and not forgetting the vast majority of people that want to buy their own home but currently rent privately or live with their parents."

Cameron will also unveil plans for a £1 billion Brownfield Regeneration Fund to build 400,000 new homes on previously-developed land, which aides said could "radically increase the supply of new housing while protecting the Green Belt".

It represents an effort to revive the Tory dream of a property-owning democracy, after years in which the proportion of home-owners declined for the first time in a century and increasing numbers of young adults - often described as "Generation Rent" - found themselves priced out of the market.

In a nervy interview, Theresa May told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme councils could use the money made from sales to build more homes. "Actually, through the sale of those more expensive homes by local authorities, that not only enables them to buy more affordable homes and potentially actually increase the number of homes that are available, the number of families that are being housed," she said.

"But the Brownfield Regeneration Fund will also give them an opportunity to free up land, to put through some changes that are necessary so land is available for housing and our calculation is that, over five years, that would lead to the building of 400,000 extra homes.

"And also the housing association tenant gets the right to buy and the opportunity to own their own home, so more people in houses, more people owning their own homes."

The policy, she said, would be in primary legislation and would give an incentive.

Tories will hope the scheme will deliver a similar boost to Cameron's chances as the original Right to Buy, which helped sweep Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979.

Cameron will say today's manifesto offers voters "security at every stage of your life", with help for those looking for training or a job, trying to buy a home, raising a family or relying on childcare and the NHS.

After criticism of the negative tone of early stages of the Conservative campaign, Cameron will strike a more positive note by saying Tories offer "a brighter future for your family and for you".

The Tory leader was buoyed by an ICM poll in The Guardian which gave Conservatives a six-point lead on 39% to Labour's 33% - enough to put an absolute majority within grasp. But a second poll, for former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft, had the two parties neck-and-neck on 33%.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats unveiled their own plan to build 300,000 new homes a year, including at least 10 new garden cities in England.

Party spokesman Lord Paddick said the Tory scheme would result in "longer waiting lists for homes and fewer social houses", doing nothing to tackle the country's affordable housing needs and benefiting only a "lucky few".

He described the manifesto as a "smokescreen" to hide Tory plans to cut £12 billion from welfare, which Lib Dem leader

The existing Right to Buy allows local authority tenants to buy houses and flats from councils at a discount of as much as 70% - up to a maximum of £102,700 in London and £77,000 across the rest of England.

Conservatives would extend the scheme to 500,000 housing association tenants who currently have no purchase rights and 800,000 who qualify only for much less generous discounts of £16,000 or less.

Local councils will be required to sell off their most expensive properties as they become vacant, in order to raise an estimated £4.5 billion a year to fund the scheme.

Some 15,000 houses and flats are expected to become available in this way each year, but Tories stressed that no one will be forced out of their home.

Cameron will say the heart of the Tory manifesto is "a simple proposition - we are the party of working people, offering you security at every stage of your life".

And he will add: "My message to Britain is this: we have come this far together. Let's not waste the past five years. Now is not a time to put it all at risk, but to build on the progress we have made.

"If you want a more secure Britain, if you want a brighter future for your family and for you, then together, let's build on what we've done and see this through."

This month, the theme of 'Tenant Nation' is part of HuffPost UK's Beyond The Ballot series, looking at topics which are failing to penetrate the national debate. We're asking how we can defuse Britain's housing ticking time bomb, specifically for the millions living in private rented accommodation.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, told HuffPost UK: “When so many people are having to borrow money from loved ones just to cover their rent, it’s clear that housing affordability has reached crisis levels.

“Successive governments’ failure to build enough homes has left an entire generation on their knees, with more and more finding themselves stuck in the rent trap with barely a hope of ever saving for a stable home of their own."

As part of The Huffington Post UK's Beyond The Ballot series we want to know what issues you think aren't getting enough attention in the election campaign. Tweet using the hashtag #BeyondTheBallot to tell us in 140 characters and we'll feature the best contributions

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