David Cameron and Grant Shapps today announced the revival of one of Mrs Thatcher’s most popular policies – the Right to Buy. The Act allowed people living in social housing to purchase their home from the Government at a discounted rate (depending on how long they had resided there). At the 2011 Conservative Party Conference, Cameron had pledged to increase the discounts available. The idea is to encourage hard-working families to get themselves on to the property ladder, to join the self-sufficient middle classes. A step up in the world if you will. Cameron said:

I want many more people to achieve the dream of home ownership. In the 1980s, ‘Right to Buy’ helped millions of people living in council housing achieve their aspiration of owning their own home.

The scheme is fantastic in principle. But, and believe me I hate having to do this… As Polly Toynbee rightly pointed out ten years ago:

The forgotten fact is that although it was life-changing for many of the 1.5 million who have bought their homes, in many places – the nations’ property hot-spots – it has been a calamity now turning into a crisis because there was no policy to replace all the lost social housing.

The Government has to use the receipts to replace the homes taken off the market, if possible it should be done on a one-for-one basis. If we simply plod along with a repeat of the 1980s version and don’t learn the lessons then it will be a disaster. We shouldn’t favour an increase in social housing ownership over helping first-time buyers, we should be pushing the two together. The new scheme will create jobs in the housing industry which is good news, but the real drive in the industry has to come from the private sector, not the state.

Another issue is that the Government must change its legislation that allows the home owners to rent out their council house, the Government can be praised for aiding people into home-ownership, but the state shouldn’t be allowing people to profiteer at the expense of the majority of taxpayers.