National politics

Labour didn’t build, their comments about Right to Buy are cant

One of the criticisms made this week about Margaret Thatcher’s three governments was that the Right to Buy (RTB) policy, whereby council house tenants could buy their homes at a significant discount, “decimated” social housing in this country and therefore people are homeless today. Yeah right.

The really quite unpleasant Glenda Jackson MP told us on Wednesday:

It is a pity that she did not start building more and more social housing, after she entered into the right to buy, so that there might have been fewer homeless people than there were.

Jackson is talking rubbish of course and does not have any idea of the numbers or the performance of the last Labour government which was particularly poor. If RTB was such a big problem, why didn’t Labour build?

It is estimated that RTB took 2 million properties out of local authority control. Since the war we built about 16 million houses in this country (1949 to 2011). About 6.5 million of those were social housing of which local authority 5.3 million and housing association 1.2 million. So at the most RTB took out less than one third of the social housing stock. RTB didn’t destroy any houses. They are often owned to this day by those who bought them (many aren’t). But the point is that RTB did not reduce the housing stock.

DCLG, Live Table 241

What happened in the UK was that after the war governments of both colours built social housing on a large scale to replace bomb damaged homes, provide homes for returning servicemen and upgrade poor stock. This process lasted through the 70s and then ended, certainly the council housing component. The nadir was reached in 2004, seven years into the last Labour government, which built only 130 council houses in the whole of the UK in a whole year.


The numbers show that no Labour voice can complain about RTB. The last Labour government didn’t prioritise social housing. It is quite clear that fewer social houses were completed on average each year under Blair/Brown than under Thatcher/Major.

It is true that there is a lag in building houses and it is not clear yet whether the Coalition’s policies in this area will succeed. But it is certain that Thatcher/Major outperformed Blair/Brown in the delivery of social housing. If Labour truly thought there should be more social housing then they should have prioritised it. They didn’t. They underperformed the Tories. The numbers debunk the rhetoric.

All the numbers come from the DCLG’s Table 241: Permanent dwellings completed, by tenure, United Kingdom, historical calendar year series

2 replies on “Labour didn’t build, their comments about Right to Buy are cant”

A plague on all your houses! Council House building dropped like a stone under Thatcher and neither the Tories or New Labour have made up the slack ever since.

As for Right To Buy, those who did take up that right at Green Man Lane Estate may well now rue that decision as they lose their homes to Compulsory Purchase Orders and demolition.



Spitting out the name Thatcher you are being spiteful and simply not looking at the data . Since 1967 there were only 12 years when council house completions rose.

You mentioned council housing. If you take out housing associations and look only at council housing then New Labour is clearly the worst period for council housing.

If you want more social housing you have to answer how it should be paid for, in effect what should not be done to make room for more capital spending on council housing. Less schools? Less roads? Don’t forget that it was Alistair Darling who halved the nation’s capital programme in his 2009 Pre-Budget Report.

The Coalition in planning to deliver 170,000 social homes by 2015. If it achieves this its record will be better than Labour’s recent record.

Locally the Southall councillors have successfully slowed down the gas works project which was given planning permission in 2010. That is 3,750 new homes, of which 30%, that haven’t been built on derelict land next to a Crossrail station.

Labour’s recent housing record, locally and nationally, is nothing to boast about.


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