One of the criticisms made this week about Margaret Thatcherâ€™s three governments was that the Right to Buy (RTB) policy, whereby council house tenants could buy their homes at a significant discount, â€œdecimatedâ€ 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 didnâ€™t destroy any houses. They are often owned to this day by those who bought them (many arenâ€™t). But the point is that RTB did not reduce the housing stock.
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 didnâ€™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 didnâ€™t. They underperformed the Tories. The numbers debunk the rhetoric.
All the numbers come from the DCLGâ€™s Table 241: Permanent dwellings completed, by tenure, United Kingdom, historical calendar year series