There really is something mystifying about the Conservative Party's proposal to sell off social housing under a new right-to-buy scheme. It's just so old-fashioned.

First of all, who would exercise this right? When Margaret Thatcher first introduced the idea, the country had abundant council housing, and there were, in that beloved phrase, plenty of 'hard working families' occupying council houses who had tidy incomes and take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Now access to social housing is so restricted that most of its occupants are in a parlous financial state and couldn't dream of buying, even with a hefty discount.

Secondly, it is just such a bad idea. Some individuals benefitted from the Thatcher sell-off but the overall effect was a great fall in social housing, which we are seeing the effects of today. This time the Conservative party says that it will ensure that money both from selling to occupiers and from sales of expensive housing will go into building new homes. But its discount is effectively a subsidy, and if there are going to be subsidies they should surely be directed on the basis of need?

And my third concern is that the result will be cheap housing built in undesirable areas. London at least has always had a great social mix, with social housing cheek by jowl with expensive homes. Indeed, a lot of the best housing has been designed to be 'tenure neutral' so that ou couldn't tell which was occupied by social renters and which by purchasers (although we did of course also have the iniquity of 'poor doors'). The new policy sounds like a route to building ghettos, laying down the social problems of tomorrow.

John Elledge has written an interesting piece on the insanity of this approach. It's worth a read.

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