Is Right to Buy really the priority to tackle the housing crisis?

Boris Johnson has vowed to extend a scheme to allow social tenants to buy their homes. Credit: PA

Boris Johnson leant heavily on Thatcherism yesterday in saying those who buy their social home “switched identities and psychology from being dependent on the state for every repair to being in charge of their own family home”. But Housing Secretary Michael Gove has taken a very different tone.

When I asked him about Right to Buy this week, Michael Gove chose to cite the work of two Conservative prime ministers: Churchill and Macmillan, who built thousands of council houses (now referred to as social homes).

No mention of Mrs Thatcher.

In November, when appearing before MPs on the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee , in response to a question about social housing, Mr Gove said: “When we are looking at housing policy overall, we should all try to rid ourselves of positions that date from the ’80s, which reflected a very different world.”

Since becoming housing secretary, Mr Gove has consistently said we need to build more social homes - council and housing association properties - with far greater emphasis than his predecessors.

He’s hardly mentioned, until very recently, reigniting right to buy.

I’m told by a Whitehall source Right to Buy has very much been pushed by No 10 and the policy unit.

There’s been “friction” with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities who don’t see it as a priority. They’ve been insistent there’s like for like replacement (which the PM said in his speech yesterday) but they know it’s very hard to achieve.

Home ownership is a cornerstone of Conservative thinking, but specifically on social housing, there were fewer than 6,000 built last year, when 1.1 million families are on social housing waiting lists and 121,000 children are in temporary accommodation.

Right to Buy risks being a big barrier to addressing that.

The promise of like for like replacement is complicated and not directly in government control.

Mr Gove has argued building more social homes will boost homeownership, as lower rent means more people can save for a deposit.

But, right now there is nowhere enough social housing (and enough good quality social housing, which is another issue I have been covering), hence why Mr Gove has prioritised (at least in his public statements) building more as his main priority, not pushing Right to Buy.

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