The Irony and Failures of the Right to Buy Scheme

When Margaret Thatcher unveiled the Right to Buy scheme in the 1980s, my mother took it as an opportunity to purchase the council flat she had been born and brought up in on behalf of my grandma who still lived in it. The three-bedroom maisonette in an enclave of looming council flats off the Caledonian road was purchased for a whopping sum of £18,000: a bargain by anyone’s standards.

This, the opportunity for council house tenants to purchase their homes at a large discount, was seen as a victory for Britain’s workers and working poor. My grandma, who eloped to London with £3,000, was finally able to own the home she had lived in for years and raised four children in, bringing security and dignity to her home, and when she passed it would become a source of income for my mother.

Nowadays, it is sub-let to the council, who have made it a house of multiple occupancy or HMO, one of the lesser failures of Thatcher’s scheme. A quick Zoopla search informs me that in April 2015 the flat two doors away sold for £435,000. One concern of the scheme involves people buying multiple council homes and then renting them out at extreme prices to vulnerable families, and even leasing companies offering tenants cash in exchange for their homes, all of which are perfectly legal.

The success of Thatcher’s Right to Buy is overshadowed by it’s own failures and indeed by the irony of Cameron’s 21st century version – extortionate house prices and rising rent mean young people and families both in the 1980s and now are forced out of their cities and into perpetual renting, with a continual increase in homelessness. For students, it means years of debt and living at home until middle age. For me, it means the irony of renting that three-bedroom maisonette from my mother because I’ll never be able to afford a house of my own.

The problem with the Right to Buy scheme is that it exacerbates the housing crisis even further. If people were to buy their council homes at the rates Cameron wants them to without the government replacing them (which they are not doing – only 46% of houses sold under the recent Right to Buy scheme have been replaced), then there are no council or housing association homes for those in need to live in. What we are left with is a vicious cycle of greed and desperation, and a generation left short by Thatcher’s legacy.