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Homes Not Houses

I have just returned from my very first Labour party conference, and predictably enough, I have come back more convinced than ever that I’m supporting the right party, and more galvanised than ever to contribute where I can. Also predictably enough, it is not the endless list of things Labour got right that I feel the need to discuss, it’s the thing I thought was flat out wrong. People are so difficult to please, aren’t they? But the thing is, Mr Miliband, the government of the 1980’s wasn’t right to sell people their council homes. Not the way they did it, and possibly not at all.

I don’t actually know why the leader of the Labour Party thinks this was such a positive thing because it was never qualified. But there it was, right in the middle of his speech to conference, an endorsement from red Ed of what was possibly the most damaging policy Britain ever passed.

I know that this is a nation obsessed with home ownership, but it is an entirely artificial obsession. It is a status we have decided on and afforded home owners, but that doesn’t make being a home owner important – far more important, surely, is actually having a home?

My grandparents have lived in a council house their whole lives; that’s what people did back then. It never occurred to them that they were any lesser for not owning their home; it never occurred to them that the house they lived in wasn’t theirs. Now they have a safe place to grow old with dignity, a home that is reasonably priced and well maintained, and that they have made their own through years of shared memories in it. Compare to this my mother, who did buy her council house in the 1980’s. Yes, she’s a ‘home owner’ now, but we’ve not had central heating for three years because we can’t afford a new boiler. She’s one of a generation whose children are still living at home at aged 25 (ahem), a generation of sofa surfers and young people paying extortionate rent to shady private landlords to live in substandard accommodation – how, precisely, is that better?

As ever, it was probably my good friend Janvier that put it best when she pointed out that it isn’t the role of the state to provide low cost housing – it is the job of the government to provide a safety net. That safety net has slowly been chipped away by people actively making their own living conditions worse because we so value this social status, how very British is that? Now for every person who can impress Phil and Kristy there are ten people whose actual standard of life could be improved by council housing. Now we’re a nation that is at the mercy of interest rate fluctuations in a way they just aren’t on the continent, because we’re a nation at the mercy of our mortgages. We’re a developed nation that have citizens sleeping rough on the street, in conditions we wouldn’t dream of punishing a convicted criminal with.

Homelessness, in all its guises, is on the increase and the situation can only get worse. Even the most optimistic forecasters admit we have more of this recession to endure, and as affordable housing becomes less profitable to build and council housing becomes more scarce it’s the people at the bottom of society who suffer. I was pretty disappointed in Ed for that. He leads the party of the people, and he should be thinking about getting them into homes before he thinks about selling them houses.

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Co-founder and contributor to Scarlett Nation.

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  • Janvier

    Ha! Oh you. I was getting ready to make almost this very post.

    Yes, Right To Buy was without a doubt one of the most damaging policies ever passed upon this great nation. And outside of the damages mentioned above, it is just plain bad business sense. One should never undersell one’s assets (particularly the Government shouldn’t, given these assets were paid for by all of us, and you’ll see this problem again and again in the privatisations of the 80s and 90s – private companies making profits off public investment) especially without plans to recoup your portfolio standing.

    I fear that Right To Buy was to serve one purpose and one purpose only – to bribe traditional Labour voters in to supporting the Conservatives by forcing them into the middle classes. Which would get me into another rant about the assumption/accepted wisdom that if you have wealth you must be right-wing and only the working classes vote Labour, but that’s for another day…