Thursday 5 August 2010

Houses and Homes

The announcement by Cameron that council tenancies will be of limited duration in future rather than for life seems to have ruffled a few feathers amongst his coalition partners. It is, though, a natural continuation of the basic hostility to council housing which Thatcher displayed with her 'Right to Buy' legislation, but without the underlying understanding of people.

I was always a bit ambivalent about the 'Right to Buy' legislation, to be honest. On the one hand, as a member for part of the 1980s of the Housing Committee of the Vale of Glamorgan Council, I could see at first hand the effect that it was going to have on our ability to house people. But on the other, I also understood very well how appealing the idea was to a large number of the tenants on the two small council estates where I grew up.

Whilst Thatcher may well have been motivated primarily by reducing the quantity of local government housing, and reducing the power of local government in general, she also touched a chord amongst tenants. It is sometimes too easy for us to overlook that. It was a skilful piece of politics, which encouraged people to put their own immediate interests ahead of longer term collective interests. (And that's actually a neat summary of what 'Thatcherism' was really about – and the impact it's had on society.)

It pleased her party's right wing, of course, and I'm sure that Cameron's announcement will have done likewise. But there, the similarity ends. Thatcher saw families living in and wanting to own their homes, and offered them a large carrot. Cameron seems only to see an insufficiently mobile labour force occupying publicly owned dwelling units, and is trying to wave a large stick.

He's not only wrong – it's not even clever politics.


Anonymous said...

Fair enough. But if Council Homes are supposed to be for those who are unable to afford to rent or buy in the private sector, is it not therefore right that those council tenants who's situation improve and no longer need help from the state, that they should move out and make the dwelling available to more needy people? It seems sensible to me.

John Dixon said...

But who says that "Council Homes are supposed to be for those who are unable to afford to rent or buy in the private sector"? And in what sense do you believe that council tenants get "help from the state"?

Peter Freeman said...

I remember the debate that took place when Thatcher brought out this policy of selling council houses. Plaid members supported it more emotionally than rationally because it harkened back to the principle of "Perchentiaeth" many, including myself, viewed this policy with suspicion. I believed at the time and still do that if you wish to purchase your home you should get out of the council house to buy one. If you are attached to the council house so that it is your home then you have the right to stay there.
Council homes are not exclusively for those whose circumstances have failed to improve, they are doe those whose circumstances may well have improved greatly but are still a prt of their community. Why should they be removed from it.

John Dixon said...


"if you wish to purchase your home you should get out of the council house to buy one".

An entirely rational position to adopt; but it misses two important points where Thatcher understood psychology only too well. The first is the difference between a house and a home; tenants didn't just want to own a house, they wanted to own their home. And if they'd lived in a house for a long time, that was the home that they wanted to own. Secondly, the level of discounts offered was such as to make purchase of that home possible in a way that purchase of an alternative was not.

I'm not arguing that the policy was right; merely that it struck a chord and was highly popular.

Anonymous said...

Rights for individuals are incredibly important but when those rights undermine the wider society, that causes (usually longer-term) problems. It's a philosophical point but explains why Plaid were mixed on this issue when it first came up.

Now however they are completely rational and consistent, and the work Jocelyn has done on this should help protect the affordable housing stock in Wales.

Alot of Plaid members in Gwynedd for example are involved in a housing group there, and their work would be completely threatened by the policy changes Cameron is suggesting.