BLOG: Thatcher, Thatcher, housing snatcher
To some she was the heroine who saved Britain from being the sick man of Europe, broke the Unions which had held the country to ransom, freed up the City to allow massive economic growth and a huge rise in living standards, cemented the UK as a key partner of the US, helped end the cold war and free Nelson Mandela.
To others she was the devil incarnate who rode roughshod over the working population, forced three million people out of their jobs, introduced a culture of self-interest, established a system under which the rich got substantially richer and the poor devastatingly poorer, oversaw a huge rise in the price of the pound which crippled the UK’s manufacturing base, unleashed the greed of the City, laying the groundwork for the recent economic crisis, made the UK the lap dog of the US, and prolonged Apartheid.
Take your pick – or a pick ‘n’ mix – of the above.
But when it comes to housing, sadly, her legacy is mainly unfavourable. The Right to Buy policy which had floated around as a concept since 1959 but took root via the 1980 Housing Act, during her reign (and I use the word advisedly), may have contained at its core a commendable aim. Helping people in social housing to buy their own property at a discount is not in itself an offensive concept to most people.
However, the fact that under the rules, councils were only allowed to invest a maximum of 25% of the money raised from the sales back into building new social housing had devastating consequences. The stock of social housing in the UK fell by over 20% in the 1980s and has continued its downward trajectory.
For the past 30 years, housing waiting lists have lengthened, with millions forced into the Private Rental Sector, financed by the taxpayer. Our annual housing benefit bill is now £24bn. While current cuts in housing benefit seek to reduce this cost, in reality the concern is that more people will simply be forced out of their current accommodation and into even more expensive B&Bs and hotels.
Perhaps Lady Thatcher had simply not thought this policy through – indeed, her personal approach to housing was somewhat conflicted. After all, she herself was loath to leave Government housing (Number 10), and never liked the privately-owned house in Dulwich she and Dennis had bought as an investment. Ironically, she ended her days in the Ritz hotel.
We can only speculate as to where Arthur Scargill might end up, since a judge ruled in December that the National Union of Mineworkers is no longer obliged to pay the rent on his £1.5m flat in the Barbican, where he has lived since 1982. The easyhotel in Luton?