Labour should commit to a public housing ministry in its manifesto | Letters

My thanks to John Harris for raising this most emblematic Thatcherite policy question (Something is stirring in England: right to buy looks imperilled, and not a moment too soon, 12 May). But he missed three important points. First, in proposing that a replacement policy would devolve decisions to local authorities, he omitted to say that they always had discretionary power to adopt a voluntary sales policy (with any capital cost falling within their housing revenue account). Right to buy nationalised the policy and devolved the costs, financial and social. Labour should go for local empowerment.

Second, it was only charitable housing associations that were excluded from right to buy; the stock of all other associations was treated the same as council housing.

Third, he fails to identify the huge impact of the move by employers out of earnings-related into “cash purchase” pensions. A large proportion of the buy-to-let sector is people’s future pensions, paid for too often by the taxpayer, via housing benefit for the rent.
John Crawley
Former CEO, Friendship Housing Group (1984-2004)

It is 105 years since the Addison Act ushered in the UK’s first mass public housing. Its success in delivering hundreds of thousands of homes derived from public funding and, crucially, a sense of mission and determination from central government to make it happen. Today, public housing struggles amid government obfuscation and neglect. We have had 20 housing ministers in 20 years, and almost all have suffered from a lack of focus, variously spinning between enabling the private sector, promoting right to buy, threatening housing associations, blaming planners, and diverting money to the amorphous levelling up programme.

What we need is a public housing ministry to ensure that genuinely affordable housing is properly funded and that councils are resourced to deliver and maintain homes in the long term. For the UK to thrive, decent and plentiful affordable housing is vital. It is time for a new determination for public housing. A dedicated ministry could drive this forward and should be a Labour party manifesto pledge.
Paul Karakusevic
Architect, London

Home ownership benefits are many, such as the freedom to alter a property and to sell up when you wish, and having an asset to pass on to children. The problems with the policy lie in its execution – principally, as John Harris notes, the failure to replace housing stock and to curb the exploitation of the policy by landlords. I grew up in council housing, but have owned my own home for decades. Home ownership is not everybody’s choice, but a policy that helps those who want it will always have my support.
Alan Gardiner
Birkenhead, Merseyside

Council housing saved me from homelessness as a child when we were evicted from our tied cottage owing to my father’s ill health. As a result, I’ve always opposed right to buy. If Labour is too timid to scrap it, it should at least end discounting and let councils use all the proceeds to build replacement housing.
David Felton
Crewe, Cheshire

John Harris is right to call for the abolition or reform of right to buy, but alternatives that let the middle class own homes while the working class can only rent will always be iniquitous. We need a system that lets councils reinvest receipts and become buyers of first resort if a homeowner wants to sell.
Warren Brown
Ilkley, West Yorkshire

The Guardian

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