- Much of the rent in both types of tenure had to be covered by housing benefit, and as council houses continued to be sold, the proportion of the poor and disadvantaged claiming housing benefit in expensive privately rented property rose. Many people who bought their council houses sold them on to private landlords, who rented them to people on housing benefit who couldn’t get a council house, at double or triple the levels of council rent.
Right to Buy thus created an astonishing leak of state money – taxpayers’ money, if you like to think of it that way – into the hands of a rentier class. First, the government sold people homes it owned at a huge discount. Then it allowed the original buyers to keep the profit when they sold those homes to a private landlord at market price. Then the government artificially raised market rents by choking off supply – by making it impossible for councils to replace the sold-off houses. Then it paid those artificially high rents to the same private landlords in the form of housing benefit – many times higher than the housing benefit it would have paid had the houses remained in council hands.
In other words, since Thatcher, the British government has done the exact opposite of what it has encouraged households to do: to buy their own homes, rather than renting. Thatcher and her successors have done all they can to sell off the nation’s bricks and mortar, only to be forced to rent it back, at inflated prices, from the people they sold it to. Before Right to Buy, the government spent a pound on building homes for every pound it spent on rent subsidies. Now, for every pound it spends on housing benefit, it puts five pence towards building.