Wednesday, 6 March 2013
Straighten up and buy right
Twice in the last 24 hours I've seen somebody having a pop at the policy of selling off council houses and it’s telling that the use of the word ‘Thatcherite’ automatically implies criticism. Boo, hiss, nasty, etc, although isn't it curious that nobody called the Conservatives of Mrs Thatcher’s day The Nasty Party (That was down to TheresaMay – cheers, Tess.)
Anyway, to hear some talk, the heinous selling of homes to their long-term tenants at very generous discounts is directly responsible for the current ‘housing crisis’, causing the return of Rackman-style landlords to raid the public coffers of housing benefit. What utter cod. Predictably the red-to-its-roots Daily Mirror leads the rallying cry against ‘toffs’ and ‘cronies’ as if every single social housing entrepreneur is directly related to the Iron Lady and her evil plot to help ordinary people achieve a lifetime ambition.
Actually, the Labour Party itself, in its manifesto of 1959, proposed to introduce the right of tenants to buy the homes they lived in. It was a laudable aim, a very British aspiration and it offered for the first time the possibility that an ordinary working class family could accumulate some bricks and mortar; a castle of their own to pass on to their children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the idea... except for the profligacy of weak and venal humans.
Throughout the eighties council tenants exercised their right to buy, effectively capping their accommodation costs, acquiring a little bit of England for themselves and starting to feel a little bit middle class. Living through real austerity in the post-war years and true to their working class values a good many lived within their means and eventually paid off their small mortgages to live rent-free for ever more. Plenty of ordinary pensioners owe their relatively comfortable old age to Mrs Thatcher.
But it was also the age of consumerism and among the younger and more reckless a more dangerous game of Keeping Up With Every Single One Of The Joneses was played out. The race was on; some sold as soon as they could, took the profit and moved up and out. Others discovered the money-for-nothing world of the remortgage. After all, the price of houses had only ever gone up, hadn’t it? And the banks in their turn were duped and continued to lend, ever more optimistically, fuelled by exactly the same greedy instincts as their mortgagees.
The warning signs were there from the start – cars worth more than the original price of the houses standing alongside the settee in the garden. Too-expensive new show kitchens and bathrooms and giant televisions and foreign holidays. This was not the fault of any government - New Labour even rejoiced at the notion of ordinary people living way beyond their means – this was simple human avarice. Former secure council tenants wilfully placed themselves in jeopardy and rode the boom until the inevitable sorry bust.
Buy-to-let mortgages allowed ordinary people with a bit of vision to acquire a property portfolio and as former owners became renters once more it was a viable enterprise. Now they are pariahs because what, because they rent to welfare recipients? Despite what Owen Jones thinks there are few predatory landlords out there. Most are bumping along the bottom just like their tenants.
Renting in the welfare sector is a gamble and without any capital gains many social landlords are currently making a loss. If Housing Benefit is cut they can’t rely on tenants to make up the difference so they suck it up; they have little choice, yet according to the merry little Chavmeister they are all evil millionaires exploiting the weak.
Talking of chavs, self-styled King of the Chavs, Michael Carroll blew the best part of £10million and freely admits he couldn’t handle it. He is an extreme example, but one recognised by every law-abiding neighbour of one of his kind.
A poverty-stricken council house tenant.
Don't give him money - he'll only lose it.
Is there a moral here? Not really, just a truth - in life there are winners and losers at all levels. It doesn’t matter how much social engineering is applied, money will always leave those incapable of understanding it; plenty have proved they fit that profile. And of course it is the naivety of Socialism once again... not understanding money or people is a real problem in a world that is run by people. With money.