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Tories must flesh out housing policy

My prediction that politicians would start saying some interesting things on home ownership is coming true.

Even the national press is tired of the silly season. It wants something substantial to chew on and while foreign affairs have kept up the news momentum, there has been little else to keep the political hacks occupied.

To the rescue comes David Cameron, playing up to the cameras and announcing that he wants nothing short of a “housing revolution”, to “create a whole new generation of home owners”. This will be done by allowing people to convert social housing rental payments into mortgage payments.

It was just the sort of eye-candy announcement we have come to expect from the new spinner on the block – and hats off to him.

Right to Buy deeply divides opinion. For some it is the embodiment of the 1980s, giving people a helping hand to propel their social mobility and a route out of poverty. It was also a popular policy. In 1982, 167,000 council homes were bought by tenants. For others it represents everything that was wrong with the 1980s with its loadsamoney connotations of yuppie aspirations.

As council stock, paid for by taxpayers, was sold off, little was built to replace it. Yet the need for social housing did not go away.

On many council estates it is possible to spot those who exercised their right to buy, often by the customisation of their properties. But some bought homes are in a state of disrepair. Clearly the owners, who once qualified for state supported housing, have not had the money to pay for the upkeep.

When Labour took power it changed the terms under which council tenants can buy their homes outright. These included raising the time a tenant has to live in the house to five years and allowing the local authority to buy it back.

There is a problem with affordability and the aspiration to own your own home is not the preserve of the middle class. But people who buy properties must be able to afford them in the long run.

The problem with sound bite policies is that there is nothing to base a considered opinion on. Who would own the property, where would the risk of the loan lie and what would happen on default? The proposal is being taken forward by the Tories’ review group, so perhaps it is unfair to pass judgement until there is more meat on the policy bones.

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I’ve always been intrigued by the phrase ‘silly season’. For a long time I was unsure when this fabled season visits. Was it an annual occurrence like a bank holiday or a moveable feast? At last I believe I’ve cracked it. It’s clearly the late July to early September period when people are on their summer holidays and there’s not much news.

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