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A rare consensus in British politics today is that the UK is facing a housing crisis. The precise causes of this crisis are more controversial. One argument frequently – and increasingly volubly – made is that it is actually a social housing crisis. Some argue the fall in housebuilding since its post-war peak is directly down to a collapse in public-sector housebuilding.

In this analysis, the introduction of the Right to Buy in the 1980s is often identified as something approaching a moment of original sin. By selling off our social housing stock, and failing to build replacements, Margaret Thatcher not only engaged in a bargain-basement transfer of the state’s assets to private individuals, but laid the seeds of the current disaster.

The prescription, accordingly, is simple: for the state to get back into the housebuilding business at a large scale.

But this argument is flawed on its own terms.

The UK has an unusually high rate of social housing provision compared to other countries, and a very low rate of home ownership. Far from being a nation of homeowners, we come a feeble fifth from the bottom in a ranking of 34 developed countries by home ownership rate, while we have the second highest proportion of housing which is let at subsidised or ‘social’ rents after only Slovenia.

These figures show that the UK’s housing crisis cannot, by its very nature, be a crisis of social housing. It is home ownership and private housing that is missing, not social housing.

We can also observe this from the impact Right to Buy did (or did not) have on social housing waiting lists. Contrary to the popular story you will hear from John McDonnell and the political Left, Right to Buy did not increase waiting lists. Waiting list numbers actually declined in the Right to Buy heyday of 1981-1997, by around 200,000, despite 100,000 social homes being sold off each year on average and only 36,000 being built. This was because private housing was more affordable, with house prices rising by only 8% in real terms. People want to be homeowners, and increasingly, even those on low and average incomes were moving into ownership.

The rate of decline in the social housing stock slowed substantially from 1997 to 2009, so the supply of social homes reduced much less, but social housing lists soared by 770,000. Why? Because real house prices rose by 108%. Waiting lists are primarily a function of private housing failure, which inflates the demand for social homes. Waiting lists track house prices, not stock levels. After all, selling a council house to the tenant means one less council house, but it also means one less household in need of social housing.

The problem with the UK is that the supply of housing has been inadequate, migration policy has added demand pressures, and on top of this, low interest rates combined with well-meaning but confused regulation has both increased prices and locked out people who do not have a large deposit. Nothing to do with Right to Buy.

Right to Buy was a positive because it increased the number of home owners in this country. Home ownership matters. People of all age groups and all tenures say it is by far their preferred tenure type. Polling shows people perceive benefits such as a greater sense of freedom and control over their own life, as well as feeling more settled – and that non-financial elements are actually more important than financial benefits. Owning is linked to greater wellbeing and life satisfaction, and academic research has consistently pointed to a positive link between home ownership and participation in community organisations, political engagement, and social capital in general.

The people who want and need social housing would rather be owners. If you help them to own, and do so just by moving properties and tenants out of the rented sector, this is a positive. In addition, if you move social housing properties into ownership, but this allows you to build more social homes to replace them, this is also a positive.

The introduction of the Right to Buy in the 1980s widened the circle of home ownership by offering council tenants the chance to own their own home – an offer that millions took up. However, in recent decades the take-up of Right to Buy has slowed to a crawl. The Conservatives’ promise in their 2015 manifesto to extend the Right to Buy to housing associations – which now own the majority of Britain’s social housing stock – has been kicked into the longest of Whitehall grass.

The public, of whatever age and background, still see owning a home as an essential part of living the good life. But increasingly, that ambition is being thwarted. The real crisis we face in our housing sector is a crisis of home ownership. At the Centre for Policy Studies, we set out ways in which the government should look to help private renters onto the housing ladder in a paper last year, ‘From Rent to Own’. But the Government also needs to not renege on the Conservative 2015 pledge to expand Right to Buy to housing association tenants.

If not for policy reasons, then the Government should reflect that at a time when trust and respect for politicians is at an all time low, betraying the clear pledge to between 1.3 and 1.8 million households – that the Right to Buy would be extended to them might be a bad idea. If the West Midlands pilot is broadly accurate, and had been rolled out nationally, 180,000 would be engaged in the process of buying their home.

We have allowed a narrative to develop around Right to Buy which views it as part of the problem, not the solution. The Conservative Party should be proud of the Right to Buy revolution and the rising home ownership which was delivered in the 1980s and 1990s. We need much more than Right to Buy – but it should remain part of the policy future in this country.

Alex Morton is the Head of Policy at the Centre for Policy Studies. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine On the home front. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.