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Right to Buy discount halved

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Right to Buy: Not what it was!

Right to Buy: Not what it was!

IT WAS ANNOUNCED last week that the Welsh Government had halved the maximum discount available under the Right to Buy scheme in an attempt to ‘protect the social housing stock’.

Earlier this year Communities Minister Lesley Griffiths announced her intention to end the scheme, which has been in existence since the early eighties when it was introduced by Michael Heseltine, Margaret Thatcher’s Environment Minister as part of the Housing Act (1980).

It is hard to think of a single policy which has been so divisive over the last three decades. It is, in effect, an ideological issue; with Free Market proponents on the one side advocating the power and responsibility taken from the state and given to the individual. Opposing this are critics who point to the drastic reduction in social housing over the time period, and the corresponding increases in homelessness and the use of public money to pay private landlords.

In Wales, 138,709 council-owned homes were sold under Right to Buy between 1981 and 2014 – leading to a reduction in the social housing available of 45 percent. Nationally 42% of the population lived in council housing in 1979 – by 2008 this had dropped to 12%.

The sale of council housing was originally meant to provide funds which would enable local authorities to pay back loans and build new properties. However, restrictions were placed on the proceeds of the sales, and councils found that they could not build any new social housing until these loans had been paid off. House building by local authorities in England and Wales dropped dramatically during the eighties, and has never recovered.

The Labour Government initially opposed the policy, but changed their position in 1985. Tony Blair’s government introduced caps on the discount available in areas short of social housing, and in 2005, the rules were changed to stop former tenants selling on the open market immediately after purchase. A five-year minimum residency before becoming eligible for the scheme was also introduced.

The policy was initially very popular among council tenants, and it was considered to have played a major role in Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory of 1983, when in 1980 she had the lowest approval rating of any prime minister since records began.

However, repossession rates were notably higher than those for people taking out private mortgages, and homelessness across Great Britain trebled over the eighties. Another bone of contention for those opposed to Right to Buy concerned the burgeoning buy to let market, which in many cases saw ex-council housing stock rented out at considerably more than the local authority charged.

Because most of the council housing purchased was of good quality, and as a result of housing shortages leading to applicants being prioritized on the basis of need, many tenants found themselves living in areas of increasing social deprivation. Cuts to council maintenance budgets, and a dramatic increase in council rents contributed to this on a national level, and to some extent made Right to Buy a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who could afford it. By the mid-nineties, 95% of council tenants qualified for means-tested benefits.

There has been a rise in the number of social housing sales in Wales over the last five years, with 544 properties sold last year. In response to this, the maximum discount has been reduced to £8,000 from £16,000. Commenting on this, Lesley Griffiths AM said that “Right to Buy is depleting our social housing stock.

“This damaging policy is further increasing the pressure on our social housing supply and is forcing many vulnerable people to wait longer for a home,” she added.

“This is why the Welsh Government has taken decisive action to protect our social housing and make sure it is available for those who need it most. Today is a significant step towards our eventual goal of abolishing the Right to Buy and Right to Acquire in Wales.”

The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, disagree with this. Speaking earlier this year, Shadow Assembly Housing Minister Mark Isherwood said that the move ‘flies in the face of aspiration and ambition. It will limit supply and deny people in council properties the choice and power to buy their own home’.

Mr Isherwood announced the intention of the Welsh Conservatives to extend Right to Buy: “We would invest all the sales proceeds in new social and affordable housing to help tackle Labour’s housing supply crisis and take households off their record-breaking waiting lists,” he added.

“Scrapping the right to buy is further proof that it’s anti-aspiration; stuck in an ’80s socialist dogma where it believes the government knows best – not the individual. We must use every tool in the armoury to increase housing supply in order to make housing more affordable.”

Whether selling off social housing in order to make money which could potentially be used to build more is a viable solution to these ‘record-breaking waiting lists,’ or indeed whether the aforementioned 45 percent reduction in available social housing could have had anything to do with the current housing shortage remains unclear.

This also fails to take into consideration people living in social housing that is not covered by Right to Buy, and indeed the large number of people renting from private landlords, often because of a shortage of council housing.

In England, the Conservatives have announced proposals which would extend Right to Buy across all areas of social housing. However, the social housing provider would have to be compensated, thus meaning that the discounted price would have to cover the cost of a new equivalent house. This is meant to be funded through local authorities selling off their more expensive council houses when they become vacant, but research has shown that outside of London the figures often fail to add up.

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Chancellor’s economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts

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THE CHANCELLOR, Rishi Sunak, set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.

The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.

He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.

Another announcement is that employers who take back staff on furlough and continuously employ them until January will get £1,000 cash bonus per employee.

Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”

Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.

Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.

He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.

He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”

Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

He also announced:

  • A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.
  • VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
  • Funding for apprenticeships and trainee-ships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.
  • £1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres
  • A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.
  • A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.

Stephen Crabb has given his strong backing to the Chancellor’s coronavirus recovery plan, calling it “a huge step towards getting Pembrokeshire back on its feet”.

The Preseli MP said that the Chancellor’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ includes a £1000 bonus for businesses to bring back furloughed staff and the Kickstart scheme which will provide high quality work placements for unemployed youngsters. In England businesses will also be offered £1000 bonus to take on a trainee and £2000 for each new apprentice. Welsh Government has been given equivalent money to support their training schemes.

Speaking in the House of Commons following the Chancellor’s statement, Crabb said: “Make no mistake, this action to save a generation of young people from bearing the brunt of the economic crisis is incredibly positive and to be welcomed.”

The MP has previously warned about the prospect of a surge in unemployment as a result of the lockdown.

The Chancellor also announced a cut in VAT for the tourism and hospitality sector, giving a much needed boost to some of the sectors hardest hit by coronavirus. Early on in the lockdown, Crabb wrote to the Chancellor to call for a package of support for Tourism that included a VAT cut.

Responding to the announcement today, he said: “I am delighted that the Chancellor has listened to the proposals that many MPs from coastal areas have put forward. Tourism and hospitality need a real shot in the arm and the VAT cut will be very welcome.”

Today’s statement also saw the launch of a new ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, giving people 50% off meals out to encourage more families to eat out or get a takeaway during the month of August.   These measures will be important for Pembrokeshire’s many hospitality businesses who are still awaiting an announcement from Welsh Government on when they can open again.

On Friday Stephen Crabb will be bringing together more than thirty local pubs and restaurants for an online discussion with the County Council and others about how the sector can re-open safely and successfully.

 

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Politics

Cllr Beynon suspended as school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL said that they are unable to comment on the suspension of a Pembroke Dock councillor as a school governor.

Cllr Beynon confirmed that he has been suspended as a school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur.

“I’m looking forward until when the ombudsman throws out the complaints,” Cllr Beynon said.

Paul Dowson, a fellow Pembroke Dock councillor, recently resigned from the board of school governors of Ysgol Harri Tudur.

Cllr Dowson said after he resigned: “I feel a recent smear campaign reflects badly on the school even though its untrue.”

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Union wants council investigation into Councillor Paul Dowson’s conduct

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Councillor Paul Dowson’s public statements criticising the Black Lives Matter movement should be formally investigated by the council, according to UNISON.

The trade union said Mr Dowson’s use of a phrase adopted by the racist Klu Klux Klan was deeply offensive when people around the world were united in protest at police brutality and the murder of George Floyd.

UNISON questioned whether the councillor is fit to hold public office.

Mr Dowson used his Facebook page to attack Labour councillor Josh Beynon’s suggestion Pembrokeshire County Hall could be lit up in support of Black Lives Matter’s commemoration of Mr Floyd’s death.

Cllr Dowson posted that “White lives matter” a White supremacist phrase which originated in 2015 as a racist response to protests against police brutality against Black-Americans in the USA. Councillor Beynon received an online torrent of racist and homophobic abuse.

Manuela Hughes, UNISON Pembrokeshire branch chair said: “The Black Lives Matter movement has shown everyone that racism is rife in society. Black people are more likely to have been subjected to police brutality, more likely to live in poverty and more likely to be unemployed as a result of systemic racism. Their contribution is often written out of the history of this country.

Black workers have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and in the NHS, care and transport sectors, Black people have paid with their lives for caring for the whole community.

“This is the climate in which Councillor Dowson made his comments. He has brought Pembrokeshire County Council into disrepute. It is important that everyone stands together against racism and the council must formally investigate his behaviour.”

Mr Dowson was criticised for his Facebook comments in April last year that former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, should commit suicide.

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