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Conservative right-to-buy pledge is immoral, Walker says

17 April 2015


Shored up: David Cameron  (with hand raised) at a development of luxury houses and apartments in Edgware, London, on Wednesday

Shored up: David Cameron  (with hand raised) at a development of luxury houses and apartments in Edgware, London, on Wednesday

THE Conservative Party's pledge to extend the Right to Buy scheme to 1.3 million families in housing association homes could be the "most blatant transfer of charity assets to private ownership since Henry VIII sold off the monasteries", the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said on Wednesday.

The policy, announced in the party's manifesto on Tuesday, would offer tenants discounts worth up to £102,700 in London, and £77,000 in the rest of England - much higher than existing discounts available to about 800,000 tenants.

The CEO of the National Housing Federation, David Orr, described it as "comprehensively the wrong solution", entailing "the transfer of huge sums of money to private individuals who are already some of the best- and most cheaply housed people in the country".

It was unfair, he said, to the nine million people in rented accommodation who had "no chance of becoming social tenants, and therefore no chance of benefiting from this bonanza". Mr Orr argues that forcing associations to sell would be against the law as it currently stands.

Dr Walker, who served on the board of the Federation from 1996 to 2002, described the policy on Twitter as "economic nonsense and immorality". 

"All the evidence is that, when a council house is sold, you do not get one-for-one replacement, but around one for every 11," he said. "What this is doing is reducing the supply of rental housing right at the moment when it is most needed for those who have the least choices."

The pastoral letter from the House of Bishops (News, 20 February) had warned against "Dutch-auction" politics in the run-up to the election.

There were plenty of promises in the manifestos published this week, as well as echoes of the sort of politics prescribed by the Bishops.

The Labour manifesto asserted that "too much power is unaccountable, concentrated in the market and the state, at the expense of individuals and their communities", and refers to "the common good" four times.

The Conservative manifesto sets out plans to build the "Big Society" praised by the Bishops, and says that volunteering is now at a ten-year high. It recognises that churches play "an important and long-standing role in this country's social fabric". (Churches are not mentioned by name in either the Labour or Liberal Democrat manifestos.)

The Bishops' letter called for policies to address climate change. On Monday the director of policy and public affairs at Christian Aid, Christine Allen, said that Labour's low-carbon target for the power sector would "get Britain back on track" to shift to a low-carbon model; "but the manifesto neglects to mention the urgent need to phase out unabated coal use".

The Conservative manifesto contains a number of "green" pledges, including "cutting carbon emissions as cheaply as possible". This was "wise", Ms Allen said, but "they need a more coherent long-term plan for reducing emissions across the economy."

The Liberal Democrats have a raft of pledges, including five "Green Laws" including a new legally binding target to bring greenhouse-gas emissions to zero by 2050.

Christian Aid has carried out an analysis of the parties' bids to tackle tax injustice. The Labour manifesto included "some of the most vital tax- fairness reforms", Ms Allen said; but she also praised Mr Cameron for getting "international tax reform moving, as well as championing vital public registers of who really owns companies".

She was "disappointed" that the Conservative manifesto did not commit the party to "further tackling dodgy tax practices in the Overseas Territories".

Crisis welcomed the Liberal Democrats' commitment to protecting benefits for those in the 18-21 age group. The policy is shared by UKIP, which would also take assessments for fitness-to-work away from companies and give them back to GPs, and train and fund 800 advisers to work in foodbanks. Labour proposes replacing the House of Lords with an elected "Senate of the Nations and Regions". 

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