Page last updated at 07:57 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

The legacy of a key Thatcher policy

By Jamie McIvor
Local government correspondent, BBC Scotland

House building
Ministers said they were building new affordable homes

The right to buy council houses had a dramatic and almost certainly irreversible impact on Scottish society.

It was a landmark policy of Margaret Thatcher's government which proved widely popular in Scotland - even if many of those who took advantage of it might not have been keen to give her the credit for it.

Scotland had never been a nation of home owners, and council housing in Scotland in the 50s, 60s and 70s was never synonymous with social housing for those who could never hope to afford a mortgage.

Indeed, until relatively recently, it was not uncommon to find prosperous working class and lower middle class people living in a council house.

The introduction of the right to buy meant that tenants - many of whom had lived in their home for decades - were able to take possession of their properties at heavily discounted rates.

Soon, new front doors, double glazing and extensions clearly indicated which homes had been bought.

Increasingly, the distinction between social housing and private housing is likely to become clearer again, with those who aspire to stepping onto the property ladder once again having to move home

After 30 years, it is easy to forget that many pleasant, respectable housing estates - like the 1930s Glasgow suburb of Knightswood - were originally council schemes.

Several former council homes have since changed hands several times and have soared in value. Those which are still available for rent are often highly sought after.

The number of people owning their own homes in Scotland more than doubled in 20 years.

The rise from 747,000 at the end of 1982 to 1,526,000 in 2002 was more rapid than in other parts of the UK.

Over the same period, owner-occupation in Scotland rose from 38% to 63% - closing the gap on the rest of the UK, where owner rates increased more modestly from 59% to 70%.

In recent years, the rate of increase has slowed down substantially though.

First step

For some, the right to buy allowed them to invest in improving a much-loved family home. It was a chance to move up in the world without leaving friends and neighbours.

For others it was a first step on to the property ladder.

But, as the number of houses available for rent fell, it brought problems.

The waiting list for social housing grew and the properties which were available were often in less desirable locations.

The right to buy had already been modified in Scotland.

Ends a chapter

People occupying newly-built homes lost the right some years ago and individual authorities had the right to ask for it to be suspended completely.

The hope is the number of good homes available for rent to those who could never hope to afford to buy a good home will now be maintained and then grow.

But moves to end the right to buy for all new tenants - even those in older accommodation - undoubtedly ends a chapter.

Existing tenants will still be able to buy their homes in many areas.

But, increasingly, the distinction between social housing and private housing is likely to become clearer again, with those who aspire to stepping onto the property ladder once again having to move home.



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SEE ALSO
New right to buy laws published
14 Jan 10 |  Scotland
SNP: Right to buy 'had its day'
18 Oct 09 |  Scotland
Number of affordable homes rises
27 Aug 09 |  Scotland
25m to kick-start house building
19 Apr 08 |  Scotland
SNP plan to end housing 'crisis'
31 Oct 07 |  Scotland

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