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Let’s make a tenants ‘right to buy’ a human right

The Government seem intent on drafting a British Bill of Rights. Obviously, such a Bill must include freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination etc. Indeed, it seems inevitable that all of the civil rights currently included in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) can be expected to be included in the British Bill of Rights.

For my part, I would like to see political parties campaigning for an expansion of human rights. The ECHR was drafted 65 years ago and it is now old hat. What we need is a new Civil Rights charter that reflects British rights and values, and expands into economic and social rights. We need to look to the future, not to the distant past. So, for example, I would like to see the British values of free NHS care and welfare included. I would also like to see a right to food, to water, and to housing.

I would also like the much-heralded Conservative tenants ‘right to buy’ his/her home included. That being said, the libertarian conservative right to buy was/is designed to erode a citizen’s dependency on state provision. It is all about turning people into independent citizens who operate as a form of mini capitalist – operating within the limited boundaries of asset owning.

For me, the right to buy does not go far enough. As a libertarian socialist, I would like to see that right extended equally to all tenants. Indeed, I would argue that all tenants – irrespective of whether they are Council, Housing Association, or Private, tenants – should have the same equal right to buy the homes that they live in. If a discount of up to 70% is to be provided for one form of tenant – it should equally be applied for the others! Such an approach may worry some private landlords, but that is the price they must pay for a property owning democracy. Obviously, accompanying such an extension of a right to buy must be some significant legal protections against eviction – with only non-payment of rent being a basis for eviction. There would also need to be a firm control on rents, in order to ensure that any increases were consistent with inflation etc.

Yes, some capitalist landlords will squeal at the prospect of giving their tenants such a right to buy. But, for me, the position is clear – we should see all tenants treated respectfully and equally. Indeed, data for a English Housing Survey for 2011-12 showed that the rising number of private tenants, 3.84 million, outnumbered the 3.8 million in social housing (source http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21357841 ).

Let the Conservative Government openly disagree – i.e. if they wish to upset the 4 million or so private sector tenants. This ‘right to buy in the private sector’ proposal would not impact upon the Chancellors finances, since the private sector discounts would not be deriving from public funds.

Let’s stand up and argue for the rights of private tenants. Let’s make a tenants right to buy a human right.

Dr Peter Jepson is the editor of LawsBlog. He tweets as @Lawsblog

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