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Right to buy ‘offered a temporary boost to home ownership, but many of the children of the beneficiaries of right to buy now find themselves paying up to half their salary on rent’. Photograph:Getty Images

The rise of middle-aged renters exposes empty Tory promises

Policies like right to buy have boosted housing insecurity, not reduced it. This dogma-driven absurdity can’t go on

You can’t understand British politics without noting two facts: firstly, the worst squeeze in wages in the industrialised world other than Greece, and secondly, a housing crisis devouring the security of millions. We already know that home ownership has collapsed for young Britons: for 25- to 34-year-olds on middle incomes, the rate has plummeted from 65% to 27% in the space of two decades.

With the ideologically driven failure to promote council housing, a generation has been pushed into an insecure, often rip-off private rented sector. But it’s no longer just the young condemned to housing insecurity: the number of 35- to 54-year-old private tenants has doubled in the space of a decade.

In a society rigged in favour of landlords over tenants, to rent privately is to be deprived of security. There are now 1.8 million families renting privately – up from 600,000 in the early 2000s – and two-thirds of those wish their children weren’t in the private rented sector. Who can blame them? You can be asked to leave with little notice, and your rent can be arbitrarily increased, forcing you to make a choice between lowering your living standards further or the upheaval of finding somewhere else to live. That deprives you of a sense of stability, of setting down roots, of knowing your child doesn’t have to be bumped from school to school.

Many families once enjoyed the security of a decent, genuinely affordable council house, but four in 10 of the council dwellings flogged off under right to buy are now owned by private landlords charging twice the rent.

Here is the irony: the Tories promised that neoliberalism would deliver choice and a property-owning democracy. Instead, it has stripped away choice, compelling millions to settle for the insecurity of the private rented sector. It offered a temporary boost to home ownership, but many of the children of the beneficiaries of right to buy now find themselves paying up to half their salary to rent cramped flats.

The Tories have built a system defined by insecurity – from wages to job contracts to housing to the welfare state. If they want to understand why socialism – long dead, never coming back, or so they thought – has undergone a revival, this is why. They believed they could get away with it if it was only the young who suffered: they’ll never vote, or so they comforted themselves. But as insecurity stalks the middle-aged, too, the Tories may discover that they have reared the gravediggers of their ideology.

Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist

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