Coffee House

Should this man accept a £75,000 ‘bribe’ from George Osborne?

25 July 2013

Meet Maurice Mcleod. He’s a proper leftie, who has lived in council accommodation all his life. He pays rent for it — about £480 a month for his rather down-at-heel one-bedroom flat in Tooting. Yet due to the London property bubble it is now valued at £150,000 and if he wants to buy it he can claim a £75,000 discount thanks to George Osborne’s enhanced right-to-buy. On a bad month, Maurice says his net assets dip below £750, so he could be worth £75,000 overnight – just by taking Osborne’s (borrowed) shilling. He has written about his dilemma in the new Spectator, out today.

Maurice loathes right-to-buy, seeing it as a divisive Tory policy that has torn the heart out of council estates that were intended for the whole community rather than to enclose the poor. Furthermore, he loathes the whole rationale behind it: that a man ought to ‘move on’ in life buy buying ever-bigger houses in ever-leafier areas. What’s wrong with us as a society, he says, where we can’t judge our success by other metrics? He loathes the way that Osborne described property ownership as a basic human aspiration: what does that say about the Germans, who mostly rent? Is it humanity they lack, or aspiration? Or could Osborne be preaching a very peculiar materialistic gospel, which ought to be viewed with a mixture of bafflement and repugnance?

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Maurice joins us for our podcast this week, and when I put to him that – principles aside – he could be worth £75,000 by Christmas. What would he do with that cash? He replied that his worth is not defined by his property portfolio. A noble way to see the world, without doubt. But as he says in the piece, principles are worthless until they are tested. His are being tested: if he sells out, he’ll fetch a very handsome price. The freak economic conditions of the London bubble and QE-era of low rates mean he might never again have a chance to bag £75,000 which – by his maths – is a sum he has zero chance of ever acquiring through work. The Tory devil, in the form of George Osborne, has come to tempt Maurice in his fiscal desert. Will he succumb?

I’d say so. Helen Lewis from the New Statesman, a fellow leftie, says so too: you can use a system while hating it, she says. It need not be selling out. I’d say that Maurice ought to reluctantly accept the world has moved on: perhaps council houses should not have become places where only the poor live. But that’s the situation now, and there’s a long list of people wanting a house. Maurice reads Coffee House (he wrote about the London riots for us) and I’m sure will take CoffeeHousers advice to heart. So what do we advise him to do? Comfort himself with the purity of his leftist penury – or take Osborne’s £75,000 and curse the capitalist system while he does so?

PODCAST is below – Maurice is about 18 mins in. You can subscribe through iTunes to have it delivered to your computer every week, or listen with the embedded player below:

The View from 22 — 25 July 2013. Length: 30:12

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Show comments
  • anne foster

    ‘Helen Lewis from the New Statesman, a fellow leftie, says so too: you can use a system while hating it, she says. It need not be selling out.’

    Really? Do as I say, not as I do. Surely that’s hypocrisy.

  • FrankS

    Worth £75,000 overnight – maybe, but the only way he could realise that sum would be to sell his flat.

  • Smithersjones2013

    I think Mr Mcleod should forego the opportunity as he clearly opposes it and only sees it in the simplistic terms of financial benefit and social class rather than for the opportunities and benefits (better lifestyle, greater security, lower outgoings eventually) it might provide for him and perhaps a family down the line. Better such opportunities are taken up by those that truly appreciate them and not those who purely see it as a way to make a fast buck.

    I find it quite depressing that the only way in which Labour supporters can view such opportunities is through a financial and classist prism. That level of prejudice that is so common amongst Labour officials and representatives (so we know where it comes from) as well as amongst their supporters probably more than anything else indicates why Labour are simply not fit to govern this country. It is of little wonder that Labour only have real purchase in the poorest urban parts of Britain.

    PS And talking of the financial considerations what exactly is wrong with the aspiration of not being beholdant to anyone anymore for the home you live in and knowing that except in the most extreme circumstances can anyone ever take that roof from over your head against your wishes? Owning ones own property and land is probably the most liberating and securing experiences that most people can ever hope to achieve. To deny oneself the chance of achieving that (whoever is providing it) is bizarre to say the least.

  • alabenn

    So his net assets drop below £750 a month, what does that mean, is he working, is he on benefits, what context can we use to put this in perspective, a totally meaningless post.
    Has he ever had to struggle to put food on the table or has the government picked up the tab, you cannot have a plate of principals unless you are earning enough or someone else is paying for the food to replace them.

  • Chris Rose

    Maurice should write to Osborne and tell him what an irresponsible idiot he is. Osborne is using taxpayers’ money to buy votes, not to help people, and that will end in tears. The scheme bears no resemblance to the Right to Buy of the 1980s; it’s outrageous.

    Provided Maurice does that, he’s welcome to take the money. A Government that tolerates Osborne as Chancellor, when he makes no serious effort to reduce Government indebtedness, deserves what it gets.

  • Tim Reed

    “perhaps council houses should not have become places where only the poor live”

    Why on earth not? Was this not their intended purpose – to provide subsidised housing for the less well off? Why should we be providing state subsidised housing for people who don’t require the assistance? State provision of housing was never intended to be a universal programme.

    • Mowords

      Council houses were not designed to be for the poor but for everyone. It’s not about subsidising those who can’t afford falsely inflated mortgages, it’s about stopping subsidising dodgy landlords.

      • Tim Reed

        So you think even the wealthy ought to be entitled to state provided housing?

        • Mowords

          Yes. In the same way that I think even the wealthy should be provided with state provided security as they walk the streets of our nation.

          • Tim Reed

            Fair enough. I suppose this all comes down to the model of ‘the state’ to which you subscribe.

            If you believe in the state as universal provider, then your view is entirely consistent, and in a sense you have the easier job. You’re fortunate enough not to be required to make judgements as to where to draw the line regarding government intervention.

            Those of us who subscribe to the safety net model of the state are forced to take a more discerning approach – where to draw the line between provisions that are universal (policing etc), and those whose provision ought to be dependent on circumstance. This requires discrimination. I’m guessing this is the part you find difficult to deal with, and would rather shy away from.

            • Mowords

              I agree with you in part.
              I’m not sure that you really only see the state as a safety net though. Otherwise policing wouldn’t be something that was universally provided. By your reckoning, we would only provide policing for those not physically able to defend themselves. This, of course, would be a nonsense.
              I think that the state is simply an entity brought into existence by the people to provide services that we deem important and that can’t be guaranteed without our collective input.
              We probably both agree that policing is one of those functions. I simply argue that housing should be too.

              • Tim Reed

                As I said – I think there is a line to be drawn between that which is universal and that which is conditional. I just think that people who are able to provide for themselves ought to as much as possible, outside of the universal provisions, which ought to be kept to a core of public services. It’s this extent of this core that we are probably in disagreement.

                • Mowords


              • Colonel Mustard

                The state never did “provide” policing. It has only become an arm of the state quite recently and is now less “universally provided” than it once was, mainly because it has been politicised and detached from real communities (as opposed to “communities” created by cultural marxists) except by lip service. The police officer in uniform no longer represents “us” but rather the state and he no longer provides unqualified security to those communities but rather selective enforcement on behalf of the state and under the direction of the CPS.

          • Colonel Mustard

            The security of communal space has always been quite different in concept to the private ownership of a house. It is ridiculous to conflate the two as you have. In fact the right of the private house owner was documented as part of common law by Sir Edward Coke in his The Institutes of the Laws of England, in 1628:-

            “For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”

            And was reinforced in 1763 by William Pitt, the first Earl of Chatham, also known as Pitt the Elder:-

            “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.”

            A right progressively undermined by treacherous politicians, the encroaching state, the deliberately changed relationship of the police to the people and of course the long march of socialist subversion mainly during the 20th Century.

          • Dogsnob

            I agree with much of your argument – the right-to-buy programme is very misguided in my view – but to equate the street-security needs of people, with their ability to buy their own home, is to extend a principle beyond useful practical application.

      • Colonel Mustard

        You are quite wrong. They were originally intended for the working classes in order to prevent exploitation by landlords and to improve social hygiene. Your definition was invented by the Labour party in 1947, almost fifty years after the first council housing, by deliberately manipulating language (as they always do) to further Bevan’s aspiration of a classless society – “one nation”. Council housing remained associated with the working class and poor, however, and seldom if ever provided accommodation for “the clergyman and doctor”. The social stigma that attached to it in the 1950s and 1960s was largely ameliorated by Thatcher’s reforms and is now all but forgotten.

    • gladiolys

      “State provision of housing was never intended to be a universal programme”

      Yes it was.

      And “right to buy” was designed to reduce council stock, which is why points systems needed to be introduced so they became default ghettoes.

  • Makroon

    If Maurice McLeod wants to set himself up as a lefty saint, he should stop bull-shitting and tell the whole story. He is obviously intelligent and articulate, so why is he poor ? Is he similarly “doctrinaire” about the jobs he will do ? (community organiser, gender outreach worker ?)

    Maurice may think, like Bob Crow, that property is theft, and council accommodation is “for the whole community”, but most of his fellow citizens see council accommodation as designed for those of humble or limited means, or down on their luck.
    Sanctimonious Maurice, is essentially bed-blocking accommodation that is sorely needed by people with less means and abilities than he.
    Where did you find him Fraser ? Referral from Ken Livingstone perchance ?

    • Tim Reed

      Yes! It’s people like Bob Crow that really infuriate me. The man has a six figure pay packet, yet lives in council assisted accommodation. The taxpayer is picking up part of the tab for his rent, despite his handsome remuneration.

      He apparently refuses to sell his council house, believing that social housing ought to be available to future generations. This is laudable, but he’s clearly wealthy enough to have vacated his council house in order to make it available to someone less well off.

      No need to wait for the next generation, Bob. You could help the current one. Leech.

      • itdoesntaddup

        I don’t care where he lives, so long as he pays a full market price to do so.

    • Mowords

      Ha, Yes, I’m awaiting my canonisation from Arthur Scargill. Thanks for the kind words but by any definition based on income or finances, I am poor. I’m wealthy in terms of health, friends, family and happiness but not financially.

      Even if I were, council houses shouldn’t be for the poor. That they have become so is a result of the Right-to-Buy scam and a deliberate refusal to build more social housing.

    • ButcombeMan
      This looks like our hero-nuff said?
      Does Fraser not even do the basics?

      • Mowords

        That’s me! What’s the problem?

  • Daniel Maris

    Council housing is not subsidised. In fact it’s a pretty cheap form of housing because of course the debt for building 90% of it was paid off long ago and councils are not looking to make a profit as such, unlike private landlords. The vast bulk of the costs now relate to maintenance of existing buildings.

    Some of you may be confusing housing benefit (which is a personal benefit applying to both social and private housing) with subsidised housing.

    • Mowords

      Spot on.

    • itdoesntaddup

      Anything sold below market price is subsidised. If council rents were at market rates there would be no subletting at higher rents, as is certainly commonplace in London.

      • Daniel Maris

        Well,yes, you can do violence to the English in pursuit of ideology and claim it is subsidised but it is not subsidised in any sense that an ordinary person would understand i.e no money comes from government or any other source to support the provision of council housing to tenants.

        What you are arguing for is that councils should be allowed to inflate rents, so that council tenants are obliged to subsidise other council services.

        • Mowords


    • James Justice

      Thank you for that. I do wish more people would realise that council housing isn’t subsidised (or council assisted, Tim Reed!).
      I’m pleased that the likes of Frank Dobson and Bob Crowe continue to live in their council houses/flats. Their rent has probably paid for their homes over and over and over again.
      Unfortunately/fortunately, I live in Holborn and even with a £75,000 discount I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy my flat.

  • Daniel Maris

    If he takes the money he is then a leaseholder and has all the responsibilities and costs that go with that i.e. he won’t have £75k in the bank. If he sells the council flat he won’t be immediately eligible for rehousing in a council flat. I suppose he could enjoy a few years of high living off the £75K, but after that it is either a case of paying for worse-value private accommodation of rendering oneself homeless.

  • Keith D

    A better idea would be to build enough houses for everyone.Of course,its not Maurice’s problem that where I live its economic sense for 3/4 strangers to share a house,or that young couples have got no chance of getting on the property ladder.
    Buy your house Maurice,you’re one of the lucky ones.

    • itdoesntaddup

      There is no shortage of property. Only extensive market interference that prevents a more rational allocation. We have just 2.3 people per dwelling on average – hardly overcrowding.

      • Keith D

        Absolutely.Although unless you’re a member of a resident family unit.I think its a basic right to have your own front door.Overcrowded or not.

    • Daniel Maris

      An even better idea would be to have a population policy that looks to reduce our population.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Killing the overplus presumably. Will it be the blacks or the old or the homosexuals or the muslims or just a random decimation?

        • Keith D

          Or perhaps less dramatically, reduce net migration.

  • fantasy_island

    Wheres the dilemma?

    This chap will simply apply the age old lefty solution, do as I say not as I do.

  • itdoesntaddup

    When Thatcher framed Right to Buy, real house prices were a third of today’s, and only a quarter in London. The subsidy granted was small, and repaid itself in the social consequences of encouraging pride of ownership. The only form of subsidised housing was council housing or tied housing.

    Today, council housing is just 8% of the stock, compared with over 30% in 1971. The few who manage to get council property are already privileged with rents that are far further below private rentals than they have ever been before. Such RTB subsidies merely serve to highlight the privilege accorded to council dwellers, and swell the waiting lists, while creating rancour and envy among those forced to rent privately.

    It is time that the government recognised that the way to make housing affordable is to let prices fall, and to create a fungible market in rental with no special privileges accorded to those who inhabit council property. Subsidy should only relate to personal circumstances, and should not extend to property purchase. If people can’;t afford to buy properties, then they’re too expensive, and prices should be lowered by jacking up mortgage interest rates.

    • fantasy_island

      Strange way to make a mortgage affordable, by jacking up interest rates.

      • itdoesntaddup

        The idea is to make house prices fall. It works. See the early 1990s for the most recent example. In 1995 you could have bought for the same price in real terms as in 1972.

        • fantasy_island

          I disagree, most people will take on the maximum affordable mortgage irrespective of house price. 1995 was a bumper year for repossessions by the way.

          Maybe the area I live is not typical, take a look at the link I would be interested to hear your view of these prices.

          We have a train station in the village, London Kings Cross is 2.5 hours including a change at Doncaster.

          • itdoesntaddup

            I’m not clear what you are disagreeing with. High interest rates reduce the size of mortgage that will be granted, and the price paid for a house. Prices fell in the early 1990s because real interest rates were very high. Anyone with a mortgage larger than the MIRAS ceiling had a strong incentive to reduce it, especially if they were paying taxes at higher rates. I can recall periods when the equivalent pre-tax return was over 30% for me. Repossessions are a consequence of previous bubbles, and provide cheaper properties. There is no harm in cheaper properties for new buyers. They then have more funds they can save towards retirement and spend towards a better standard of living. High house prices are as bad as high anything else prices: to be avoided, not admired.

            • fantasy_island

              I disagree that this is anything to do with the government, we are a free market economy. If interest rates were to rise now in order to suppress sales values, then you would condemn a significant number of people to negative equity and repossession.

              I accept that a lower purchase value would require a lower deposit, this aside however people would still max out the monthly payment.

              It is a crazy idea.

              • Alex

                “we are a free market economy”. I wish.

                Listening to the podcast I think somebody said that buying a council house ‘created wealth’, which I very much doubt is correct. But we can’t know, because successive governments have destroyed the natural mechanism of house valuation and rental prices. Property prices aren’t principally determined by supply and demand. They are principally determined by Housing Benefit rules, by Building Regulations, by the MPC, by the throttling off of building land, by Right-to-Buy, by Help to Buy, by subsidies and taxes, by local government determining what houses will be built in what locations etc etc etc

                Should you buy a house? Is renting better than buying; for you, for the country? Is it good for the economy to sell council houses? What will your house be worth in 5 years? Nobody knows. It’s not just that we don’t know the answers, it’s that, as all those things will be determined by the dysfunctional clowns at Westminster, it’s unknowable.
                And so we lurch from crisis to crisis, from one fatuous policy gimmick to the next, throwing money we don’t have at people who may not need it to persuade them to do something they probably shouldn’t.

                Free market economy? If only.

                (Sorry, rant over).

                • fantasy_island

                  You make some good points Alex, the government is actively inflating property prices with excessive regulation.

                  The fact remains however, that if a property is overvalued in the local market it simply will not sell.

              • itdoesntaddup

                Government is artificially suppressing interest rates and in the process subsidising mortgages, using the Bank of England to do it. Of course a rise in rates would force reality onto some who over-committed themselves. But pumping up the property bubble simply adds to the numbers who suffer in the end, with the last in suffering most from falling prices. The question is do you want to do much more damage later, in exchange for less damage now, and should the taxpayer be on the hook for house price insurance foolishly issued by government, as under Help to Buy?

                • fantasy_island

                  I don’t support the help to buy scheme, as previously stated an individuals property aspirations have nothing to do with the government.

                  As we witnessed in the 90’s, high interest rates and substantial repossessions are political suicide, rates incidentally are set by the Bank of England independent of the treasury, the government isn’t suppressing anything.

                  I struggle to see the benefit of “forcing reality” onto existing mortgage holders, there is little to be gained from pushing already struggling families over the edge.

                • itdoesntaddup

                  Osborne formally approves BoE policy on QE and interest rates. It’s fiction to pretend otherwise, especially as the Bank is way beyond the theoretical official inflation remit.

                  As I have explained, there is no advantage in adding to the toll of misery by encouraging more people to overpay for property. It’s equivalent to finding a plague of Asian flu, and requiring more people to go out and catch it, rather than quarantining the existing problem and dealing with it. It is unfortunate that so many have already been suckered in, for sure: but most of them would be able to work their way out of it, albeit they permanently damaged their lifetime disposable incomes by making the commitment in the first place.

                • fantasy_island

                  Not true. Interest rates are decided on a one person one vote basis, with the decision published immediately following the meeting

                  Maybe we agree to disagree here, it is clear that we have irrevocably opposed views.

          • itdoesntaddup

            The prices are optimistic – way above traded levels. The pub has been for sale since 2008, when it was originally marketed at £79,950 (now £49,950 and no buyers): I imagine it is struggling for turnover. Many of the properties seem to require extensive work, or probably demolition and start again. I’ve seen more pride in property condition in Welsh ex-mining villages in the valleys, or terraces of 2-up-2-down in Lancashire.

            • fantasy_island

              Never the less, it may well provide an opportunity to other people who aspire to property ownership.

              Your comment here is a little snide, there are plenty of affordable / well maintained dwellings on that list.

            • ButcombeMan

              The pub is struggling because it is a Punch Taverns property on a tied lease. It is probably not possible to do more than break even-if that. It will be paying over the odds, way over, for wet goods and it is a wet house with no food. Any nearby free house will slaughter it. Basically it is worthless in my view. There are thousands of similar establishments now owned in many cases, by banks. The PubCos loath to sell or properly write down values. There is lots of unwound debt burdening the retail sector and- especially- the pub trade.

    • HookesLaw

      33 to 50% subsidies.

      • itdoesntaddup

        £75,000 on £150,000 is a 50% subsidy, but in the 1980s the property was probably worth under £30,000, and the subsidy would have looked rather less.

    • Daniel Maris

      Shows how ignorant you are then. Housing associations had been around for decades and were providing subsidised housing.

      Also, another example of your ignorance – the original home ownership discounts were huge, not small.

      • itdoesntaddup

        You have just demonstrated your ignorance. I consulted the historical statistics on housing by tenure (DCLG Tab 101/102), which show that by 1991 (after Thatcher left Downing St.) HA properties were just 3% of housing, despite being promoted by her as an alternative to Council owned property. Prior to 1981 they were statistically insignificant, and confined to such charities as the Peabody Trust: I had a friend who lived in one of their properties in the mid 1970s.

        Your other problem is being arithmetically challenged. Back in 1980 when RTB started, house prices were less than one sixth of today’s, and even if we allow for RPI inflation, the real value of a 50% reduction in purchase price was far below today’s.

  • Count Dooku

    Take the bung. It’s not up to Maurice to apply his moral standards to stupid govt policy. I support RTB but only on the provision that the buyer pays market rates and another council house is built as a replacement. I deplore subsidy to private actors.

    Another VERY stupid govt policy is help-to-buy. Probably THE single most stupid policy I’ve ever seen. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t use it though!

    • HookesLaw

      Housing associations (and or their tenants) receive large sums in grants each year.
      Subsidy is everywhere.

      • Count Dooku

        Because it is everywhere doesn’t make the status quo a desirable position to be in.
        I have no strong objection to social housing for the most poor (and I mean poor, not Bob Crow), but the houses should actually be owned by the council with rent covering the cost of the building and maintenance.

  • Colonel Mustard

    “He loathes the way that Osborne described property ownership as a basic human aspiration: what does that say about the Germans, who mostly rent?”

    It says they are different from us – as they always have been and always will be. Owning your own house has long been a traditional aspiration within English culture. And it was once much easier to accomplish for those of modest means before the privileged denizens of the bubble wanted weekend homes and the profiteering and the influx of foreign real estate “investment”. Mr McLeod can sneer at it as much as he likes but he doesn’t speak for everyone and I’m a little surprised that you keep giving such lefties oxygen to articulate their divisive bile when they already have a surfeit of venues for that, including the BBC. Couldn’t you find an “ordinary” Conservative working man to express his views on home ownership?

    • Mowords

      I don’t speak for anyone. I speak for me. The point of the article was that for this particular ‘working man’ the offer of owning my home is personally beneficial while being social destructive. Can you get me on to the BBC then?

      • Colonel Mustard

        And the point of my comment was why should it be all about you? I have no influence over the BBC but I should think they would jump at the chance of having you on to whinge about the wicked Tories.

        • Mowords

          That’s my point too. Do you only want to read views that you agree with? and I’m not party political at all. Labour were in for 13 years and didn’t reverse the policy or build more social housing.

          • Colonel Mustard

            “Do you only want to read views that you agree with?”

            No, I’m not a lefty… And I can be political without being party too… Try reading my original comment again, slowly and after taking a deep breath, and then wind your neck in.

    • jazz606

      “…..And it was once much easier to accomplish for those of modest means before the privileged denizens of the bubble wanted weekend homes and the profiteering and the influx of foreign real estate “investment” began…….”

      You can say that again. Why should the privileged denizens of the ‘bubble’ push the rest of us into ever smaller and less desirable enclaves. For instance in Oxfordshire less desirable developments get pushed onto selected villages and towns whilst areas inhabited by Tory Grandees seem to escape.

  • HookesLaw

    Right to buy.

    Tell me Mr Nelson – did you never read Mrs Thatchers first election manifesto in 1979. Perhaps you were not alive then? I was and able to both read and vote.

    It said things like…
    ‘We should like in time to improve on existing legislation with a realistic grants scheme to assist first-time buyers of cheaper homes.’

    ‘Many families who live on council estates and in new towns would like to buy their own homes but either cannot afford to or are prevented by the local authority or the Labour government. The time has come to end these restrictions. In the first session of the next Parliament we shall therefore give council and new town tenants the legal right to buy their homes, while recognising the special circumstances of rural areas and sheltered housing for the elderly. Subject to safeguards over resale, the terms we propose would allow a discount on market values reflecting the fact that council tenants effectively have security of tenure.
    Our discounts will range from 33 per cent after three years, rising with length of tenancy to a maximum of 50 per cent after twenty years.’

    Hmmm… 50% discounts under Thatcher.
    A massively popular policy all across the country, not lest amongst tory voters. Indeed it created tory voters.

    I find it both humorous and ironic that only yesterday Ed West penned an article saying how the internet merely reinforced peoples prejudices and her today we find you pandering to the prejudices of your readers by throwing them the dog whistle of an Osborne ‘bribe’ rather then remind us of the sound ‘Thatcherite’ basis of this policy.

    • ScaryBiscuits

      Hookes, I was able to read but not to vote when Mrs T was PM. What I find amazing about your extract from the manifesto is the clarity of though, totally lacking from any of the parties today (including UKIP) .

      The discount was justified on the basis that by transferring to the private sector you were sacrificing your security of tenure (i.e. ‘home for life’). It is also worth pointing out that this was seen as a one-off policy as they had no intention of building more council homes.

      Since then we have lost our moral clarity. The Coalition has made things slightly better: new social housing tenants no longer get life tenure but we still give them a discount. Thus, we are blindly building new homes, often for immigrants or people displaced by immigration, and then gifting a discount to these people. As a result, many people still aspire to own council houses as a way towards a deposit without having to earn it.

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