“I HATE to see injustice,” said Martin Wicks, “and it seems to me that the national housing policy creates situations which make people’s lives a misery in many respects.

“They make it more and more difficult for people to manage their finances.

“There are so many people who are struggling to get by from month to month.”

Martin is a retired railway industry clerical worker and administrator, and a former head of Swindon TUC.

The son of a railwayman and a school dinner lady, his early memories include his family moving from unsatisfactory private rented accommodation to a council flat.

As part of a generation he has described as being liberated by social housing, he is a strong advocate of it - and believes Right to Buy has done the sector immense harm.

“Not many people know,” he said with a wry smile, “but Margaret Thatcher was originally opposed to Right to Buy because she said, ‘How can we explain that to our people? - these people who have slaved away and saved up the money to buy, and we’re giving this subsidy to council tenants?’

“But she was persuaded on the grounds that it was a means of changing the political composition of council estates, which traditionally tended to vote Labour.

“They thought, ‘Turn a tenant into a house-owner and their attitudes will change.’

“That was partially correct but essentially Right to Buy is one of the main drivers of the housing crisis, partly because they haven’t replaced the houses sold.

“In the case of Swindon, we’ve probably lost about 8,000 properties from over about 18,000. Now there are about 10,300. It’s reshaped the housing situation. “One of the features of the current situation is the phenomenal growth of the private rental market. Between the two censuses, 2001 and 2011, the number of private rental properties increased by more than double.”

According to Martin, there are now as many as 15,000 private rental homes in Swindon.

“Another feature of the housing situation in Swindon is the phenomenal increase in the ratio between house prices and earnings.”

According to recent research, prices are more than eight times the average income.

“In that situation, where it’s increasingly difficult for people to get a mortgage, particularly after the crash where the criteria for handing out mortgages is much tighter, basically thousands upon thousands of people have no other choice but to go into the private rented sector, and rents in the private rented sector in Swindon are outstripping earnings.

“One of the results is that young people tend to have to live in shared accommodation because they can’t afford the rent for a one-bedroom property, but even now the rents in shared accommodation are more and more difficult for people to manage.”

Martin believes private landlords should be more strictly regulated - an idea which finds little traction with the authorities amid claims that it would drive up rents. “Of all the tenures the poorest living conditions are in the private rented sector. It’s been a couple of years now, but we discovered that in this town there are actually people renting garages to live in.

“You can walk around and see these outbuildings which people are clearly living in, and you wonder what the condition is.

“The shortage of council housing which is a result of Right to Buy means that people who originally would have had some prospect of becoming council tenants now no longer have any prospect.

“It means that families, for example, are living in accommodation which is not of a very high quality.

“Also, if you get a council tenancy you’ve got some security, whereas in the private sector they are usually six-month or one-year tenancies.

“If you’ve got a family and your kids are attending a local school, if you’re forced to move and get a place somewhere else it can cause disruption.

“You’ve got to drive them to the school instead of walking them, or whatever.”

Martin says the growth of zero hours contracts and other unstable forms of employment add to the problems.

“People are struggling to meet their expenses on a month-to-month basis and it just takes a life event such as redundancy, an accident, illness, to throw you into an insuperable financial crisis.”

His solution? “The only way out of it is to return to a large scale council house building programme again, which obviously requires funding.”

He insists that although such a programme would be expensive, it would not be overly so as a proportion of national expenditure.

Martin looks back fondly to the years of prolific council house building. “It made for a much more civilised environment, in contrast to the current situation where housebuilding is dominated by speculative building and profiteering landlords.”

The campaign group’s website is keepourcouncilhomes.wordpress.com/