A resolution on responding to the housing crisis passed at Counterfire National Conference 2015. Submitted by Alastair Stephens
- The demand for decent housing has always been a key working class demand.
- Under the social democratic consensus of the post-war years housing for working class people dramatically improved.
- Thatcherism started a process that has gradually reversed this, a process that has accelerated in recent years. The sell-off of council houses and the ending of their construction has more than halved the percentage of the population living in social housing. Housing has been left almost entirely to the free market. This has led to disaster and an massive housing crisis.
- The processes set in motion by Thatcher in housing took a generation to play out. Rather than creating a “property owning democracy” it has created a “property owners’ democracy” were more and more of the country’s housing passes into fewer and fewer hands.
- The buy-to-let boom, started under New Labour, further dramatically altered the situation. With more than a million BTL landlords a whole new class of landlords has been created, being made rich through continual rising rental incomes and growth in equity. This represents a vast transfer in wealth, in the form of unearned income, from working class people to a section of the middle class: a massive forced subsidy.
- This deliberate transformation of the housing market into a mechanism for the transfer of wealth between classes and generations has been one of the most important props sustaining support for neo-liberalism in this country.
- The Great Recession and the subsequent stagnation of the economy has accelerated this process. There is now ever greater need to transfer wealth through housing given the lack of growth in the economy. It has also made it more permanent, with working class people being completely locked out of the housing market. The renewed assault on social housing is aggravating this further. This is particularly true in London where gentrification and social cleansing is emptying the inner city of working class people.
This conference notes that:
- The rising levels of street homelessness, overcrowding and poor quality housing and the exclusion of a growing proportion of ordinary people from secure accommodation is one of the greatest proofs of the failure of the market and thirty years of neoliberalism.
- The housing crisis is causing immense anger. Campaigns and fightbacks are spontaneously breaking out all over, the most prominent examples being Focus E15 mothers and the New Era Estate.
- Private renters, who now out number council tenants nationally, are both exploited for the benefit of a new class of landlords, and yet due to the fragmented nature of the private rented sector, lack a focus for their frustration.
- The left has to take up the question of housing as a central working class demand.The movement has to build and strengthen local campaigns and place them into the context of the all-round capitalist offensive against the working class. The movement also has to build a movement of resistance amongst private renters,a group that is rapidly becoming the majority of the workforce in many parts of the country, creating a political focus for their anger.
This conference resolves that:
- Members should involve themselves in local campaigns and struggles over housing whereever they arise.
- The organisation needs to stress the importance of housing as a class issue and work within the movement to build actions and campaigns that addresses the housing crisis as it presently affects people.
Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.