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  • Published in Analysis

Protestors marching to save social housing at the New Era Estate in Hackney. Photo: Jules Annan

The pro-market policies of successive governments have caused a growing housing crisis - we need to start building council houses again in large numbers argues Alastair Stephens

The country is in a massive housing crisis, and it is getting worse.

We are heading back to the levels of inequality in housing not seen since before the Second World War.

Stark problems

Millions of people need homes, but housing building is at a record low.

The level home ownership is dropping for the first time since the 1950s.

Nationally 1.7 million  people are on housing waiting lists.

One in five people are now stuck in expensive and insecure private rented accommodation.

Many cannot start families due to lack of housing. Those that do often have to keep moving about disrupting their children’s lives.

Most want a home of their own but have little prospect of getting one.

Social housing tenants are seeing their rents skyrocket whilst councils want to move ever more people out of inner city areas. For instance Newham council wanted E15 Mothers to move right out of London altogether.

Inner city areas face social cleansing and gentrification as communities are uprooted.

Governments to blame

The media talk about the housing crisis as if it is a natural disaster, like a flood or a drought.

But it isn’t. It is the result of government policy.

The Tories sold off millions of council houses and refused to let councils build more. They said they wanted everyone to own their own home.

A generation later we see the real effect.

The level home ownership is dropping.

More and more of those houses are passing into the hands of private landlords charging two or three times as much as the council used to.

Graph: House building since 1946

House building since 1946 - source Shelter

Epic fail

The housing crisis in this country should be considered the tombstone of free-market economics. It has failed miserably.

The Tories said that everything is best left to the market, that the market will generate housing to meet demand.

Housing has been left almost entirely to the market to sort out.

The market has not met demand. Instead millions live in overcrowded poor quality housing and rents are spiralling out of control. For many people now rent eats up half their income.

The market has not built the millions of houses we need. In fact housing building is at lowest level for generations.

Yet the big building firms and developers sit on vast amounts of unused land - and they make massive profits.

Buy-to-let parasites

House prices have continued to spiral out of control. Despite the deepest economic slump since the Great Depression the average house price in London is now over £400,000 - many, many times the average wage.

Some people are getting rich out of the whole sorry mess though.

Whilst millions of ordinary people are priced out, buy-to-let landlords are making a killing. They can still get mortgages and are buying up much of the country’s housing stock.

Successive governments have acted to tilt the playing filed towards landlords and away from tenants. A quarter of Tory MPs are landlords.

Ironically buy-to-let landlords are renting homes to the people who have been denied mortgages by the banks. Yet the rents they are paying are higher than the mortgage payments they have been told they can’t afford.

Buy-to-tet landlordism is parasitic. It provides no new housing. Landlords have just bought up the housing that already existed. The young and the poor pay off the mortgages of the middle aged and middle class.

It represents a massive transfer of wealth between classes.

Radical change

None of this need be happening. The crisis is a product of government policies that allow property developers to sit on land, privileges landlords over ordinary people and wants to do away with social housing.

We must all unite to oppose attacks on social housing, it is an vital part of a solution to the housing crisis.

But we also need a change in policy.

Only a radically different set of policies can solve the housing crisis.

  • We need to start building council houses again in large numbers.
  • We need to tip the balance away from landlords to tenants.
  • We need to make tenancies secure, regulate standards and control rents.
  • We need to make the banks (many of which the state still owns) serve the needs of ordinary people, and not just greed.

Housing is a right. It must be for need, not profit.

The alternative is a return to a sad and unequal past that we all thought we had left behind.


March for Homes

12:00 noon, Saturday 31 January 2015
Elephant & Castle, 119 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BB

  • Control rents
  • Cut rents not benefits
  • Secure tenancies for all
  • Stop demolition of quality council homes
  • Build new council houses

Unite housing Workers LE1111 is supporting & assisting in the organising.
Called by Defend Council Housing and South London People's Assembly.
March for Homes Facbook event

Alastair Stephens

Alastair Stephens

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.

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