Overwhelming support for job guarantees and rent controls demonstrate the government’s failures to support workers during this crisis, argues Alyssa Cassata
Boris Johnson’s recent announcement easing lockdown measures targets the working class and further reinforces the Tories’ commitment to putting profits over people by risking workers’ safety and a possible resurgence of the pandemic in the coming months by prematurely forcing people to return to non-essential jobs.The government’s failure to prepare for the outbreak and protect jobs is completely unacceptable; workers must not be expected to pay the price for government incompetence.
A recent YouGov poll on the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis revealed that the vast majority of people want to see the introduction of permanent measures to protect the working class throughout this crisis. 74% of those that responded to the poll supported the establishment of rent controls such as rent freezes or caps on the amount landlords could charge and 72% support job guarantees.
With 81% saying the government was no prepared for the crisis, and the overall consensus advocating measures to protect renters and incomes, this poll is an indication of the public’s disillusionment with the government’s wholly inadequate intervention so far that has left millions in the impossible situation of choosing between food and paying landlords.
The government’s blatant contempt for the working class is made even clearer given that, early into the lockdown, buy-to-let landlords and homeowners were offered mortgage holidays, but the government did not extend these protections to renters. This inequality allows landlords to expect full rent payments from furloughed workers who are receiving only 80% of their income, which will soon be reduced to just 60%, and could leave up to 1.2 million people in financial hardship during a crisis. The government’s failure to cancel rent will lead to millions of people becoming immersed in debt that they are unable repay after the pandemic, meaning the temporary delay on evictions provides little support for renters.
As a result of the pandemic and subsequent social distancing measures, many workers also face job losses or a reduction in hours. By the beginning of April, 2 million people had lost their jobs, the vast majority in the lowest 20% of earners, and it is expected that a huge proportion of the 6 million+ workers that are currently being furloughed will be made redundant.
This will create an increased reliance on Universal Credit that is notorious for its minimum 5 week waiting time before applicants receive their first payment, a consequence of the brutal austerity imposed over the past decade that has drained the social security system, leaving it defenceless in the best of circumstances, let alone during a pandemic.
Additionally, the New Economics Foundation has stated that after someone has lost their job, even with access to Universal Credit, their disposable income will decrease by as much as 45%. According to the same article, 35% of private renters are already living in poverty. It must not be the working class that are hit hardest by the Conservative’s choice to decimate public services, it is their responsibility to ensure the public has the support it needs during the lockdown and to prevent an eviction crisis following the outbreak.
In an effort to counter the financial uncertainty that millions of workers face, the Tenants Union has listed 3 demands for the government to enforce:
- Cancel Rent and means test landlords
- End Section 21 to prevent unjust evictions
- End the 5 week wait time for Universal Credit (and implement grants not loans)
By failing to introduce protections for working people from the beginning of the lockdown, the government have already created an unstable situation in which countless people face financial hardship and could lose their homes in a number of months. The current circumstances come after ten years of cuts to social security, leaving far too many people unprotected and unable to cope with the financial stress imposed by the crisis and exacerbated by government negligence.
Starmer’s Labour pushing for rent deferral instead of cancellation and having pushed the government for an exit strategy to the lockdown will not provide much hope for working people. The extensive support for measures such as those proposed by the Tenants Union and advocated in the YouGov poll express the widespread discontent in society and desire for fundamental change. These demands will only be won through collective organising and that’s what we must do.
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Alyssa Cassata is a socialist, activist and history student
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