The private housing sector is failing to meet social need
AS THE temporary coronavirus crisis ban on evictions comes to an end, the government is facing demands for immediate action to halt the tsunami of homelessness that threatens one in five private renters.
A variety of factors intervene to make this particular crisis worse than the routine human disasters which attend the normal working of Britain’s dysfunctional housing set-up.
First up, an enormous backlog of rent arrears has built up over the last year. This is no surprise given that millions have been surviving on reduced incomes and that many people are finding that as the furlough subsidies run out, housing insecurity is added to their precarious work situation.
Second, the starting point for this particular stage in the housing crisis is grounded in the uncomfortable truth that one in four renters in the private housing sector entered this crisis already mired in poverty. Half the children living in privately rented housing live below the poverty line.
It is a scandal that in 21st-century Britain — in the fifth richest economy in the world — millions of families face the choice of skimping on food and fuel or paying rent.
Deep-seated structural factors make the housing situation a nightmare for any working family that cannot access cash or credit.
Britain’s housing crisis is rooted in the capitalist system itself and in the peculiar turn that British capital has taken in which a highly financialised speculative economy has ballooned into a permanent pressure for instability and housing shortage.
Despite the Tory attempts — some successful — to place the blame for the 2008 financial crisis on excessive public spending, the real root for the collapse, the profligate lending by US banks “secured” on unsustainable valuations on dodgy “subprime” property that fed directly into our economy, tells us much about the workings of the housing market.
Every landlord, whether they are a small scale buy-to-let speculator paying for their own housing by renting out, or a big corporation hoovering up ex-council housing stock, or an investment business banging up apartment blocks in inner-city sites, or a builder covering the countryside with “executive homes” for people fleeing the cities – they all know that shortage is what drives up prices and rents.
Official figures suggest Britain needs well over 300,000 new homes every year just to meet the normal growth in population and the kind of demographic changes which flow from the routine operation of a developed economy.
But even if this figure were to be achieved it would not meet the backlog.
The simple fact is that, as in so many areas of modern life, the private sector cannot meet social need.
Meeting the simple demand that everyone have a roof over their head and a secure place to call home has proved beyond the capacity of the capitalist system.
Controls on capital is the bedrock solution to the kind of planning that is needed to solve so many problems.
There are a million-plus people on council housing waiting lists. A massive investment in public housing coupled with extra powers to local authorities to unlock capital, regulate rents and housing quality standards, acquire vacant property and drive down housing costs is needed.
Every expert, from select committee to Shelter, knows what is needed. It is the political system held hostage to private ownership and profit that stands in the way.
If workable solutions to the systemic crisis of housing cannot be found within the framework of society as it is presently organised, then the question arises, where can we gather the forces, the ideas and the people to make the necessary changes?