Bedroom tax protest

The housing crisis in the UK has been reaching tipping point for some time, and the current crisis has laid bare the inadequacies in the system designed to support those who rely on it most. In the weeks since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK, the government have announced they will halt all court evictions for a period of 3 months. Coupled with this they recently announced they have offered 90% of rough sleepers’ emergency accommodation to (temporarily) get them off the streets.

Whilst this may seem altruistic of the government, all it really does is highlight their failings in dealing with our housing crisis and offers up further key questions. Why are there thousands of rough sleepers in desperate need of emergency accommodation when we are the 5th largest economy in the world? Why are there so many households that are so close to eviction that the Government has to close the courts to stop a wave of further homelessness sweeping the UK? And whilst the government may proudly announce that they have taken swift emergency measures to deal with housing and homelessness these last few weeks, why are we in a position that these measures need to be taken at all?

The current state of the housing market in the UK today is a reflection of the neoliberal capitalist structure in which it was designed. To highlight this, we have over 1 million households waiting for council homes in the UK, yet less than 7,000 council or social homes were built all year. Meanwhile councils across the UK continue to approve large private housing developments at unaffordable prices to the communities who live there, often displacing them in the process. Just one stark example of many is in Newham where over 26,000 households currently wait on the council’s waiting list for council housing and out of over 2,000 properties built in the borough in 2018, less than 60 were council or social rent homes.

The reasons for this are multiple, but the simplest explanation is profit. Over the last few decades we have seen the rapid dismantling of public council housing in the UK, with thousands being sold off through right-to-buy with little to no replacements being built. In 2011, the amount of private renters in the UK outnumbered council or social rents, which means more people are now lining the pockets of private profiteers rather than paying back into the public purse, of which we all should benefit as part of the commons. It is vital we return to the provision of council housing, and explore new avenues such as Community Land Trusts, as we need to reclaim our common wealth in order to overcome the neoliberal structure in which we have been confined. We have record numbers of homelessness, with 1 in every 200 people now without access to access a permanent home. The rampant rule of capitalism has allowed the very notion of housing to become a mere commodity, rather than a right given to all, and it is time for this to change.

The privatisation of the housing market has reached the inevitable tipping point and it is time to take back control. Rents have now risen to the point that the average person spends over 40% of their salary on rent, heavily impacting those on lower incomes worst, and where housing benefit rarely covers the average private rental cost anywhere in the UK, and nowhere in London. With rents at such costs, millions of renters teeter on the brink of losing their home, even with the government’s arbitrary 3 month delay on evictions.

Recent research determined that in 2018, 2.2 million households spent more than the affordable level on their rent in the private sector. It’s no wonder that a fifth of households in rented accommodation have said they are currently having to choose between buying food and paying their rent. With the government still failing to act on their promise to end unfair no-fault evictions, the consequences of making the impossible decision between food and rent will be felt when the government suspension on evictions is soon lifted.

It is for these reasons and many more that we need to secure housing justice for all, now. This is why it’s so exciting that Sian Berry will be joining the Young Greens as the next speaker in our huge, new programme of radical political education. Join the Young Greens and Sian at 8pm, Thursday 26 April, and demand and end to housing injustice!

Image credit: Stuart Crawford – Creative Commons