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From The Socialist newspaper, 11 May 2011

Review: Panorama on housing: The human impact of the crisis

Paul Kershaw
Unite LE 1111 housing workers' branch, personal capacity

By talking to some of the people affected, the Panorama programme on 4 May gave a rare glimpse on prime time TV, of the human impact of the housing crisis.

Instead of men in suits, young people stuck in squalid and expensive privately rented housing showed the reporter round their damp, cold and unsafe accommodation.

The English Housing Survey published in February this year showed that one and a half million privately rented homes failed the decent homes standard.

And 971,000 of these homes failed the standard because they had serious 'Category 1' hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. So the conditions shown on the programme were not unusual.

As the programme noted, the private rented sector is growing, up 40% over the last five years and is now about as big as the "social" sector and with more young tenants.

The housing charity, Shelter, says there has been a 23% increase in the number of people seeking help due to problems with their landlord over the past year.

Insecurity of tenure

Do the capitalist politicians respond by raising the need for greater regulation of bad landlords, control of rent and protection from unfair eviction? No, the government blames tenants claiming high levels of housing benefit and proposes to cap benefits rather than rents.

Unfortunately, Labour was working up proposals to cap benefits before the last election and actually abstained on key votes in Parliament. They had no plans to reverse the 1988 housing act which got rid of security of tenure and rent control in the private rented sector.

The programme talked to a family living in a small council house in Sheffield with the sons sleeping on sofas in the living room/dining room.

A daughter spoke of the difficulty of doing homework in such crowded conditions - not a problem Cameron, Osborne and the public school educated cabinet of millionaires will have suffered!


As the programme explained, with five million people on the waiting list for council housing, families such as this can't have much hope of a transfer.

This shortage was traced to the Thatcher government's policy of selling off council houses and to the decline in building.

A professor stated that the government policy of reducing security in council housing and pushing tenants who are "under occupying" into moving was a "legitimate" argument given the shortage: they saw social housing in a residual emergency role.

That amounts to turning working class communities into glorified hostels.

You can see the logic, but "legitimate"?

Much time was spent exposing the role of various con men who attempt to exploit the shortage by illegal sub-letting and other scams. But while these characters who profiteer from the housing crisis will be hated by working class people, the housing shortage would remain even if all the scams were stopped.

The government has responded to the shortage by cutting spending on building new social housing by 63% and new "affordable" housing will have rents set at as much as 80% of the market level.

In high rent areas that would clearly be unaffordable to people such as those featured, and things will be worse as the new housing benefit levels feed through.

House building was declining under New Labour but these policies can only intensify the problem.

Mass council house building, rent control and protection from eviction in the private rented sector were achieved through struggles of the labour movement and the threat of mass struggle.

Trade unionists and socialists can gain an enormous echo by putting these ideas back on the agenda.

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In The Socialist 11 May 2011:

Socialist Party NHS campaign

Fight for the NHS

Socialist Party workplace news and analysis

PCS conference: prepare for united action on 30 June

Crucial time for Saltend dispute

Defending trade unionism on London Underground

Poverty minimum wage

Library cuts hit staff and users: time for action against the cuts

Workplace news in brief

Socialist Students

Students occupy against cuts at London Met

For sale: university places

Socialist Party election analysis

Government Con-Demned at ballot box

TUSC shows alternative to Con-Dem and Labour cuts

Labour wins Welsh Assembly election -

SNP landslide – but it will be a government of savage cuts

Socialist Party news and analysis

Defend independent living rights

Con-Dems put squeeze on democratic rights

Bahrain repression: Muted criticism of West's ally

Suffolk Tories in retreat?

News in brief

International socialist news and analysis

UN report on Sri Lanka war crimes

Socialist Party reviews

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Review: Panorama on housing: The human impact of the crisis


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