Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/698/13332
Britain's great housing scandal exposed
Paul Kershaw, Unite LE 1111 housing workers' branch
Channel 4's campaigning series of programmes, The Great British Property Scandal, has struck a chord with a wide audience. By Monday 12 December, one week after the first programme, over 100,000 people had signed up to support the campaign via the internet.
Starting with a heartrending programme on 'landlords from hell', Channel 4 moved on to highlight the waste of empty homes, mostly privately owned.
A mass of statistics highlighted the scandal of housing in Britain and viewers were shown the delight felt by homeless individuals helped in to housing by the programme presenters.
The series showed that homeless people are 'more like you than you realise'; a combination of life events can quite easily push people without large amounts of money into homelessness. They are then locked in a spiral: if you don't have a home you can't get a job, without a job you can't get a home.
Research published since the programme shows that this is not just a matter for disinterested sympathy for many viewers.
A YouGov poll for homeless charity Crisis shows that a quarter of people in Britain are worried about losing their home. Three quarters felt there should be a change in the current law so that councils have to provide advice, assistance and emergency accommodation to single homeless people.
Everyone will be moved by seeing people housed by the programmes, but TV programmes alone cannot reverse the rise in homelessness.
The programmes did call for councils to make better use of their powers to regulate private landlords, but you have to stop the cuts to do that.
They did note the decline in social housing: the real solution would be a massive programme of building more of it.
Ironically, a series that started with an exposé of bad conditions and insecurity in the private rented sector, also tries to boost that sector and convince potential private landlords they can make a profit.
Far better would be a campaign to cap rents, reintroducing rent control, and to reintroduce basic security of tenure in the sector, stopping arbitrary eviction, as emergency measures.
The Channel 4 campaign has raised key issues but avoids challenging the cuts and austerity; that is the role of trade unions, socialists and anti-cuts campaigns.
Homelessness application increases 2010-11:
- Haringey 83%
- Hammersmith and Fulham 92%
- Bromley 99%
- Leeds 181%
- 17% rise in homeless households in one year
- According to Shelter, an estimated 35,000 people across Britain face the prospect of losing their homes between 1 November and Christmas
- 700 Birmingham families are in desperate need of large homes. Only five suitably sized properties become available each year
- Over one million empty properties in Britain, 88% of which are privately owned
"Local authorities have the powers to tackle rogue landlords but too many aren't making the most of their armoury. They must follow the lead of those councils taking a zero tolerance approach to rogue landlords, and support tenants who are suffering by cracking down on the worst offenders in their area," commented Shelter. Local authorities should use their powers to oppose cuts to Environmental Health and housing departments!
Councils and bad private landlords
- Local authorities admit there are 1,477 known landlords who are giving them continued cause for concern and repeatedly making tenants' lives a misery
- Complaints about serious and potentially life-threatening hazards, including dangerous gas and electrics, have risen by 25% over the past two years
- Overall complaints about landlords have increased, taking them to 86,628 in the last year
- Despite the sharp increase in problems, just 270 successful prosecutions have been made by local authorities against landlords during the same period
In The Socialist 14 December 2011:
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