Photo: John Seb/CC
Photo: John Seb/CC

Theo Sharieff, south east London Socialist Party

Recent statistics have revealed again the brutal reality of renting in today’s ‘backward Britain’. While the cost of renting in the private sector is rising at its fastest rate since 2006, illegal evictions by landlords, which involve physical violence or coercion against tenants, hit record levels in 2023.

Over the Christmas period there were more than twice as many long-term empty homes as there were homeless families and children living in temporary accommodation! Single parents (overwhelmingly women) and their children are particularly at risk of becoming homeless, owing to landlords’ and letting agencies’ effective bans on renters who claim Universal Credit or have children. 74,000 lone parents and their children are facing homelessness within weeks according to Shelter – that’s one in seven single parent private renters.

While more and more ordinary working people and families live in fear of losing their homes, big landlords and the rich get away scot-free pretty much every time. In 2022, only 0.3% of illegal eviction cases resulted in conviction.

Landlords feel confident to act with impunity because all the main political parties in Britain are wedded to the ‘profit before us’ system of capitalism, and fundamentally back them. Thatcherism since the 1980s has meant a massive transferral of council housing stock from public hands to private property investment vultures. Since 1980, 300,000 council homes in London alone have been sold off – nationally the figure is in the millions. And none of the establishment parties have seriously challenged that happening.

Despite this massive assault on working-class people, councils to this day still have the legal powers to take on landlords who make the lives of millions a misery. Councils could not only introduce rent controls in council properties, but also compulsorily register all landlords and force them to take action on substandard living conditions. Any landlords who didn’t comply could have their properties put up for compulsory purchase. There is no excuse why Labour councils couldn’t take such measures now.

But ending the housing crisis on a permanent basis will require the democratic planning of society’s resources, land and wealth to launch a mass programme of genuinely affordable council house building. The Labour leadership has excluded investing in the building of new houses if it wins the next election because of its self-imposed ‘iron-clad fiscal rules’ – read because of its slavish commitment to defending the interests of the capitalist system.

That’s why we need to fight to transform society along socialist lines, starting with taking the construction company giants, banks, and other companies which dominate the economy into democratic public ownership to ensure all working-class and young people have access to high-quality and genuinely affordable housing all our lives.

But working-class people need a party of our own which fights for all these demands in the council chamber, in Parliament, as well as in our communities and workplaces. The Socialist Party, as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, is fighting for the widest possible working class electoral challenge to all the pro-capitalist parties at the upcoming local and general elections. Join us in building that electoral challenge and in the fight for the socialist transformation of society.