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Holly Eaton, West London Socialist Party

The nation has been told to stay home. But that doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone.

The BBC’s coverage of how people are rising to the challenges of self-isolation has included affluent professionals ensconcing themselves in their spare rooms or hotels, and allocating different bathrooms to infected and non-infected family members.

What about those of us who don’t have enough rooms, let alone spare rooms, extra bathrooms or spacious lounges? The advice to stay at home, work from home, home-tutor children, self-isolate and shield the vulnerable is a considerably different challenge for those living within the confines of small, already heavily used spaces.

Successive neoliberal governments have created huge overcrowding for hundreds of thousands of households – 600,000 in England alone, says the National Housing Federation.

Over the past 20 years, overcrowding has spiked, with all of the increase in the rented sector.

Homeowners have around 60% more space than those who rent, and over half have two or more spare rooms.

According to the English Housing Survey, around 14% of renters are overcrowded, compared to 1% of homeowners. Overcrowding is at the highest rate ever among council and housing association tenants.

Now, with coronavirus spreading, having a spare room in which to self-isolate could mean the difference between life and death. Yet it is low-income social renters who are singled out for the bedroom tax, imposed on spare rooms by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government in 2013.

Overcrowded households immediately need free, self-contained accommodation made available so people can self-isolate if necessary – and the bedroom tax must be scrapped straight away. But beyond that we also need an entirely different approach to housing.

A company called Under the Doormat is temporarily offering over 300 empty luxury homes in London for free to NHS staff who need to stay near work. They can’t rent them out at a profit because of the pandemic.

These are just a fraction of the homes that are sitting empty. Just think what we could do if the all the resources were under democratic workers’ control!

Homes, and the space within them to live and flourish, should not just be a privilege of the wealthy. A socialist system would prioritise building housing for all – for its use-value as a home, not as a commodity to make profit for the wealthy.