Death rate is double in poor areas: homes needed to end overcrowding

photo Mtaylor848/CC

photo Mtaylor848/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Dave Carr, East London Socialist Party

The revelation that people living in poorer areas of the country are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as those in affluent areas, according to the Office for National Statistics, will not be a surprise to readers of the Socialist.

Just before the pandemic, the Socialist reported that the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor had got worse. News that the east London borough of Newham has the highest mortality rate for Covid-19 in Britain should also come as no surprise. After all, how can poor people living in overcrowded conditions socially distance?

East London, with its historically cheaper housing costs, has long been a destination for low-paid workers. Constructing large-scale council housing estates during the post-war period provided safe and secure accommodation, and also acted to keep rents low in the private sector.

However, Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ legislation in the 1980s, combined with the abandonment of building council housing by the right-wing Labour council, has left low-paid workers at the mercy of private landlords.

As rents have soared in the last decade, workers have increasingly been forced to share housing to split the bill, and housing occupancy has intensified.

In 2013, to much fanfare, the council instituted a register of private landlords. It was supposed to weed out rogue landlords who cram tenants into often unhealthy conditions.

But while some of the more outrageous examples of exploitative landlords have been publicised, anecdotal evidence suggests serious overcrowding persists. Moreover, without social housing to turn to, where are tenants decanted from unsuitable accommodation meant to go?

Like many other London councils, Newham has paid private landlords in local authorities outside London to take homeless people off their hands. This means splitting up families, and breaking up residents’ informal support networks.

To make matters worse, the 100% Labour council has rammed through hundreds of millions of pounds in Tory austerity cuts over the last decade.

The current administration is cutting a further £45 million – deemed “efficiencies” – from local services. It has also jacked up council tax bills, despite sitting on more than £1 billion in reserves.

Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic is placing more demands on overstretched local services without adequate additional funding by Johnson’s government. This means communicable diseases, like coronavirus, have an undiminished reservoir of humans to infect.

Newham residents and workers deserve better. If the Labour councillors won’t act, then they should stand aside and allow the people to elect socialist councillors who will implement a no-cuts budget and embrace renewed council housing.