Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1086/30766
Starmer in full retreat over C-19 rents crisis
Paul Kershaw, chair, Unite housing workers branch
The economic hardship from the coronavirus crisis is biting; millions must choose between paying the rent and eating. Tenant organisations are calling for rent to be cancelled during the crisis, and this was backed by Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. But under 'responsible' Keir Starmer, the policy has been changed to a call for an extension of the temporary ban on evictions.
Low-income tenants who lose their jobs will, in many cases, see their income fall in half, even after their Universal Credit payments come through. Research in April showed that residential tenants were already paying less than half what they owe in rent. Whether payment is due in June, as the government scheme requires, or later, as Labour now proposes, the accumulated Coronavirus arears will be simply unaffordable for many.
Research carried out in April by Opinium, found six in ten renters said they had already suffered financially as a result of the UK-wide shutdown. Of those, one in five had been forced to choose between food and bills or paying rent, and one in four said they had already had to voluntarily leave their home, move in with friends or parents, or request an earlier end to their tenancy because of the crisis.
Labour now suggests a scheme in which arrears would have to be paid back over a two-year period. That amounts to a 12% rent increase on top of other rent increases, and consumer debt was rising even before the crisis. 35% of private renters live in poverty before any of this. In the context of a capitalist recession, this will be the last straw that leads to homelessness for many.
Workers who are furloughed will typically face a cut of 16% in their income after tax, according to the New Economics Foundation, which supports rent cancellation. On average, renters pay a third of their income on rent. Many workers in this relatively favourable position will also find that their rent becomes unaffordable.
Within days of Starmer's retreat, thousands of Labour Party members had signed a protest letter. Trade union leaders should add their voice and the unions should campaign to cancel the rent even if Starmer refuses to change tack on this.
Socialists should fight for a blanket suspension of rent payments and a freeze of residential mortgages. No workers should lose their homes as a result of this crisis.
In The Socialist 13 May 2020:
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