Antisocial housing

Posted: June 7, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Conservative MP John Butcher intriguingly seemed to call for social cleansing in an e-mail to Surrey Council, suggesting he is probably in a party too far to the left for his liking:

http://politicalscrapbook.net/2012/06/tory-councillor-force-seriously-ill-people-out-to-push-up-house-prices/

Rather than elucidate on the rather sinister Aryan overtones of his devious plan to bring down the NHS, it is more interesting to note his defence of the scheme.

He uses the classic ends of higher house prices to justify his means. As we all gather from the Daily Mail and its ilk, higher house prices make people of a certain economic demographic very happy. It confirms their social standing, justifies the area they live in and of course offers their portfolio additional clout. Until they wish to procure another property, presumably.

But as important as these people are, they are in a small minority of the general population. Their property trading should not affect the wider, considerably poorer populace. Except it does impact, in a huge way.

The seeds of this housing crisis were sown in the 1980s, by the Conservative government’s ‘right to buy’ council house tenancy scheme. The principle of the scheme seemed sound enough. It allowed those in social housing the opportunity of owning their own home, giving aspiration and motivation to those on lower incomes. Whether for political ends, or simply lack of forethought, the income from these sales was not fed back into the building of more council homes, which would have set in motion a self-funding cycle to provide adequate social housing for an ever-increasing population.

Housing is such a crucial necessity, and yet the twofold effect of the ‘right to buy’ scheme was to both cut off the supply of affordable homes, and render those existing affordable homes vulnerable to the whims of the market. Every house is now a commodity, which is unsustainable when the majority of the population earns well under the income needed to even put down a mortgage deposit. The final nail in the housing coffin is the complete lack of regulatory rent controls, meaning scarce housing is snapped up and rented out to the desperate, for sometimes eye-watering prices, incompatible with the area or state of the property. People with a job cannot opt out of housing, thus landlords operate in an unregulated and captive market.

Council houses, which were intended to be let out to responsible tenants unable to afford market rates, are now utilised as income streams for unscrupulous private landlords. Where once controlled rents went to accountable local government, they now increasingly fund the additional income streams of non-doms. Of course there exist plenty of responsible landlords and ladies, as well as irresponsible tenants, but these exceptions do nothing to counterbalance a flawed and unsustainable system.

Another serious issue is discussed in the following article:

http://www.rsnonline.org.uk/community/villages-becoming-rich-peoples-ghettos

That of villages, once hotbeds of class diversity, slowly evolving into potential ghettos for the semi-retired rich. This is exacerbated by lack of social housing to accommodate the offspring of lifelong working class residents, as well as furious objections from wealthier inhabitants when the prospect of fresh development comes up, either on the understandable grounds of wishing the countryside to remain unblemished, or the more sinister and elitist argument of house prices falling should the wrong ‘class’ of people be housed nearby.

Much like the argument regarding private healthcare, the existence of state maintained and controlled properties did not prevent a ‘commodity’ market for more upmarket properties existing, just as private healthcare has always existed alongside the NHS. There is even a strong argument that the coexistence of state and private i.e. mixed economy, incentivises the private sector to drive up standards as opposed to simply profits.

As long as the majority of the population earn under £26k, they will never be able to afford their own homes, or even current rent levels. It is has been recently publicised that, over the last thirty years, housing costs have now usurped food as the number one expense to households. In the days of plentiful social housing it was not this way. There is a current rhetoric that people must learn not to live on debt, and yet political trends have shaped a future on quicksand. We know most people do not earn enough to afford these homes or rents without going into debt, and yet profit-chasing takes precedence. No matter which political affiliation, we all realise housing is a necessity, not a luxury, and yet we base our economy on inflating house prices endlessly, and, like the ‘float all boats’ argument used to justify merciless corporate Capitalism, this rising tide threatens to drown us all, as all housing is now inextricably linked to market forces.

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