Modern day slums have contributed to the rapid spread of the coronavirus in Britain. The scourge of low pay and eye-watering rents has forced working-class families into overcrowded housing. Capitalism is killing us.
A recent report from the Guardian shows that cramped living conditions – the “equivalent of Victorian slums” – may be accelerating the spread of coronavirus in the UK.
The virus is bringing the class divide in society to the forefront. Whilst the rich escape to country houses to self-isolate, the working class is left to suffer in dire living conditions, which make self-isolation nearly impossible.
The analysis points out that the top five most densely populated areas in the country have seen 70% more COVID-19 cases than the five least crowded.
The rich are able to live in larger homes, with spare bedrooms, multiple bathrooms and gardens. The most precarious working class households, however, are forced into multiple-occupancy homes – sharing toilets, kitchen facilities and rooms to reduce the cost of rent.
Speaking to the Guardian, Walid Alhusien, a pizza delivery driver, says he and his wife share just one room with their five children.
Such stories echo the comments made by Frederick Engels in his writings on the Condition of the Working Class in England:
“When one remembers under what conditions the working people live, when one thinks how crowded their dwellings are, how every nook and corner swarms with human beings, how sick and well sleep in the same room, in the same bed, the only wonder is that a contagious disease like this fever does not spread yet farther.”
It is clear that this class divide can no longer be ignored. Even the bourgeois press recognise that living conditions resemble that of 19th century slums, from the time of the Industrial Revolution.
But where were these articles before the crisis? The day-to-day living conditions of the working class are exacerbating the spread of the virus. But once the pandemic subsides, we are unlikely to see the rich as concerned over these living conditions. The elite only care when it affects them.
All in this together?
In a frenzied panic, the ruling class has scrambled for appeals of ‘national unity’, attempting to claim that ‘we are all in this together’. But clearly this is not true. Millions in the UK will be left behind by this crisis.
The Tories are incapable of providing concrete solutions for the problems facing the working class. They are happy to call on individuals to self-isolate and simply wash their hands to avoid contagion. But these demands fall apart in conditions where it is impossible to avoid close contact.
Under capitalism, parasitic landlords charge tenants sky-high rents, accumulating vast amounts of wealth created by the working class. Poverty forces workers into poor living conditions, in an attempt to find ‘affordable’ rents. All of this is exacerbated by the lack of council and social housing.
To tackle the root cause of overcrowded housing, therefore, means overturning the anarchy of the market, which consigns the majority to poverty and misery.
There are clear immediate demands that the labour movement should fight for. Empty hotel rooms and idle property used for speculation should be expropriated, for example, in order to house those in overcrowded homes, and to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
In the long term, however, only bold socialist measures can prevent overcrowding and provide decent homes for all. This means expropriating the parasitic landlords, nationalising the land, and bringing the banks and big construction companies into public ownership, in order to undertake a mass construction programme of social housing.
This is the only way to ensure that enough homes exist for all: not on the basis of profit, but on the basis of need. Only then can we put an end to the desperate conditions facing millions in the UK.