It is very clear that today’s rent is completely unaffordable. Britain in 2014 has a prospering culture of landlords striving to become new little Rachmans, letting tiny uninhabitable rooms for extortionate prices. Jo Pickard of the Oxford Marxists examines some of the latest shocking stories emerging from the UK’s farcical housing and rental market.
It is very clear that today rent is completely unaffordable. Britain in 2014 has a prospering culture of landlords striving to become new little Rachmans, letting tiny uninhabitable rooms for extortionate prices.
The Guardian has reported several shocking incidents just this summer, which have been so outrageous that they seem to utterly parody the housing crisis in Britain:
‘The studio flat for rent where you climb a ladder on the fridge to get to bed’ (20/7/14)
‘Landlord fined for renting room that could only be entered on all fours’ (22/8/14)
According to the 1985 Landlord and Tenants Act, while landlords are legally obliged to ensure that rooms are ‘habitable’, there are no regulations regarding the amount of space on a lease. Landlords can demand what they like for whatever slum housing they care to provide.
Demand for this type of housing remains high; in the current desperate economic climate students and young workers are being forced to leave home and move into this type of accommodation across the country in search of work. With high demand due to a nation-wide housing shortage, prices can be bloated at the whim of the landlord. The growth of online advertising means the interaction between landlord and tenant can be concealed from council and local authority restrictions; rooms can be falsely advertised, poorly furnished, unsanitary and out-right unliveable. Yet they will still be snapped up by students or young workers earning minimum wage.
Rent now more expensive than mortgage
The BBC recently reported that buying is now £1,300 cheaper than renting. According to Halifax this is due to historically low mortgage rates. A first-time buyer could save almost £110 per month by buying a three-bedroom property instead of renting one. In other words, providing that you can qualify for a mortgage, you could save money.
However, mortgages are increasingly restricted to those who are able pay for them. So working people forced into precarious financial situations on account of casual employment contracts, or anyone with high household expenditure (for childcare, for example), are unlikely to qualify. Mortgages are therefore only accessible to those with a certain income; the prospect of buying a property instead of renting is actually completely unattainable to the vast numbers of people.
You can save money if you’re already well-off, or you can spend more on high rent costs if you’re already struggling. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. In Oxford where I live, for a single box room in a family home with a child-size bed, no desk and no wardrobe or drawers, I have come to expect prices of £100 per week or more, excluding bills. The situation in London is much worse. One advertisement I came across presented a loft conversion room accessible by a pull-out ladder for almost £200 per week excluding bills, specifying that occupants might need a “slim build” to gain access to the room!
Irish Socialist James Connolly wrote on the subject in 1899 “Our cities can never be made really habitable or worthy of an enlightened people while the habitations of its citizens remain the property of private individuals. To permanently remedy the evils of city life the citizens must own their city.” His words remain just as relevant today.
The labour movement must fight for policies which ensure that housing is fit for decent human living: an introduction of rent controls, the building of new houses, an ending to repossession, and with that, the expropriation of housing from banks and monopolisers of property. Housing must be socially planned to accommodate human needs and to render homelessness a thing of the past. Forward the fight for socialism!