In recent months, few issues have articulated the growing frustration with endemic inequality in Britain more than that of housing. As rents continue to rise, landlords have made profits of £177bn from capital growth alone in the last five years. Only a bold socialist housing programme can tackle the crisis of housing in Britain.
In recent months, few issues have articulated the growing frustration with endemic inequality in Britain more than that of housing. According to a recent article in the Financial Times, landlords have made profits of £177bn from capital growth alone in the last five years. This figure, which does not include the wealth accrued from tenant’s rents, is the latest evidence of rapidly increasing costs within a housing market characterised by profiteering and exploitation.
Lack of investment in new houses, combined with the free market reforms introduced by the Thatcher government, has resulted in rapidly increasing house prices that have forced many would-be homeowners to remain in the rental sector. This has produced a high-cost climate from which buy-to-let landlords have been the “biggest beneficiaries” (FT). In sharp contrast, tenants have seen the rising cost of housing consume more and more of their income. A report published by the Resolution Foundation states that “more than one in five (21.2 per cent of) working London households renting privately spend more than half their net income on the cost of housing.”
Students are among those that have fallen victim to rising living costs and lack of affordable housing. According to the Guardian, the average rent for students is equal to 95% of the standard maintenance loan, leaving precious little to spend on other living essentials. High rent bills are a well-established fact not only in private accommodation, but also in university halls, where the cheapest rooms have risen in cost by 11% in the last three years. The continuation of these trends could no doubt result in youth from low-income families being priced out of higher education in the near future.
In light of these completely unsustainable developments, there have been calls for the reintroduction of rent controls to curb the extortionate rate of costs imposed on tenants by private landlords. A recent poll found that 59% of people in Britain were in favour of placing a legal cap on rents; a figure that rose to 77% among those actually living in privately rented accommodation. Despite clear support for such measures, Labour have so far failed to take any decisive action on the issue, promising only to limit rises in the future, rather than working to actually reduce rent levels. It is clear in this instance that the reformist Labour leaders are unwilling to take any action contrary to the interests of the landlords and capitalists who are reaping massive rewards from runaway rent costs.
In the face of untrammelled exploitation, what is necessary is a bold socialist programme to tackle the housing crisis in Britain. Such a programme would involve an immediate freeze on rents, widespread construction of new social housing and the mobilisation of the working class to fight against the actions of predatory landlords. In this age of crisis, capitalism is failing to provide people with even the most basic dignities of shelter and security. In order to solve these fundamental problems, it is therefore necessary to build the forces of Marxism as the only forces capable of leading the working class in overthrowing the broken capitalist system and in establishing a socialist alternative.