We Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Children’s charity Barnardo’s have invented a new term “bed poverty”. It describes the present crisis where nearly half a million children in the UK have to sleep on the floor because their family cannot afford beds, and where a further 200,000 childrens’ beds or bedding are mouldy or damp because for their family putting the heating on is too expensive. At the same time we read that, according to research by StepChange reported in The Guardian, “half of all private renters – about 3.7 million people – had had their rent increased in the last 12 months, while more than 1.2 million said they were using credit to make ends meet.” Food bank use and household debt were at record levels in 2022 and 2023.

Awaab’s Law (named after the little boy who died of exposure to black mould in his home) will require councils and housing associations to “investigate and fix reported health hazards within specified timeframes.” However, social housing for people seeking asylum is exempt from the law (meaning 118,000 people left out) and there are no plans to expand the law to protect tenants of private landlords.

Between July and September 2023, landlords began 8,399 court proceedings to evict households throughout England in “no-fault evictions” by Section 21 order – that is, without having to give any reason at all – up 27% from the same quarter the year before. The Evening Standard says almost 300 households in London alone are hit with notice of a Section 21 eviction claim every week. Worse still, Ministry of Justice figures admit that bailiffs were used to clear out 2,307 households from their homes as a result of Section 21 orders during the same period. The figures don’t mention how often these court-appointed bailiffs were supplemented by hired thugs, who frequently are involved by unscrupulous landlords furious at any delay. And when the unfortunate tenants try to find a new home in the private sector, 1 in 5 said they were asked to pay more than two full months’ rent in advance! 10.8% of “homeless householders” are homeless despite being in full-time work, because of this high financial barrier to renting. Meanwhile, Newcastle City Council (to take one example) is planning cuts of £1.6 million to homelessness services, which will mean drastic reduction of temporary accommodation, and more people on the streets.

The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness & Rough Sleeping notes a 26% increase in rough sleeping last year, and the highest number of people living in temporary accommodation since records began. They tell us “at the heart of it are chronic and unresolved systemic issues… many of the problems outlined would be resolved if there were more supply of social rented housing and supported housing.” (In the decade up to 2022 there was a net loss of 165,000 social homes, due to sales and demolitions outpacing the rate of new building.)

But as of 2023 housing associations in England have cut planned spending on building new “affordable” housing by £20 billion over the next decade. At the same time, Bloomberg report that a “major loosening of budget rules for local councils” is being planned “giving them the ability to sell assets… to stave off a wave of bankruptcies,” further reducing the stock of social housing and adding to the number of people stuck in temporary accommodation. As of 2023, around 1.2 million households are on the waiting list for social housing. Without major change to the way we do things, they will be waiting for a very long time.

So the housing crisis is not only the fault of individual private landlords, those ogres straight out of Oliver Twist. Nor is it just the Tories: the last time there were over 100,000 families living in “temporary accommodation” was in 2005 under the Labour government. Nor is it simply a question of a parliament stuffed with landlords in safe seats. The £20 billion in cuts to new building is not only due to political ideology but to a crisis of profitability that goes back decades. This is why cuts have gone on decade after decade no matter whether the left or the right of capital is in power. When a speculative bubble bursts (as in 2007-8), the state takes on the financiers’ debt to avert a systemic meltdown. Then, to keep overall national debt down to levels the same banking system will accept, the state has to make permanent cuts in social spending. Housing association and local authority budgets make easy targets. The state cannot solve the housing crisis or be shamed into solving it, because it is subject to the same necessity to balance the books or go under. And the charity sector can only tinker with the housing system. We cannot hope for either of them to stand outside or above capitalism and save us.

Capitalism is founded on the “chronic and unresolved systemic issue” of the exploitation of the vast majority of humanity to support a minority of others in ease and comfort. For them it is not important that human beings are suffering wretchedness, homelessness and poverty. What is important is that money is being made out of them. Part of the tragedy here is that we already have the capacity to solve the crisis and house everyone: there are more than 600,000 empty homes in the UK, and more than 800,000 “second homes”. But we will only be able to use the resources that exist already to help people when we no longer have to justify that help as profitable.

A different system is possible, founded on the production of goods and provision of homes on the basis of human need rather than profit-making for the already rich. As the vast majority in society, we have it in our power to create a new world where we can all be comfortable with a roof over our heads, feel valued and be healthy. It is the only realistic alternative to the cost of living crisis today and tomorrow and next year.

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 66) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.