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Editorial: A housing crisis for millions is looming as eviction ban comes to an end

THE government is playing silly buggers over housing security for millions of tenants facing the end of the ban on evictions on September 20.

If this intolerable burden of worry is not lifted very soon with the presentation of legislation extending the ban, then there is the very real prospect of families being thrown out of their existing accommodation if, in these straitened times, their coronavirus-hit incomes are insufficient to feed the family and pay the rent and bills.

In Britain the housing question is indissolubly linked to the neoliberal changes long desired by the landowning class and put into practice in their most dramatic form by Margaret Thatcher’s government, which presented the subsidised sale of council houses to the families resident in them as a step in the creation of a property-owning working class.

That this was a confidence trick of epic proportions is currently demonstrated by the fact that a relative handful of landlords have now accumulated a great proportion of these former council homes into enormous property empires which are let out at market rents to people who previously would have been entitled to apply for a secure and affordable tenancy.

And in a new twist of the knife, young adults seeking accommodation — including many children of those fortunate enough to have bought their council house — can neither find nor afford decent housing.

Extensive programmes of publicly funded council housing were a distinctive feature of the immediate post-war economic recovery. 

This post-war housing boom immediately provided employment for a host of skilled, semi-skilled and relatively unskilled workers, created demand for timber, cement and building materials and in short order provided housing for people in need.

It generated local development, called forth new demands for services of all kinds and led to the opening of new schools, nurseries and health centres.

But housing shortages are a boon to the parasitic class of landlords whose existing properties find willing and unwilling tenants at rents that reflect the market realities no less than the greed of the landlord.

Rather than any inherent value or utility in the property, rents in times of housing shortage are simultaneously a demonstration of the logic of the capitalist marketplace and an illustration of its sordid redundancy in a civilised society.

The government must immediately extend the ban on evictions. This is the minimum needed to avert a crisis that has been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic.

But beyond that there needs to be a publicly funded and nationally directed programme of housebuilding that relies not on market “signals” which seem exclusively to identify a notional “need” for executive-style housing in semi-rural locations but locates actually affordable new housing where there are existing shortages or where jobs can be created.

It is clear that Boris Johnson’s laissez-faire administration lacks vision or motivation. 

Meanwhile, Labour can renew its contact with working people throughout the country by taking the initiative with proposals for dealing with the reallocation of resources that new working patterns in the post-pandemic economy entail and which a reconfigured workforce will need.

This is what Labour was created for, and while housing gives us a focus on an entire range of social problems, there is always a limit to what can be achieved while capitalist patterns of ownership dominate.

It demonstrates the truth of Frederick Engels’s insight: “It is not that the solution of the housing question simultaneously solves the social question, but that only by the solution of the social question, that is, by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, is the solution of the housing question made possible.”

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