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Editorial: Secure and affordable housing is a human right

IN a leafy part of south London, a beautifully designed housing estate is set in landscaped parkland.

The architectural style favoured by the innovative architects and planners of the post-war London County Council embodied spacious interiors, ample bedroom provision and durable and functional fittings.

They drew on a Modernist aesthetic that was fully in accord with the most enlightened thinkers of the progressive movement in architecture and design.

The kitchens were modelled on the principles established by the pioneering designer Margarete Schutte-Lihotzky and derived from her experiences in Frankfurt, Moscow and Vienna.

The estate was initially populated by families from inner London, some bombed out of their homes, other rehoused from the unsatisfactory housing.

Far from being a subsidised perk for working-class families, publicly owned housing is a valuable community resource with its capital costs easily covered by the rental income that a generation of tenants will provide.

Council housing was a valuable revenue stream for local authorities. Until Thatcher.

Margaret Thatcher saw socially provided housing as a violation of the sacred principles of the market, to which she offered the secure tenancies of working-class people as a sacrifice to the god of profits.

The end result of the council house sales policy is that the stock of publicly owned housing is much reduced.

One generation of tenants were able to obtain the subsidised ownership of houses that were henceforth denied their children or other people.

The grotesque reality is that many people acquired a debt to pay for a house for which they had already paid for in rents.

The predictable, and widely predicted, consequence was that with the increase in house prices — and the parallel increase in private-sector rents — many working-class families find their children cannot afford to live near their parents.

Schutte-Lihotzky, whose design career was interrupted by a heroic period in the anti-fascist underground and imprisonment in a Gestapo jail, would be horrified to see what has happened to our typical south London estate.

Where once children played in safe spaces in a medium-density estate with a well-balanced array of services and shops, now the grassed spaces are crammed full of cars and vans.

Where once working-class families lived in security, their family homes are now acquired by landlords who own scores, even hundreds of properties, which they let at exorbitant rents and are overcrowded as a new generation of much less secure workers struggles to live and exist in a city that bears little resemblance to the balanced communities that the London County Council planners and politicians envisaged.

This is the triumph of the capitalist market.

The news that average London council rents increased by an estimated 90 per cent from 2002-18 is an illustration of how private ownership of what is a social necessity has fuelled a tsunami of spiralling costs for working-class people.

Labour’s plans to build one million affordable homes over 10 years, end the sale of council homes, scrap the Conservatives’ so-called “affordable rent” homes priced at up to 80 per cent of market rates and curb developers.

Solving the homelessness and housing crisis is a sure-fire vote-winner for Labour as it aims to mobilise “generation rent.”

Individual home ownership should not be a speculative investment but a rational solution to a particular housing problem for some people. For society as a whole, ensuring everyone has a home is a socialist and humanitarian principle.

We can envisage a world in which people live in security in affordable homes. What is impossible to envisage is that capitalist markets and the profit system can deliver this to our people.


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