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EVERYONE has the right to a home in their community. But governments over the decades have treated houses as a commodity to make profit, rather than homes for people, and prioritised capital over communities.
The consequences have been devastating for working-class people, our communities and the Welsh language — and they are getting worse.
This is a problem in all parts of Wales, as in other parts of Britain. In rural and coastal areas, we see the impact of second homes, holiday lets and tourism that treats our communities as playgrounds for the rich.
And in cities, like my community in Cardiff, the market and developers push house prices and rents beyond any reasonable level, and our heritage is destroyed for luxury flats while others sleep on the streets.
The picture is different in different communities but the causes are the same: the free market, wealth inequality and apathetic politicians. And so is the result: profits for the rich, injustice for ordinary people and the decline of our communities.
From the families in Ceredigion who have to leave their village for lack of affordable housing, and take the language with them; to the young people in Cardiff who don’t see the promised benefits of “regeneration”; to communities across the country losing green spaces, cultural assets and schools to greedy developers and undemocratic councils — people are experiencing the damaging effects of our housing and planning system in their everyday lives.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith (Welsh Language Society) has often said that the fate of the language is the fate of all our communities.
That is, what’s happening to the Welsh language is a symptom of wider forces that are eroding the social bonds and material basis of all communities, in Wales, Britain and the wider world.
And as the cost-of-living crisis bites, this is only going to get worse. And we are only going to fight back successfully if we unite our struggles.
Over the past year, Cymdeithas yr Iaith has held three national rallies in different parts of Wales as part of our Nid yw Cymru ar Werth (Wales is Not for Sale) campaign, with over 1,000 people attending each one.
And through campaigning with others across the country, we have won several of our demands from the Welsh government. This includes a tax on tourism; the ability for local authorities to put a cap on the number of second homes or holiday lets, and require planning permission to change the use of a house to a second home or holiday let; a new licensing scheme for holiday lets such as AirBnB, and higher taxes on second homes. These measures will all make a significant difference on the ground.
However, we know that second homes and holiday lets are only part of the problem, and they are symptomatic of a wider dysfunctional housing system.
A system where shelter is treated as an asset, rather than a basic need, and the out-of-control “free” market is only free for the rich.
That’s why we will be holding another rally on the site of the National Eisteddfod, today, August 4, calling for a Deddf Eiddo, or Property Act, that will put housing and planning under the democratic control of local communities.
This will include:
• Controls on house prices and rent and changing the definition of affordable housing
• Giving local people priority in the allocation of housing
• Strengthening tenants’ rights
• Taking empty and second homes into public hands
• Ensuring all new housing is energy efficient, and upgrading current housing, and
• Democratising the planning system.
We have the answers, what we need now is political will. Because the housing “crisis” is not a natural disaster, it’s a result of political decisions — decisions that can be changed.
The day of our rally will also mark 60 years since Cymdeithas yr Iaith was founded, to respond to the existential threat that was facing the Welsh language in 1962.
And one thing we know after six decades of campaigning and winning significant gains for the Welsh language, is that politicians will not do what our communities, our language and working-class people need, unless we make them. We have to campaign. And we need to unite as communities to do that.
The fight for the Welsh language is a fight for all our communities, and the measures we are calling for will benefit every one of them.
As our strapline describes Cymdeithas, we are a society of people taking non-violent direct action for the Welsh language and Wales’s communities as part of the global revolution for rights and freedom.
We know that we are part of a wider movement, and our contribution is to campaign for, and win, actions that will benefit our language and all people in Wales. And that’s what we will continue to do for the next 60 years — why not join us?
Mabli Siriol Jones is chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith.
You can learn more about Cymdeithas yr Iaith at cymdeithas.cymru/what-is-cymdeithas-yr-iaith.
The national Nid yw Cymru ar Werth (Wales is Not for Sale) rally will be held on the site of the National Eisteddfod at 2pm on August 4 2022, starting at Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s stall and marching to the Welsh government’s stand.
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