Socialist Worker

Repossessions soar as housing crisis worsens

by Esme Choonara
Issue No. 2114

The number of house repossessions hit a 12 year high last week, leaping 48 percent in just six months.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders now estimates that by the end of this year an average of 123 homes will be repossessed every day in England.

The shocking new figures confirm that millions in Gordon Brown’s Britain are living in growing fear of losing their homes as they struggle to meet mortgage payments and other soaring bills.

Millions more spend each night in damp, insecure or overcrowded accommodation.

They are all victims of a housing crisis created by free market dogma and the decimation of council housing under the Tories and then New Labour.

Small wonder then that research by housing charity Shelter has found that a quarter of all households – whether owned or rented – report that worries over housing costs are causing them stress or depression.

Labour’s housing minister Caroline Flint said last week that house repossessions should only be the “last resort” of mortgage lenders.

Northern Rock is owned by the government and propped up by loans totalling £55 billion of public money. Yet it has recorded one of the steepest rises in repossessions – some 67 percent more than this time last year.

This is no accident. Northern Rock bosses are under pressure from the government to resurrect the fortunes of the failed bank.

They recently boasted that the rise in their repossession rate is due to their decision to “fast-track” the process. Despite making drastic job cuts among other frontline staff, Northern Rock is expanding its “debt management” staff from 185 to 500.

Beyond reach

Brown claims he wants to make Britain a “home-owning, asset-owning, wealth-owning democracy”. But the possibility of ever buying a house is now way beyond the reach of many workers.

Prices for first-time buyers in Britain have tripled in a decade. Prices are even higher in London where first-time buyers face an average price of £260,000.

Christine is a newly qualified teacher in south London. She told Socialist Worker, “When I trained to be a teacher I assumed it was a good job and that I would be able to afford a mortgage on a decent home.

“But I know many teachers who have worked for many years and still can’t afford to buy a house.

“House prices are meant to be dropping. But a one bedroom flat in London still costs a quarter of a million pounds. Even a 15 percent drop is not going to make that affordable.

“This means you’re dependent on other people – living with friends, a partner, or even your parents. A lot of rented places are very insecure or in poor repair. What we need is better pay, and decent and secure council housing.”

With inflation rising faster than pay, workers are spending a growing proportion of their income on housing costs.

This is particularly acute among those who rent privately, where almost a quarter of people now spend more than half their income on housing costs.

The “social sector” in housing is supposed to offer some protection to those on low income. Yet even among those renting there, some 15 percent of people spend half or more of their income on housing.

Shelter figures show a quarter of households are coping with soaring housing costs by cutting back on food. Three million households have had to sell possessions to pay for housing. One in ten have taken on an extra job or overtime to try to meet the costs.

Brown has pledged that three million more homes will be built by 2020, with a target of 45,000 new homes a year available for “social renting” by 2010.

Even if Brown’s targets are met, they will still fall woefully short of the measures needed over housing.

There are already nearly two million people on council housing waiting lists in England – a rise of two thirds in the last decade. The Local Government Association says it expects this figure to reach five million by 2010.

The obvious way out of this is to expand, defend and improve council housing. The future of housing is one of the issues addressed by the People Before Profit Charter, which calls for “an emergency programme of council house building” to deal with the crisis.

Brendan Judge, an RMT union member at CBS Outdoor, which puts up posters on the London Underground, signed the charter while on strike last week. He told Socialist Worker, “The housing issue is very important to me. I am on low pay of £17,000 a year, which is take-home pay of £1,100 a month.

“I live in a one bedroom flat in London which costs £700 a month rent. So we’re living on £400 a month after paying the rent.

“Everything is a real struggle. We need council housing to have a decent standard of living.”

For more information about the People Before Profit Charter go to »

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Article information

Tue 12 Aug 2008, 19:15 BST
Issue No. 2114
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