Socialist Worker

Housing in crisis: bring back rent controls

Issue No. 2226

The housing crisis could be solved at a stroke by the reintroduction of rent controls. These used to exist to keep workers’ rents at an affordable “fair” rate. An “independent” local rent officer set rent levels and it was illegal to charge more.

Margaret Thatcher’s government abolished them in 1988, alongside their policy of selling off council housing.

The Tories claimed that restricting rent levels punished landlords and reduced the number of properties available for rent.

But their scheme allowed landlords to profit from housing benefit by charging high rents to the poor, knowing that the state would pay.

A century ago 90 percent of Britain’s population lived in private rented accommodation. The high cost and terrible condition of much of this led to the first rent controls in 1915.

After 1945, slum clearances and the mass construction of council housing meant the number of people who were forced to rent privately plummeted. By the time Thatcher came to power only 11 percent of people rented privately.

The 1988 Housing Act also reduced landlords’ legal obligations to keep their properties in good order. The changes did not lead to the promised expansion of the housing market.

By the last census in 2001 the number in private rented accommodation had crept back up to 30 percent.

Millions wait for a house

Britain has a severe shortage of affordabe, available housing. Every year only 125,000 houses are being built.

The National Housing Federation argues that “no real social homes” will be built in the course of the current parliament.

This is because the government has slashed the housing budget by 63 percent—it hopes to pay for new low cost homes through massive rent increases.

There are now a record 4.5 million people on waiting lists for affordable housing, and this will increase as the cuts bite.

More than two million people find their rent or mortgage a constant struggle or are falling behind with payments. Banks are repossessing more homes.

Yet more than 700,000 homes in Britain lie empty because people can’t afford them or because councils don’t make them habitable.

According to the housing charity Shelter:

  • 1.4 million children in England live in bad housing.
  • In 2007-08, 565,000 households in England were overcrowded.
  • In 2008 the number of repossessions rose to 40,000 from 25,900 the previous year.
  • 7.7 million homes in England fail to meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard.
  • Britain is now more polarised by housing wealth than at any time since the Victorian era.

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