Socialist Worker

25 years and deeper in debt

by Michael Rosen
Issue No. 1918

IN 1977 my partner and I had a child, and we were living in someone else’s flat.

So we applied to the council for a flat, but they said that we didn’t have enough “points”.

If we put our two part time salaries together and multiplied by two and half (the maximum allowed), we found that we could afford a two- bedroom house that had no bathroom and no inside toilet—and needed a new roof.

No ordinary mortgage company would lend money on such a rickety old place, nor to two teachers only working part time—we were doing that so we could each look after the child.

In the end we got a mortgage from the then Greater London Council, who told us that we could get a grant to put in a bathroom and toilet, but it would take time.

So we bought the place and waited two years, at the end of which they said it was OK, the grant would come through, so go ahead and book the builders.

We booked the builders and they knocked out most of the house. But when I went to collect the grant the Tory GLC had switched its policy and had decided overnight to stop giving maintenance grants.

We were now living in a house that was a building site, with no money to do it up.

At the time I said to myself, “Haven’t I done everything that the free market told me to do?”

I got a mortgage that would tie me to 25 years of debt—a whole chunk of my life forced to consider world events in the light of the interest rate on my mortgage.

That’s what the debt-owning democracy had told me I ought to do. But at the end of it I didn’t have a house. I had a ruin.

It worked out in the end. Someone told me to try Hackney council, who at the time were lending money for mortgages too.

A wily old guy there pretended that I was asking for a home loan, the builders were paid and the house was done up.

I often think about this episode in contrast to the situation today. First of all, it’s just a grim joke that any couple trying to live in London off two part time young teachers’ salaries could raise enough money for a house.

There are fewer and fewer council flats, so you end up shovelling rents into private landlords’ pockets.

Then, all that council helping hand stuff was dubbed “socialism by stealth”, and was wiped out by Thatcherism.

When it comes to mortgages, there are banks now who’ll lend you enough money to ensure that you’ll be throwing wads at money-lenders until the day you die.

I got a glimpse of this when recently I asked the building society who lend me money if they did home improvement loans.

This tied me to a wheel of letters and phone calls telling me that if I didn’t respond immediately I was in danger of “losing” the loan.

An army of hired smoochers was urging me to get me into yet more debt.

“How can I lose something I haven’t even asked for?” I yelled down the phone. “I haven’t asked for a bloody loan. I was just trying to find out if it’s possible, OK?”

There was incomprehension from the other end.

It seems that they don’t have a category for someone just trying to find out if a loan is possible.

I figured out the rule of thumb here—you’re either someone who wants more debt or you don’t exist.


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Sat 11 Sep 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1918
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