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Labour offers no solution to the housing crisis

Issue No. 1953

The government plans to help first time buyers buy a new home. The dream of being able to own your own home is a powerful one. But the truth is that many who struggle to borrow the money to do so are in danger of overreaching themselves. Any increase in interest rates could push them under.

The last recession saw a swathe of repossessions as people could not make their mortgage repayments. It was accompanied by a fall in house prices which left many paying inflated mortgages on properties whose value no longer matched the buying price.

New Labour also wants to replace the current housing benefits system — where the local authority uses its discretion when allocating money — with a flat rate of benefit for all, regardless of how much their rent is.

This will hit the most desperate families who councils cannot house and are placed in private rented accommodation. Government officials say that poor families will either have to make sacrifices to pay more, or move to cheaper accommodation. The real answer to Britain’s housing crisis is for central and local government to provide well built homes with affordable rents.


Things get worse for ordinary people

A senior US officer in Baghdad talking to the US press about the occupation of Iraq admitted, “I think this could still fail.” US generals say the outlook is “bleak”.

“Bleak” does not adequately describe the situation facing Iraqi civilians. The United Nations (UN) reports that 23 percent of children under five suffer chronic malnutrition. The situation was bad following ten years of sanctions, but this figure has doubled since Iraq was occupied.

In the south of the country 51 percent of households live in neighbourhoods where sewage can be seen in the street. In rural areas 80 percent of households drink unsafe water.

The UN reports that Iraqis lack safe water, sewage treatment, healthcare and electricity.

The literacy gap between men and women is narrowing, however. Good news? No — literacy rates for women have stagnated over the last two years, but those for men have fallen.


BBC action shows the way forward

“Action boosts union membership” is this week’s headline from the BBC. Broadcasting unions report “a surge of new members joining”. The Bectu union has signed up 1,200 BBC workers since the job cull was announced in December, with 300 joining in the ten days before last Monday’s strike.

The National Union of Journalists reports “hundreds” have flocked to join it. Those joining are overwhelmingly young and often denied permanent contracts.

Overall trade union membership is stagnating. That is particularly true of the big unions who see salvation in mergers. They have too often failed to reach out to a new generation of workers who have been part of the movement against war and globalisation. From the New Unionism of the 1890s to the great white collar strikes of the 1970s, history shows struggle is what builds our unions.

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What We Think
Sat 28 May 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1953
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