State protects landlordism

The rent of a home – a necessity for working class families to recuperate between the hours of work – has risen to crisis levels. Under capitalism, lack of housing is a constant threat to the working class, but in Britain for the 35 years after the Second World War, the working class successfully demanded state provision to ease its lot. In that period, local authorities and housing associations built 4.4 million social homes, at an average of more than 126,000 a year. However, by 1980 the ruling class had returned to the offensive, to cut the cost of sheltering its workforce. James Martin reports.


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Labour’s Housing Promises: Glitter for the few, misery for the many

During the Labour Party Conference in October, Keir Starmer trumpeted his proposals to tackle Britain’s housing crisis. Labour, he said, would ‘restore the dream of home ownership’ by ‘bulldozing’ through what he described – repeating the mantra of housebuilding speculators for years – as a ‘restrictive planning system’, in order to deliver 1.5 million new homes in the first five years of government and ‘get Britain building again’. Meeting the Conservative Party’s now abandoned target of 300,000 new homes a year was, he added ‘hugely important for the aspirations of young people who desperately want to get on the housing ladder’. This is a naked pitch to increasingly frustrated petit bourgeois professionals and better-off sections of the working class trapped by high rents – to say nothing of housing developers and builders – that will do precisely nothing to alleviate the crisis faced by the mass of the working class.


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Poverty in Britain an institutionalised state policy of impoverishment

Expanding poverty

More than a fifth of the population in the UK is at risk of poverty. The data shows that 14.4 million people lived in relative poverty in 2021-22 – a million more than the previous year, and almost two and a half times the number in 2017.1 Of these in 2022 3.8 million people experienced ‘destitution’, defined as struggling to meet the most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed. This number included about one million children.


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Labour will not build homes for the working class

In July, Labour’s then Levelling-up Shadow Minister, Lisa Nandy, categorically stated that her party is absolutely committed to maintaining the sell-off of council homes. Right-to-Buy, she told the Housing 2023 conference in Manchester, was a means ‘to extend wealth ownership, asset ownership, to people in every nation, every region in this country’. She went on to say to The Times newspaper that ‘telling working class people that they can’t own their own homes is just unacceptable’. This is another naked appeal by Labour to the better-off sections of the working class while signalling that the party continues to have zero interest in housing the poor.


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Dangerous dreams of class conciliation

The Cost of Living Crisis (and how to get out of it) by Costas Lapavitsas, James Meadway and Doug Nicholls, Verso 2023, £7.99 pbk, 80pp.

This small booklet provides a set of muddled and misleading ‘explanations’ for the current stagflationary crisis. It restates longstanding reformist views such as that produced by the Cambridge Political Economy Group in 19741 during the last stagflationary period of 1972-82. Both efforts represent the labour aristocracy’s promotion of economic nationalism and collective bargaining within state-imposed procedures while dampening any political campaign against private ownership of the means of production.


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Children in Britain driven into destitution

Destitution is a term used to describe the absolute lowest standard of living any adult, child or young person can experience; the lived reality is degrading and unsustainable. ”

— Buttle UK children’s charity

The impact of years of austerity and the sharpening of the attack on the working class is being paid for today by the poorest children in society. Their needs are being neglected as more and more of them go homeless, unfed and unwashed. Destitution is becoming normalised, with no way out in sight.


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SNP will not solve Scotland’s housing crisis

Asylum housing in Glasgow run by a private company

The Scottish working class is facing a desperate housing crisis. Official levels of homelessness in Scotland are now at their highest levels since records began in 2002, with 28,882 households assessed as homeless in 2022. The housing charity Shelter figures for 2022 show that one family became homeless every 18 minutes, with 39 children a day losing the roof over their heads. This bleak picture is the result of decades of privatisation of and deliberate underinvestment in social housing by successive Labour, Conservative and Scottish National Party (SNP) governments alike.


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Criminalising the homeless

Police officers approach a man in Lincoln

In 2021 the government pledged to get rid of the 1824 Vagrancy Act that criminalises homelessness in Britain. But it then stalled the repeal clause in the 2022 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act – mainly in order to  give itself time to build up an arsenal of new charges. The reality is that there has been no let-up in the harassment and oppression of the most vulnerable and destitute. 1,173 people have been arrested under the Act across England and Wales since 2021. Under the guise of preventing ‘anti-social behaviour’ - something both the Conservative and Labour leaders have promised to be tough on - the brutal powers of the police to bully, push around and dehumanise rough sleepers will only grow.


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Working class housing unfit for human habitation

The publicity surrounding a coroner’s findings in November 2022 that the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak in Rochdale had been caused by the toxic black mould growing in his family’s housing association flat exposed the shocking conditions in which millions of the poorest renters are forced to live. But government promises of stricter regulation over damp and mould in the social housing rented sector will do little to address the growing issue of homes across Britain that are simply unfit for human habitation.


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Making the poor pay

Between 2021-2022 people in Britain experienced the biggest rise in relative poverty since the 1980s. Real-terms cuts in benefits, poverty pay wages, soaring housing costs and inflation mean that increasing sections of the working class are facing the most savage attack on their living standards in more than 50 years as the British state forces them to pay for its deepening crisis. Government figures published at the end of March show that in 2021-2022, a fifth of the population was living below the poverty line (calculated as 60% of median wages); this included 800,000 children. The Resolution Foundation’s research shows poverty has increased even more sharply in 2022-2023. With the Office for Budgetary Responsibility predicting a fall of 5.7% in living standards over the next financial year – the sharpest two-year decline since records began in the 1950s – this intolerable situation can only get worse. In the past, the British state has been prepared to use taxes on the better-off sections of the working class to support the poorest sections. That is no longer the case, and the consequences for the poorest are brutal, with the most drastic measure being to drive down the cost of working-age benefits.


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Homeless deaths on the rise

Rough sleeper. (Image: Mjk23 | CC BT 2.0)

Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that homeless deaths in England and Wales have been steadily rising since their records began in 2013. They estimate that they’ve gone up from 482 In 2013 to 741 in 2021. But research from the Museum of Homelessness unveils a more shocking reality; a massive 80% increase in just two years, from 710 in 2019 to 1,286 in 2021. They include data from Scotland and the North of Ireland and the deaths of rough sleepers as well the ‘hidden’ homeless: those in unsafe temporary or support accommodation. These lives are the cost of huge cuts in funding for housing support and medical services.


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Built on sand: house prices fall as crisis deepens

For sale sign

UK house prices fell 1.5% in December 2022, according to Halifax, to an average £281,272, down from £285,425 in November. It marked the fourth consecutive month of decline, signalling the first real brake on the exponential rise in property values that followed the financial crash of 2008, and reflects the deepening crisis of British capitalism. But it will do nothing to alleviate the housing crisis for the working class. CAT WIENER reports.


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Britain’s damp and lethal homes

A coroner’s findings on 15 November that the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak in 2020 was caused by the toxic black mould growing in his family’s housing association flat shone a spotlight not only on the appalling conditions faced by the poorest renters, but also on the structural racism within the housing system. As we wrote in FRFI 290, more than a quarter of all renters, overwhelmingly the poorest families, live in substandard, badly insulated homes vulnerable to cold, damp and mould. In the case of Awaab Ishak, the neglect of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) in the face of a lethal problem his family had sought time and time again to have remedied was compounded by racism. RBH claimed, completely without foundation, that the constant pools of water in the bathroom were a result of ‘ritual’ religious practices by the family, originally from Sudan, involving washing with a bucket. In a statement, the Ishak family demanded better: ‘Stop being racist. Stop providing unfair treatment to people coming from abroad who are refugees and asylum seekers.


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Property snakes and ladders as mortgage rates rise

So profound is the crisis of British capitalism that the impact is increasingly being felt by previously more affluent sections of the working class, with young better-off workers denied the privileges they once aspired to. For decades, one of those has been the tantalising prospect of home ownership, a central plank of successive governments in buying the loyalty and acquiescence of vast swathes of the working class. That prospect is now in tatters. On 3 November the Bank of England increased its benchmark interest rate from 2.25% to 3%, its highest level for 14 years and the eighth consecutive increase since December 2021, when it was at a historic low of 0.25%. 1.2 million mortgage holders on flexible or tracker rates have felt the immediate effects of rates that are fluctuating around the 6% mark. By 2027, all mortgage holders will be affected. The Resolution Foundation has calculated that five million mortgaged households – nearly a fifth of all households – will be spending an average of £5,100pa more on housing costs by the end of 2024 – £8,000pa in London. For the two million mortgage holders on the lowest incomes, those costs are predicted to absorb 10% more of their income than in 2022. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says an extra 120,000 households – or some 400,000 people – will face poverty when their current mortgage deal ends. This will swell the ranks of the 750,000 households with a mortgage (2.4 million people) already living in poverty.


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The housing crisis falling off a precipice

The cost-of-living crisis is combining with Britain’s existing housing crisis to create a perfect storm for the poorest sections of the working class. In August, dozens of housing charities warned that soaring rents and vastly increased energy bills were creating a homelessness ‘precipice’. The chronic lack of social housing is driving more and more people into the private sector, where rents are at an all-time high – if you can find anywhere to live at all. The social housing rent cap being mulled by the new government will do nothing to resolve these issues – nor help the poorest people keep damp and substandard homes warm and dry this winter.


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The age of austerity: war on the poor

For more than a decade, the poor have been hounded, sanctioned, vilified and criminalised in an attempt to restore the profitability of British capitalism. Despite this sustained attempt to make the working class pay for a crisis not of its making, the economy remains in utter turmoil. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and the global wholesale energy crisis have sent the prices of raw materials, production, transport and commodities soaring. There has been no real recovery from the 2008 financial crash. Meanwhile, ever-wider sections of the working class are being driven into poverty or even destitution. MARK MONCADA reports.


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Exempt housing: crackdown targets vulnerable tenants

Former council flats in Birmingham

The epidemic of shoddy 'exempt housing' has become an embarrassment for councils across England. It's clear that this housing model - supposedly ‘supported housing’ funded directly by the DWP and therefore exempt from the cap on housing benefits - is rife with exploitative landlords and only leaves those it's supposed to help worse off. Reports from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on projects in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol and Hull show that providers of exempt accommodation - which is supposed to help those who’ve been homeless, have drug issues, are victims of domestic abuse or are recent prison leavers, refugees or migrants - were providing falsified reports on both their profits and the levels of support they were supposed to provide. This has forced councils to act, with MPs and the Levelling Up Housing and Communities Committee (LUHC) launching investigations and legislation. But, so far, this has done little to address the structural issues that have brought exempt accommodation into being. Instead, the targets are once again the most vulnerable sectors of the working class.


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Grenfell fire: an act of class war

Smoke rising from Grenfell tower seen from Putney Hill, 14 June 2017 (photo: Cbakerbrian | CC BY-SA 4.0)

'I cannot help but feel that had our community lived in a different part of the borough, on the more affluent side, had we been from a different class, had we been less ethnic, the response in the aftermath would have been immediate’. (Hanan Wahabi, whose brother’s family died in the fire, Grenfell Inquiry, April 2022)

Throughout the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June 2017, which killed 72 people, it has been clear that the residents of north Kensington’s Lancaster West estate were failed catastrophically at every stage. Residents’ concerns were persistently ignored. Cost-cutting and the drive to ‘regeneration’ trumped any concerns about safety. A bunch of frankly criminal manufacturers, contractors, architects, fire safety ‘experts’, builders and engineers colluded in maximising their profit margins while carrying out the lethal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. These failures were not accidental, but rather the logical outcome of the priorities hardwired into a capitalist system interested only in making profits for the ruling class.


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Build to Rent – a housing solution for the middle class

South London FRFI demands decent housing for all

2021 saw a huge boom in corporate investment in so-called Build to Rent (BtR), £4.1bn, up £500m on the previous year. The figures for 2022 look like being even higher. BtR is the purpose building on a mass scale of generally high-quality, high-rent flats owned and managed by companies or their agents rather than smaller private landlords. It is being driven by a housing crisis that means young middle-class people can no longer afford to buy their own homes. As Engels put it 150 years ago, ‘What is meant today by housing shortage is the peculiar intensification of the bad housing conditions of the workers as the result of the sudden rush of population to the big towns; a colossal increase in rents, a still further aggravation of overcrowding in the individual houses, and, for some, the impossibility of finding a place to live in at all. And this housing shortage gets talked of so much only because it does not limit itself to the working class but has affected the petty bourgeoisie also’.


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The decay of social housing

In April 2021, an ITV investigation uncovered housing conditions in the south London borough of Croydon that were described by regulators as ‘the worst we’ve ever seen’. Footage of dripping water, crumbling ceilings and thick black mould prompted more reports, with the news programme most recently showcasing a west London council flat with a gaping hole in the bathroom ceiling and black mould spreading up the bedroom walls; the family has lived for two years unable to use electricity in the bathroom because of the risk of electrocution. In November, tenants of the housing association Clarion (whose CEO, Clare Miller, is on a salary of £350,000) revealed they had been living in a hostel for six months after being moved out of 500 mouldy and vermin infested homes in Mitcham, south London. These are just a few examples of the conditions faced by hundreds and hundreds of working class people in local authority and housing association homes across Britain. A Housing Ombudsman review published in October 2021 revealed that more than one in ten (13%) homes in the social rented sector do not meet Decent Homes standards. This is a sector that is being left to sink into squalor as successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, pursue the vast profits to be made from the privatisation and commodification of housing. ALEX SCURR and CAT WIENER report.


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Birmingham's 'exempt housing' scandal

Birmingham supporters of FRFI call for social housing, not social cleansing

A new form of slum landlordism has emerged from the deepening capitalist crisis. Private housing providers have found a new avenue for profit in so-called ‘exempt housing’. Because such housing purports to offer an ‘above minimal’ level of support to vulnerable and hard-to-house individuals, including prison leavers, rough sleepers, migrants, people with alcohol or drug abuse issues and victims of domestic violence, it is exempt from the normal cap on Local Housing Allowance (LHA), and is generally funded directly by the Department for Work and Pensions. This allows organisations providing this type of supported housing to charge staggeringly high rates to claimants living in their properties. A 2019 study found that some providers were charging as much as £200 per week in Birmingham for a room in a multi-occupancy home, despite the LHA cap for shared accommodation being just £57. JOE SMITH reports.


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Community Land Trusts: accommodating capitalism

  •  The housing crisis is a land crisis: a transatlantic exploration of Community Land Trusts, Lily Gordon Brown, Greater Manchester Housing Action 2022, £4

It is rare that the title of a publication promises so much and delivers so little. With the authoritative statement that ‘the housing crisis is a land crisis’, the reader could expect some explanation of what each crisis is, and some facts and figures to prove the point. Nothing like this is on offer. The only statistic in the whole pamphlet is the well-known and derided definition of ‘affordable housing’ being up to 80% of market rent. The author’s claim that ‘This pamphlet comes at a time when land is making its way back into public discourse’, (p1) immediately signals lazy contempt for the reader and for the subject matter.


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Grenfell fire: ‘one of the greatest scandals of our times’

Protest against social murder of housing industry

The final stage of the inquiry into the Grenfell fire, which began on 6 December 2021, will now address the role played by the British state in the catastrophe that killed 72 people in 2017 – described by Stephanie Barwise, on behalf of the Grenfell families, as ‘one of the greatest scandals of our times’. On the second day, we witnessed the sorry spectacle of the government’s barrister, Jason Beer, offering a mealy-mouthed apology before going on to deny any government culpability. Rather, its trust in the construction industry had been ‘misplaced and abused’. This would be laughable if the consequences had not been so catastrophic. For while, as Adrian Williamson QC put it, manufacturers such as Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan were ‘crooks and killers, fraudulent in their marketing, recklessly unconcerned with public safety, and focused on the bottom line by fair means or foul’, they were also players in a system that exists only to make profits, and had been deliberately allowed by successive governments to write their own rules.


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The law of the jungle: property boom fuels housing crisis

Billboard graffiti reads 'gentrify this' (photo: amanda farah/flickr)

In October 2021, the Pandora Papers highlighted the City of London as the money-laundering capital of the world. They exposed the central role the UK property market plays in allowing wealthy corporations and individuals to secretly transfer and invest their capital while hiding behind shell companies based in largely British offshore tax havens, thus avoiding both tax and scrutiny. Three quarters of all properties in Britain linked to corruption are owned by companies registered in tax havens (Bloomberg 21 December 2020). In April 2021, the Financial Times described London as ‘the global hotspot for luxury home sales’. Meanwhile the flood of overseas finance into the UK property market has driven up the price of land and fuelled the wholesale destruction of council housing, forcing out the working class and stoking the housing crisis we see today. 


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‘Supported housing’: commodifying social need

Protest for mental health services

The ‘supported housing’ sector has grown exponentially in the last five years, with as many as 30,000 units estimated to be operating in England alone, catering for more than 150,000 households and individuals; this is 62% higher than in 2016. Yet funding to meet this need has risen by less than £100m. Supported housing, also known as ‘exempt housing’ because it is not subject to government caps on housing benefits, caters largely for vulnerable populations who cannot get housing elsewhere – prison leavers, rough sleepers, refugees and migrants and those with substance misuse issues. The levels of social need and mental health issues are very high. Yet – while being able to charge sky-high rents paid for by the state – many social housing organisations provide only a minimal level of support, with understaffing being a major issue. In October, the homelessness charity Crisis described the sector as ‘controversial’ and ‘dangerously under-regulated. I have worked at Riverside housing, which is no exception.


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Desperate times as evictions rise

On 22 July, government figures showed that during the January-March lockdown this year, one household in England became homeless every three minutes. Despite the ‘eviction moratorium’ still being in place, over this period 68,250 households approached their local council and were found to be homeless or at risk of homelessness. Following the lifting of even the limited ban on evictions on 31 May, a YouGov survey has found that a further 400,000 households – approximately 5% of all renters in both the private and social sector – have already been served an eviction notice, with around a million more worried about being evicted in the next three months. What we are witnessing is an acceleration of Britain’s profound housing crisis, fuelled by the coronavirus crisis but in itself a product of capitalism’s increasing inability to provide safe, affordable and decent housing for the mass of the working class.


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Grenfell fire: no lessons learned

RCG on the silent march for Grenfell February 2018
RCG on the silent march for Grenfell February 2018
RCG on the silent march for Grenfell February 2018 (photo: FRFI)

The fire that broke out at the New Providence Wharf block in east London on 7 May 2021 shows that no lessons have been learned from the 2017 Grenfell fire. Work has yet to start to remove combustible aluminium composite cladding from the New Providence development’s façade, nearly four years since the disaster at the west London tower block that killed 72 people. Its smoke detection system failed, meaning fire doors did not close and black smoke filled communal areas, reaching as high as the 18th floor. Residents had to go door-to-door to wake neighbours, organising their own evacuation. Hundreds of leaseholders have since staged protests, demanding the builder, Ballymore, put a freeze on all construction until safety issues are sorted out. In 2013, at the inquest into the 2009 Lakanal House fire in south London that killed his wife and three young children, Mbet Uduoka said: ‘We fear very much that lessons have not been learned and that it could happen again.’ And again and again, under a capitalist housing system where human life counts for little in the drive to accumulate ever more profit.


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Grenfell Fire: capitalism kills

Wall memorial with Grenfell heart in the style of a London Underground sign

The despicable saga of the 2012-2016 ‘refurbishment’ of Grenfell Tower in west London was driven by cost-cutting on the part of Kensington and Chelsea council, and profiteering on the part of every last contractor and manufacturer involved. The victims were, inevitably, the working class residents of the north Kensington tower, 72 of whom were killed by the raging fire that broke out on 14 June 2017. This disaster was the direct result of a deregulated and profoundly corrupt building sector in which criminality flourished. While companies like Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan knowingly gamed the system,[1] they were aiming at an open goal, with British building regulations amongst the most lax in Europe. As we wrote at the time: ‘the fire at Grenfell Tower exposes the scale of corruption that permeates authority in Britain. It is driven by corporations scrambling for profits, bending rules and regulations, and breaking them to do so. In these calculations, human beings… are disposable.’[2]


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Raise the roof – fight for secure and affordable homes

Rough sleepers with a sign 'covid has made all my donations disapear [sic]]

Hundreds of thousands of people are starting the year under the shadow of losing their homes. A quarter of a million more are enduring lockdown in cramped, damp and unsafe temporary accommodation. Exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, housing for working class people is increasingly precarious, overcrowded and dangerous; the high costs associated with rents in the private sector, especially in big cities, are driving escalating levels of poverty, debt and homelessness. Decent housing for the working class will be a key battleline in the struggles that lie ahead.


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Labour will not defend the working class

Focus E15 campaigners

Labour councils have completely failed to resist this assault on the working class. Rather than fight swingeing central government funding cuts, they have meekly set ‘legal’ budgets, slashed essential services and laid off thousands of people, while at the same time pursuing evictions, prosecuting the low paid for failure to pay council tax and dumping homeless families in far-flung boroughs. The single worst example in the country is the 100% Labour-run council of Newham in east London, whose ‘left Labour’ Mayor Rohksana Fiaz was swept into office in 2018 on the back of promises to tackle homelessness and poverty. 


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