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Socialist Review, January 1994
Out in the cold
From Socialist Review, No. 171, January 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Having a home is a fundamental requirement for anyone to live a
decent life. The current housing crisis has been created by Tory
policies that have sought to profit from that need, throwing
thousands onto the street, and hundreds of thousands more into unsafe
temporary shelter. Here are some of the facts behind the scandal.
- The sale of council houses under the Tories’ Right to Buy
schemes generated £28 billion in receipts by the end of 1992, more
than the privatisation of British Gas, electricity and British
Telecom put together. None of this money has been reinvested in
building new council homes.
- The Tories’ drive for home ownership saw more money given
out in mortgage interest tax relief, which helps the better off, and
less money given out in housing benefit, which helps the worse off.
For the year 1989–90, £4.2 billion was allocated to housing
benefit, while £6.5 billion was handed out in mortgage interest tax
- Housing subsidies to local authorities have been capped by
central government, reducing both building and repair programmes and
forcing up local authority rents. The deregulation of rents in the
private sector under the 1988 Housing Act has replaced the concept
of fair rent with that of market rent and allowed private landlords
to charge more or less what they like, reducing enforceable legal
obligations to keep the property in good order.
- A report published in May 1993 showed that there are 24,961
empty homes owned by government departments like the Ministry of
Defence. That is 13.9 percent of their housing stock. There are
706,000 empty homes held by the private sector. Housing associations
have 13,700 empty homes and local authorities have 74,400 empty
homes. The number of private sector empty houses is sufficient to
house the total number of registered homeless families four and a
half times over.
- The drive to home ownership during the 1980s was forced by
the reduction of affordable rented accommodation. However, paying a
mortgage instead of rent has brought about its own miseries. Last
year mortgage lenders took 68,540 properties into possession,
352,050 households had mortgage arrears of six months or more, and
county courts authorised 55,265 possession orders with a further
64,642 suspended orders. The figures for 1993 are expected to be worse.
- Every working day on average more than 1,000 households
apply to local authorities for help on grounds of homelessness. Over
the past ten years well over one million households have been
registered as homeless. Large numbers of homeless, especially the
single homeless, are excluded from registering and therefore
excluded from government statistics.
- Homelessness is growing fastest among young people,
particularly aged 16–18. Shelter estimates that about 156,000
young people in Britain become homeless each year. A study carried
out in Birmingham earlier this year showed that 14,000 under 25s are
either homeless or in imminent danger of becoming homeless in just
- Shelter estimates that there are 2,000–3,000 people
sleeping rough in London and up to 5,000 in the rest of England. The
average age of death for people sleeping rough is 47, compared to 73
for men and 79 for women in the rest of the population.
- Tory authorities like Wandsworth are discharging their duty
to house the homeless by offering people deals with private
landlords. Rents are high and depend on payment of maximum housing
benefit which effectively means that you need to be on income
support, trapping you in poverty. After six months the landlord can
end the tenancy and put up rents. If your circumstances have changed
within that six months the council may no longer consider you
qualify for rehousing.
- Black people are disproportionately affected by the housing
crisis. Far from being offered new affordable homes they spend
longer in temporary accommodation waiting for rehousing. Of people
living in temporary accommodation, 29 percent are black. That means
the black population in Britain is nearly seven times less likely to
be permanently rehoused promptly than a white person.
- In the last ten years the use of temporary accommodation in
England to rehouse people has increased six fold. Over 62,500
families are living in temporary accommodation. An additional 10,000
are classified as ‘homeless at home’ which means they remain in
existing unsatisfactory accommodation while permanent accommodation
- At the end of December 1992 there were 7,510 households
living in bed and breakfast hotels in England. Shelter estimates
that this represents 21,500 individuals. Department of Environment
figures released in June this year showed that this figure had
increased by 2 percent. The annual cost of keeping people in
temporary accommodation is £321 million.
- The average annual cost of building a new home to rent is
£7,000 compared with £13,150 to keep a family in bed and breakfast
for a year. Ending bed and breakfast could save up to £46 million a
year while replacing private sector leased housing with new homes
could save a further £174 million a year.
- Bed and breakfast accommodation is dangerous for kids. In a
report on poverty in the borough, Hammersmith council wrote, ‘The
children of families living in bed and breakfast are especially at
risk ... many hotels are overcrowded and have poor furnishing,
inadequate washing facilities, and hazards such as unsafe windows,
gas rings and electrical appliances. They are often unhygienic,
allowing diseases to spread rapidly.’
- A new law announced on 5 November directly attacks those
who occupy unused empty housing. Squatting has become a criminal
offence with maximum sentences of six months jail plus £5,000 fines
for failing to vacate property within 24 hours of a court order.
Court orders will be made whether squatters appear in court or not.
CHAR, the campaign for the homeless, says that 74 percent of
squatters occupy local authority housing that would otherwise remain
empty. At the moment a quarter of all possession orders fail because
it is discovered that the occupier has rights of tenancy. If cases
are rushed through under the new law, then people who have tenancy
rights could be thrown on the streets.
- Tower Hamlets recently won a legal action which means local
authorities must check people’s immigration status before offering
them housing. Having a home while pursuing your right to residency
is an advantage, so this law is likely to increase the number of
deportations and further discriminate against impoverished refugees.
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