The Human Cost of Neo Liberal Housing Policy

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Since the late 1970s and the advent of neoliberalism in Great Britain, our capital city has been blighted by an exponential growth in homelessness juxtaposed to burgeoning concentrations of wealth, evoking images of Dickensian London at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, so terrible were the living conditions of the working classes in Britain, certainly  right up to the end of the Second World War, and beyond, that Keynesian economist William Beveridge saw the eradication of slum housing and provision of good quality homes with running water and proper sanitation as key to abolishing his five giants: Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness and Disease.

When elected in 1979, Margaret Thatcher would have no doubt been familiar with the  Beveridge Report  – the blueprint for the British Welfare State. This begs the question as to whether her assault on the social commons, by championing the Right to Buy and her pledge to make people pay the real cost of their housing, was a deliberately focussed attack on the beating heart of a nation. In concert with the neoliberal view that unemployment of more than 3 million people was a price worth paying for economic development, an attack on something as fundamental as housing instilled fear into those fortunate enough to have a home and a job. This had the immediate effect of weakening any opposition to the neoliberal ideology underpinning her political objective of rolling back the state.

The Housing Act of 1980 was the first of a whole raft of measures introduced towards this end, covering everything from the privatisation of electricity, gas, water, transport and communications, to the obliteration of the trade unions and demonisation of unmarried mothers (reminiscent of a medieval witchunt), each one an incremental step towards a new enclosure of the commons. 

The austerity measures introduced by the coalition government elected in 2010, have delivered even deeper cuts to an inadequate social welfare budget. Further cuts to Housing Benefit, soaring rents and the introduction of a Bedroom Tax have exacerbated an already desperate housing situation, as private and social landlords now seek to evict tenants unable to pay ‘the real cost’ of their housing; like those-living on the New Era Housing Estate in Hackney whose rents are set to triple within the next two years following the sale of their homes to American based private equity fund, Westbrook Partners, and the Focus E15 mothers evicted from the Carpenters Estate by Newham Council, to make way for a luxury housing development and the onward march of gentrification.

But desperate times call for desperate measures and those affected have made it clear they will not go quietly. In times of adversity we often find strengths we never knew we had, and this is most certainly true of the tenants of the New Era and Carpenters estates who have simply refused to accept this injustice, and instead are campaigning for the right to affordable homes in the place of their choosing.

Earlier this year the E15 mothers occupied four flats on the Carpenter Estate, eventually forcing Newham Council to rehouse 40 families in properties earmarked for demolition, and, following widespread public outcry and political intervention from Hackney Council and prospective London Mayoral Candidate Sadiq Khan, Tory M.P. Richard Benyon, one of the richest men in Britain and major shareholder in Westbrook Partners, finally acquiesced to the voice of the commons and sold his share in New Era.

The war may not be won but the battle is certainly not over.

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3 Responses to “The Human Cost of Neo Liberal Housing Policy”

  1. victoriaevbuomwan Says:

    INTERESTING WRITE UP, WOULD BE READING THE BEVERIDGE REPORT. WEL DONE

  2. victoriaevbuomwan Says:

    Correct me if am wrong, This is not about need, but but demand for housing production and consumption under the free market operations.

  3. leutha Says:

    This was a great account of how the creeping privatisation of public housing, in the context of other privatisations. I know how hard life is for single parents, so it is clear that they do not undertake occupations etc. lightly.

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