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(en) DA #29 - Social Democracy & Other Myths - Castles, homes & Englishfolk

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 21 Feb 2004 09:47:16 +0100 (CET)

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Home ownership in Britain is now pushing 70% - amongst the highest in Europe.
This is generally portrayed in a positive light as the realisation of the
‘property owning democracy’ to which we all allegedly aspire. According
to popular folklore, if it weren’t for the poor and troublesome minority
who are holding us back, we would soon be in housing nirvana.
Of course, like most crude capitalist propaganda, this nonsense does
not stand up to the briefest of examinations. Most private homes are
not owned by the people who live in them, but by the banks, building
societies and property companies that financed them. Neither do we
live in a democracy in the sense of people having a say in their day to
day lives (see DA issues 1-29, all pages).
However, it is not enough to simply reject capitalist lies. What are the
real reasons behind British housing policy, and how has it shaped how
and where we live?

Pushing home ownership to its limits has generally been considered to
be a Tory policy, but, in reality, it is an ideal which all the main
political parties have aspired to. The Wilson-led Labour administration
of mid- to late-60s referred to owner occupation as the
‘normal’ tenure. Investment in public housing was only
necessary to meet ‘exceptional needs’ for which the market
could not cater. Such ‘exceptional needs’ have included
Revolution (1919), stimulating a slumping economy, and housing
workers near to industrial centres to ensure a ready supply of labour.

Throughout the 20th century, housing policy reflected the slow
realisation that a ‘modern’ capitalist economy cannot function
efficiently while a large section of its workforce is living in unhygienic
slums. However, whenever the market is in a position to exploit
workers (e.g. during high unemployment or low worker resistance),
then investment in public housing is cut, and the drive for more and
more home ownership intensifies.

There are a number of aspects to the policy of home ownership that
present social problems. The fundamental anarchist view that property
is theft is well aired, although perhaps often misunderstood. The core
of the problem is that policies for home ownership are individualist, so
they break up collective interest and push the politics of competition.

Home ownership also changes the role of the state. It absolves it of
responsibility (for example, housing benefit is not payable on
mortgage payments), whilst strengthening its powers of control (for
example, through the management of interest rates and
lending/borrowing in conjunction with the Bank of England and the
City). Placed in such a vulnerable financial position, many
householders are fearful for their security. The implication this has on
workers’ willingness to stand up for themselves in general and at
work is clear and deliberate.
Capitalists and their administrators, the banks and building societies,
make a lucrative industry from housing debt. They push and cajole us
into taking ‘easy’ loans and mortgages beyond the limits of
what we can afford. As interest rates inevitably rise, they make more
out of our misery, through both repossessions and repayments.
Whether we survive or not, they win. UK debt is now at record levels,
and the only means used to control it is the punishment of higher
interest rates, which call in that debt and, at the same time, raise it. It
is hardly surprising that mortgage payers constantly feel like someone
is moving the goal posts – they are.

Having said this, let us get down to practicalities. A cursory glance at
the rented sectors is sufficient to understand why home ownership is
the preferred option for those who can afford it. The rights of the
private sector tenants have been persistently attacked to the point
where landlords can now, without reason, automatically serve notice
after only four months of tenancy. Rents are now extortionate in much
of the country and the state generally restricts benefits rather than
rents. Those that can afford to live in half-decent, albeit largely
unregulated accommodation, pay a large chunk of their income for the
privilege. Those that cannot afford it are forced into the worst kind of
rented accommodation, substandard, insecure, and vulnerable to
harassment and exploitation by scum landlords and their agents.

Social housing is now generally reserved for the most desperate. The
sector has been deliberately run down for years and is no longer a
positive option, or in fact an option at all for many. Local authorities
have been forced to bribe their tenants into agreeing to privatisation
by buying their council house or another of its various guises, once
again eroding people’s rights and further absolving the state of

Unless you live in a cave, then the vulnerabilities and insecurities
caused by the housing situation just outlined will probably sound
grimly familiar, whatever your housing arrangements. For many of us,
our struggle to find suitable accommodation and afford the rent or
mortgage epitomises the general battle to cope with daily life. Through
coercion and manipulation, the British State delivers us few and hard
choices. These very deliberate housing policies have little to do with
providing for our needs and everything to do with asserting power and
demanding compliance with the capitalist agenda.

Direct Action is published by Solidarity Federation, the British section
of the International Workers’ Association
* DA is the Solidarity Federation magazine which is about getting
real change with anarcho-syndicalism. What’s that?

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