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Arguments for socialism :: Northern Rock
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In the same week that Tony Blair buys his sixth house for £4 million, the Local Government Association announced that another million people could join housing waiting lists in the next two years.
This shocking prospect is due to housing repossessions and the credit crunch. These people will join the four million already waiting for council or social housing.
Court orders for the first stages of repossession rose by 17% in the first quarter of this year. The Council of Mortgage Lenders predicts that there will be 45,000 repossessions in 2008, an increase of 27,100 on 2007.
The mealy mouthed expressions of sympathy by housing ministers and the timid threats at regulating mortgage companies to help those at risk of losing their home are having no effect.
Not one family should lose their home from repossession. If Northern Rock can be bailed out to the tune of £61 billion, then so can families and individuals unable to keep up mortgage payments due to the current credit squeeze and high interest rates.
Many of those hoping to get some help from their local authority will not even be eligible to get on the housing waiting list, let alone be given somewhere to live, so bad is the current housing crisis.
A Shelter report last year exposed the fact that 500,000 families live in overcrowded conditions, this means that 900,000 children in 21st century Britain are brought up in cramped housing conditions. In many overcrowded homes parents sleep on kitchen and hall floors. Bringing children up in these conditions can lead to illnesses like asthma and in some cases the physical and emotional development of children is severely affected.
How on earth are councils going to cope with those losing their homes from this present crisis? The simple answer is that they are not.
There will be more overcrowding, more families living in bed and breakfast and more living in other types of temporary housing - including local councils paying a fortune to put families in private rented accommodation.
Councils are totally ill-equipped to deal with this collapse in the housing market because no council homes have been built for decades. What we had has been sold, or transferred to 'social housing' landlords, who then often want to impose 'market' rents.
The government plan is to build 70,000 affordable homes by 2011 and of those, 45,000 will be social homes for rent. The problem with this plan is that many will be part-rent, part-buy and are simply not affordable for those five million on housing waiting lists.
The homes for rent will not be council houses but housing association homes, which in many cases, will mean paying not far off a market rent with very little security of tenure.
But even this limited plan to deal with the present crisis is faltering. Due to the current economic climate this house-building programme is 50% behind target, with building companies reticent to start on new builds and projecting huge job cuts.
The abolition of council housing and the policy, pushed for by the Tories and New Labour, of tying people into home ownership, whether that be on the open market or with a housing association, means that millions of people are now at the mercy of the mortgage companies and banks.
Nothing short of a huge council house-building programme, which would mean a low rent and secure home can solve this current housing crisis.
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Minimum wage (312)
New workers parrty (6)
Northern Rock (34)
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Article dated 21 May 2008
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
Lessons from history
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