The House That Jack Didn't Build
Would the UK be experiencing a welfare crisis if it were not already in the midst of a complete failure in the housing sector?
I grew up in the long shadow of Peter Rachman. He was a notorious private landlord in London who exploited the poor and tyrannised his tenants. Rachman reigned even in a time of relative council house plenty.
Mrs Thatcher’s determination to widen home ownership in the 1980s effectively gave much of the housing stock to the then existing social housing tenants. Very little capital was retrieved from council house sales – there was thus neither the money nor the will to start much of any kind of a national house-building programme to make good the loss of stock.
Here we are today then with a minimum of four million people inadequately housed and a housing crisis that extends right through every echelon of society.
Enter ‘buy to let’. The buying of property merely to generate profit. Enter the reinvigorated private landlord. Welcome to over charging, under providing, relatively ruthless private landlording.
Housing benefit is in chaos because this new breed of ‘home provider’ has been taking the swag and running; and because the market is so badly skewed by the lack of building. Hence the landlords have this market by the toes.
It remains to be seen whether, in the absence of a house building drive by the state, these people with their inflated rents can seriously be beaten down. The Work and Pensions Secretary says he hopes that they can be.
UKPLC’s failure to build houses in the past three decades speaks volumes about who can be trusted to deliver social housing. Is it too fanciful to suggest that housing is an inalienable human right – that any society that reflects the need of its people must answer with basic provision?
Whatever Iain Duncan Smith does in his White Paper today, few think he will cure the UK’s housing disaster. So who, or what, will?