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Rent controls? Another Labour fudge
It's a testament to housing campaigners, including socialists in TUSC, that the Labour Party has finally felt compelled to offer a mild redress to the housing crisis, by proposing to peg private landlords' rent rises to the rate of inflation for three years.
Currently, private sector renters are spending an average of 40% of their incomes on rent. But like Ed Miliband's promise to raise the minimum wage from £6.50 an hour to £8 an hour by 2019, it's a case of too little, too late.
In fact, the detail underlines Labour's 'fudge' policies. On the one hand Labour has to address working class electors' needs, while on the other hand it reassures the 'markets' by saying this cap will not prevent private landlords jacking up the rent at the start of a new tenancy.
The only concession here is that the new tenant will have to be informed about the previous tenant's rent level.
But if a new renter thinks that the new rent is unacceptably high, what legal recourse do they have? And where else can they be housed? That is especially the case as more and more social housing is sold off, becoming buy-to-let properties.
That's why the Socialist Party calls for the reintroduction of rent controls, so that a local authority can set a legally enforceable 'fair rent' to prevent rip-off private landlords exploiting vulnerable tenants. This would include the power to reduce high rents (see box).
But the other key housing issue is the lack of affordable housing - reflecting the failure of successive Labour and Tory-led governments and local authorities to build sufficient numbers of council homes.
In 1954, 207,730 social housing units were built nationally. Yet, in 2013, the total was only 22,510, despite a large population increase.
Labour is proposing to eventually build 200,000 homes - far less than is recognisably needed. And it's unclear where the funding for this housing will come from.
Also, any government housing investment programme will inevitably be at the mercy of further austerity cuts by Labour. And, given that Labour councils have shunned council building in favour of 'public/private partnerships', it's likely that most new houses will be let at or near market rent levels.
Effectively dealing with the housing crisis means rejecting reliance on the capitalist market - where housebuilding last year slumped to its lowest level since the 1920s. Instead, it requires rent controls and a massive council house building programme, funded by nationalising the banks and the giant construction companies.
"For most of the 20th century there was rent control in the UK. Until the Thatcher government abolished rent control in 1988 you could take your landlord to a Rent Tribunal and have your rent reduced. Tenancies created before 1988 still have this right. Rent Tribunals still operate for them and the legislation is still effective so it would be relatively easy for a new government to extend the reach of tribunals as an emergency measure."
Nancy Taaffe, TUSC candidate in Walthamstow
In The Socialist 30 April 2015:
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