Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials, 29 October 2007

29 October 2007

 The housing crisis isn't looming, it hit long ago!

Everyone knows there is a housing crisis. It is hardly "looming" as the press tells us! But this crisis does not have the same meaning for everyone. For the best off among the 32% of households who already own their homes (often too big for their needs), the problem is affording a 2nd or 3rd one!

But what about the growing number of workers who are on low pay, especially those who rely on casual work? There was never enough cheap and good housing for them and they certainly cannot afford the government's supposedly "affordable" fancy housing purchase schemes! In fact, quite who these schemes are aimed at is a mystery.

Now a report has been published by advisors to the government saying that not enough affordable housing is planned for the future. There will be a shortfall of at least 250,000 homes by 2016, even if the government's target of 240,000 homes/year is met by this date, which is unlikely. Which means house prices will soar to 11-13 times average earnings, as opposed to 7 times today.

Housing minister Yvette Cooper tells us she understands all this and that the problem is to build homes in the right places. Really? Surely the problem is to build homes for the right people? In other words, for the low paid, whose incomes dictate that they need rents proportionate to their earnings for good homes! They simply cannot afford anything else. Where are they meant to live?

There are many people in this boat and the number is growing all the time, as companies cut the number of full time permanent workers. Almost one third of households - 29% - live in rented accommodation and two thirds of this housing is supplied via local authorities or housing associations. But who knows how many of the 39% who are at present paying a mortgage might find, at some point, that this burden is unaffordable and that they would prefer to pay an affordable rent for a good quality home?

That said, the main obstacle to developing the kind of housing that is needed, is the government's insistence on doing it in "partnership" with the profiteers - meaning that the shark's profits have to be paid by the tenants or buyers.

The only answer would be a massive social housing programme, built entirely by public employees to provide the housing estates of the future, planned properly, with all necessary amenities and well away from the flood plains... But that would require a bit of a revolution, wouldn't it?

 Northern Rock - the wealthy's welfare state

2,000 jobs are to be cut at Northern Rock, the bank and mortgage lender which was bailed out by the government in mid-September.

So far the Northern Rock bosses have managed to get the Bank of England to lend them £21 billion of public money in order to keep their bank afloat. In addition, Darling has given his guarantee to the bank's account holders that they will not lose a penny whatever happens. In other words, should Northern Rock go bust, more public money will be spent on compensating its customers' losses, regardless of whether they are rich or poor and whether they can afford such losses or not (and many of them are pretty well-off!).

When it comes to the banks' employees, however, the government does not come up with such niceties. Northern Rock bosses may claim that they will do their best to avoid compulsory redundancies, but the fact of the matter is that the 2,000 employees concerned will lose their jobs and they are likely to have difficulties finding a similar job with comparable pay and conditions, not to mention seniority! Whether they choose to be made redundant or not, they will lose out. Just as the working class as a whole will lose, collectively, another 2,000 jobs which could have gone to the younger generation at some point.

However, while Darling's help for Northern Rock included guaranteeing the savers' assets, it never included guaranteeing the bank's employees' jobs.

For this government and the capitalist class whose interests it represents, the idea that a wealthy investor should lose some of its money in a bank crash, or simply that a bank should be allowed to go bust, is just unacceptable. But they could not care less about a few thousand workers ending up on the dole.

After all, in this society, isn't it the case that we, workers, are there to run after jobs in order to scrape a living and produce the wealth that the rich accumulate to become always richer? And this is why, for us, this society is just unacceptable!