K. Michaels

Rents and Housing

(October 1954)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 4 No. 2, October 1954, p. 7.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This is the eighth in a series of articles devoted to the elaboration of the programme outlined on the back page of the Socialist Review. This article deals with point 10. Point 9 was dealt with adequately by K. Michaels in his article Guns or Butter in our September issue. – Editor

The most significant fact about the housing situation in Britain – and, indeed, in many countries abroad – is that Private Enterprise has just lost interest in building cheap residences for workers. The falling rate of profits and the burden of repair have made the ownership and development of dwellings less of a safe income than it was before the first World War. This is shown in the ever increasing number of homes erected by the state (through the medium of the Local Authorities in the main) for the working class. To-day this sector represents about one-sixth of the total stock of houses in this country.

When your local council plans a new housing estate, they do not pay the builder, site contractors etc. out of current revenue. What they do is to borrow the capital sum from the Government and pay it back over a period of 60 years. But they do not borrow these moneys free of interest. Oh, dear me, no: if such a terrible state of affairs existed we might be half way to solving the accommodation problem in this country. We must needs pay at the rate of 2% (in palmiest Daltonian days); 3% (Middle Period of the late Labour Government); 4% (as it is now under the “unrestricted freedom” of those twin delightful home-lovers, Butler and MacMillan). Due to the lengthy paying back period of the loan, the result is that for every £1 we pay the builder, we pay £2 extra to the moneylender. It is true that the State, Local Authority, and tenant all bear part of this charge. But the essential fact is that the community is being mulcted to keep private individuals in cigars and nylons.

This is why the Socialist Review lays such stress on the demand for interest-free loans from the State. The difference of 1% in the interest payable can make a tremendous difference for the tenant and the rate payers. For example, when Butler raised, the interest rate on a £1,320 house from 3% to 4%, the tenant’s weekly rent had to go up 1/4d. a week – and that is after the State and Local Authority had both met their share! The only serious argument one has ever heard quoted against interest-free loans is the good old Tory myth that “the Local Authorities would go mad and start building left, right and centre.” Well, that might not be such a bad thing, anyway! But it is – perhaps unfortunately – a fantastic conception. For instance, the State possesses – by Act of Parliament already on the statute book – overall and complete planning control. Not a single house can be erected from public funds anywhere in the British Isles without approval from Whitehall. The State creates credit quickly enough in war-time, why not in peace?

Interest-free loans will deal with the problem of the erection of new houses. But what about the rest of existing housing? Here, of course, Transport House has surprised us all by accepting the principle that rented accommodation is social accommodation and as such should be administered by some socially responsible body. This is all very fine but it rests on ordinary Labour Party members to see that this promise is implemented and that the party makes it one of its main election planks at the next election. To this must be added the power to requisition such properties – rather than saddling the Local Authority with the burden of paying crippling compensation ad infinitum to landlords who have, in the past, quite frankly, made a very good thing out of the people’s housing torture.

Last updated on 16 February 2017