It is now over 35 years since Margaret Thatcher’s government implemented the Housing Act of 1980 and its Scottish equivalent, the ‘Tenants’ Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980’, which introduced the now infamous ‘right-to-buy’ scheme in Britain. The notorious policy has led to one third of ex-council homes being bought up by wealthy landlords, resulting in massive rent increases. Homes which were meant to provide comfort for working people are now being bought and sold at ridiculous prices in order to make a profit for the wealthy minority.
In Scotland in particular, the ‘right-to-buy’ policy has become associated with the selfish mentality of the current Conservative leaders, who have again been given rule over Scotland, despite only receiving 10% of Scottish votes in the recent general election. The ‘right-to-buy’ policy ensured a shortage of housing for those on low incomes by creating a property bubble that made many once working-class houses unaffordable. By pushing the working class out of urban residential areas and putting them into vast housing schemes, the Conservative party have found an effective way of keeping the working-class in their place.
Not only this, but the ideology encouraged by the right-to-buy scheme has led to a destruction of working class consciousness, with many workers associating home ownership with social stability and comfort, while associating housing schemes with ‘benefit scroungers’ and criminals.
The right-to-buy policy of the Tory party is still one of the biggest enemies of social equality today. George Osborne is determined to carry on Thatcher’s legacy of privatisation in every possible place, claiming it is all part of his mysterious ‘Long-term economic plan.’ Osborne clearly has no motive other than to increase the powers of Capitalism and create an immense divide between the rich and poor of Britain. Osborne’s ideas are completely alien to the working people of Scotland, who find it increasingly hard to survive in a world dominated by big businesses.
In the recent Queen’s speech the Tories put forward their plans to sell off housing association stock. Combined with their plans to cap the housing benefit this will undoubtedly lead to many poorer families losing their homes. In Scotland 277,000 homes are rented from housing associations. 2,911 new dwellings were built by housing associations in Scotland between 2013-14, a fair chunk less than the 3244 built the year before, but perhaps that is because 774 tenants were evicted from housing association properties the same year because they were unable to pay rent. With increased Tory austerity throughout Britain, it is unlikely the housing associations will receive enough public funding to be properly effective in providing homes for poorer people.
And what of public housing in Scotland? Well in 2013-14 1,140 new dwellings were built by local authorities in Scotland, a slight increase on the 963 built the year before, but considering 29,326 households in Scotland were assessed by local authorities to be homeless or potentially homeless in the same year, it hardly seems an adequate amount. The average rent of these houses in 2013-14 was £61.20, a 49% increase of the £40.94 of ten years previously. So not only is there not enough houses being built by local authorities, but the ones being built are unaffordable to many poor Scottish people. Over the past ten years over 53,000 Scottish public homes have been lost to private ownership thanks to the right-to-buy, a sad reflection of both Labour and the Conservative’s lack of interest in preserving public housing.
The vast majority of Scottish homes are either privately owned and occupied by the owner or privately owned and rented to tenants. For young workers and students in major Scottish cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen who wish to live practically and comfortably, often the only option is to privately rent. Landlords understand this better than anyone, owning an attractive properties is easy money. For the student tenants, the only reality is one where they always owe money to the owner, and they are told that when they graduate they will have to get their own foot in the property ladder if they wish to be successful in any way.
Of course, in owning a property the young person puts themselves right back into the position they occupied as a tenant. Because mortgages are a reality to almost everyone in society wishing to buy a property, the situation of having to pay someone else in order to have a home continues. Only for the top layer in society is it possible to avoid paying these debts, and it is only the top layer of society that these debts benefit.
It is well known that there is currently a housing crisis in Britain. Not enough homes are being built to properly house the population. The transformation of public houses into private properties does nothing to help create the homes we need. In fact it is more likely to destroy perfectly decent homes by allowing developers to make them into luxury apartments. Two or three affordable and comfortable flats are suddenly turned into one luxury apartment, good news for the developer who will know plenty of clients with the means to buy such places, but terrible news for struggling families looking for somewhere affordable to live.
The amount of affordable social housing in Scotland is running low, and of the ones we have, 43% fall below the Scottish Housing Quality Standard. ‘Scheme’ has now become something of a dirty word in Scotland, partially thanks to the controversial 2011 TV series ‘The Scheme,’ which certainly did give some insight into the lives of the lower class in Kilmarnock, but ultimately painted the inhabitants of schemes as hopeless and uncaring. Similar ‘poverty porn’ TV programmes as well as reactionary papers like the Daily Mail have taken the same approach, looking at the lower classes with sympathy, but ultimately concluding that they are doing nothing to help themselves. ‘Benefits’ as a word has also become associated with inhabitants of social housing, who are seen as un-ambitious and unwilling to work. Benefits are simply a reality of living in Capitalist society and a lot of the people who rely on housing benefits are university graduates and part-time workers.
One of the most dangerous policies of today’s Tory party is the Bedroom Tax. If you are of working age and inhabit a home with at least one ‘spare’ bedroom, you are deemed unfit to claim full housing benefit. 14% of your housing benefits will be taken away if you have one spare room, 25% if you have two or more. This means many people living in rented homes will have to make up the difference with money from their own pockets, which is difficult on a low paid job with other essential costs like food and heating to consider.
A ‘spare’ room can be any room that is not already occupied by a tenant or used as a facility (e.g. a kitchen, bathroom etc.) The Tories consider it the responsibility of the inhabitants of the property to find another renter to occupy the ‘spare’ room, a renter who can not only save money for all the other inhabitants, but also provide a much greater overall profit for the property owner. Clearly the aim of this policy is to encourage a money-motivated Capitalist tendency amongst working people, and the Tories know that the Bedroom Tax is a key ingredient in creating a fully privatised economy.
It is clear that a Capitalist system can never properly deal with the crises of British housing efficiently. Building the amount of homes needed would simply be un-profitable and therefore unthinkable for the arch Capitalists who dictate the property market. In a country that is headed increasingly to pure privatisation under the current Tory government, it is very unlikely that council homes will represent any sort of solution to the crises. The new homes that are being developed serve only as commodities for the Capitalist economy and can in no way be seen as practical or affordable for the many struggling families looking for somewhere to live.
The SNP, who have promised to yank much of the Conservatives power over Scotland away in the next few years, have stated abolishing the Bedroom Tax as one of their main policies in their recent manifesto. Their manifesto also states:
“The Scottish Government is on track to meet the commitment to 30,000 new affordable homes by 2016, but more needs to be done. We will back investment in an annual house building target across the UK of 100,000 affordable homes a year.”
This certainly sounds nice, and seems to be a genuine attempt by the SNP to directly tackle the problem of housing in Scotland. However these reforms will by no means change the fundamental problems that have led to the property bubble and housing crises in recent years. Building new homes is helpful, but how long those homes remain ‘affordable’ is unsure to say the least under a Capitalist system. Abolishing the bedroom tax would save working people great amounts of money, but the Tories will always find some other way to wreak their terrible austerity on workers.
As long as the SNP preserve the same Capitalist economic system as the rest of Britain, there is never going to be a proper breakdown of the class system in Scotland. Under Capitalism, the rich will always find a way to thrive, and they will cunningly dodge all the economic reforms thrown at them. Until a fundamental change in the class system occurs, the less well-off will always find themselves in either inadequate housing, great debt or homelessness.
What we need is for the working class to take control over their own affairs. With working people living in unaffordable homes, exploitative Capitalists know they have complete control. As long as workers are in debt or paying rent, the Bourgeoisie can effectively keep them in the place they want, unable to escape from their hand-to-mouth existence. In our current heavily privatised housing situation, the vast majority will always be under the thumbs of the Bourgeoisie. Reforms can be put foreword to try and prevent this, but the Bourgeoisie will always be able to find another way of maintaining their domination as long as a Capitalist system is preserved.
In order to establish an equal and fair society, where everyone can live in a decent and comfortable home, we must establish a Socialist system in which people earn what they really deserve and the means of production are publicly owned. Such a system would prevent the rich from buying up vast amounts of land and properties and will allow for families to live safely in a place they can call home. Unfortunately achieving such a society is impossible in the current political system, where the few dictate the lives of the many. Full representation of working people will not be achieved through parliament, the workers must take power for themselves through revolution. Only through revolution can effective and practical housing be achieved for the people of Scotland.