According to an article “Grenfell: names of wealthy empty-home owners in borough revealed” on The Guardian website there are 1,652 properties listed as unoccupied in Kensington and Chelsea. That is 1,652 properties that could be used, not as an investment, but as homes.
(This map shows London’s 20,000 empty homes: Time Out: May 10 2017)
It is estimated there are twenty thousand “ghost” homes across London. That is twenty thousand properties that could be a home to someone. That is an outrage.
There are many reasons for this. Not least because interest rates have been kept at ridiculously low levels since the 2008 crash. Those who have money have been buying property because it gives them a better return on their investment. (This nugget of information was given to me by the estate agent who sold the flat we rented; our landlord wanted to sell, so we had to find somewhere else to live.) Throw into this mix foreign nationals, encouraged to buy property as an investment by UK based estate agents, and you have a deepening crisis. Most people with average incomes, even above average incomes, are priced out of the market.
There are a couple of thing that could be done to stop this kind of hoarding. Interest rates could be increased so those with assets get a decent return on their money. This might force the price of property down so hoarding gives less of a return on an investment. If interest rates were put up, mortgage repayments would increase. Some of those who have benefited from low interest rates would not be able to afford their mortgage; a glut of property would be repossessed and released into the market, bringing prices down. This brings with it a whole level of misery I would not wish on anyone. I also don’t think it would have the desired outcome. I suspect the repossessed properties would be swallowed up by those with pockets deep enough to speculate.
The other strategy is more radicle and has the potential to solve the problem. The fist half of the strategy involves extending the rights of private tenants. We need to pass laws that give renters a right to long term leases. Not six or twelve months but five or ten years. People need that kind of stability in their lives. These long term leases also need to come with rent controls. The second half of the strategy is to force the owners of all property that sits empty to become landlords. Your property sits empty for more than six months; you have to rent it out, on a long term lease, at rent controlled prices. Investors will either sell their property because they don’t want to be landlords or the properties will be used as they were intended; as homes for people to live in.
I can just feel the vitriol coming my way from he vested interests. But the neoliberal market is broken and we need radicle solution. This is about as radical a way to home people as I can think of. Yes build more affordable homes but also put the stocks we have to better use.
I’m voting Labour and I urge everyone to do the same. As far as I can see it is not in the interest of most people to vote otherwise. The Tory manifesto is a statement of poorly thought out ideas informed by a dogmatic ideology that puts profits before people, private interest before the public good. Austerity is an ideologic strategy designed to make the poor pay off the debts of rich. The Labour manifesto, by contrast, feels optimistic; it aspires to the positive in us all, the sense of community, the desire to do good by the many, not just the few. I have survived successive neoliberal governments both Labour and Conservative that have done nothing but keep me poor and in debt. The system is rigged to keep us all in our place. I know it has ever been thus. But it is time for a change, a radical change. I am sick of these paternalistic parasites controlling us with lies. This election, more than any other, has shown me how the mainstream media colludes with the vested interests to drip feed a narrative of pessimistic division. Those people over there are to blame for your problems. Meanwhile I am free to go ahead bleed society dry like a spider feeding on an insect. None of this is new. The difference this time, for the first time in my life, there is an actual alternative to the way things have been done since Thatcher. My fear is that most people will be blinded by the lies and vote against their own interests. My hope is that people with see through these lies, vote to do some good by everyone and vote Labour.
I wrote this short series of posts on Twitter this afternoon.
These post do not appear on my Twitter profile. Nor do they appear on my Facebook timeline; as all of my other posts from Twitter do. I wonder why this is? The conspiracy theorist in me thinks Twitter has censored my posts. Probably not but it is interesting to speculate.
A couple of days ago I flicked past Newsnight and heard the term “feral rich” for the first time. Two words you don’t often hear said together. They were referring to an article in The Telegraph by their chief political reporter Peter Oborne “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom.” I don’t read The Telegraph and hadn’t seen the published article. So I read the online edition. Mr Oborne’s article highlights the “terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite.” He points to the scandal over politicians expenses. And the governments efficiency adviser Philip Green who sent a billion pound divided off shore. While their actions may well have been within the law. They were not in my opinion moral. Mr Oborne notes that “an almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up” among those at the top. One example is “Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who remarked (in the House Of Commons debate about the riots) “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.” While Mr Oborne racks up a steady count of politicians all guilty of hypocrisy. Exposing the “get what you can” mentality that infects our society from top to bottom. And argues “that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society.” I think you have to go back thirty years. To the government of Margaret Thatcher. To understand the true causes of what happened a couple of weeks ago. Put simply you reap what you sow. And Mrs Thatcher’s period in office set in motion a series of social changes that we are only now starting to pay for. Her premiership brought with it a social shift that positivity promoted an ethos of rampant self-interest. It is my opinion that the recent banking crisis was caused by individuals who began their careers while she was in office. Her ethos rose with them through the industry. It was her brand of greed that ultimately brought the banks down. Prompted the massive bail outs. That has lead to the cuts. Prompted the unrest we saw in May. And ultimately exploded in recent lawlessness. The looters wanted what those at the top of the pyramid have. And got it. The way those at the top get it. By taking it. But I think Mrs Thatcher’s legacy roots deeper still. She changed the nature of our economy. From manufacturing. To service. In doing so she condemned an entire class of people to a life on benefits. Those people who now live the nightmare of joblessness. Are exactly the same people who would have found work in manufacturing. Those failed by the education system. Are now forced to compete in an employment market that is saturated with graduates. But with graduate unemployment now at its highest since the mid nineties. Even the most menial job is hard to get. What’s left for those without a university education? Minimum wage jobs that make befits seem like a pay rise. Cutting benefits is not the solution. Creating jobs is the solution. Jobs that pay enough to give people a decent standard of living. But how can that happen? When the cost of living is rising. And those at the top of the Sunday Times Rich List are able to increase their wealth by eighteen percent. It can’t. Because to create jobs you have to spend money. And this government is intent on deficit reduction. A deficit that should be paid off by those who caused the problem in the first place. The bankers put their interests about everyone else. And we’re paying the price. Not just in cuts. But in the social misery of poverty. Those at the bottom don’t have the luxury of walking away from their debts. Why should the “feral rich” at the top? The question shouldn’t be why did the riots happen? The question should be. Why aren’t their more riots?