In March, as the pandemic hit Britain’s shores, the Tories announced a three-month ban on evictions for renters. At the same time, the government “encouraged” a system by which landlords and tenants would agree on how best to pay back any arrears.
That 90-day eviction ban is soon coming to an end. Many renters now live in fear of imminent eviction, as they won’t be able to afford the rent.
This comes at a time when the economic consequences of the crisis for workers are beginning to hit home, with many being made unemployed, and others experiencing 20% reductions in wages as part of the furlough scheme.
Labour’s five-point plan
But instead of standing up for renters and workers against this coming onslaught, Keir Starmer’s Labour have unfortunately taken the side of the landlords.
The Labour Party recently outlined a five-point plan to protect renters. In this, renters would still have to pay the money that they owed for arrears - but across a two-year period!
Labour’s proposal also includes a mere extension to the ban on evictions, rather than banning evictions altogether. And scandalously, the party’s plan simply calls for “increased generosity in the benefits system to help reduce arrears” - in other words, state subsidies for the landlords!
So how did Shadow Housing Secretary, Thangam Debbonaire MP, come up with such an absurd and out of touch policy?
Instead of consulting with members of the party, or the millions of renters left in the lurch by Tory policy, she instead held a Zoom meeting with the National Residential Landlords Association!
Rank-and-file members and activists were rightfully incensed that she did not consult with tenants unions - such as London Renters Union and ACORN - at all.
ACORN, a community union, have responded by rightly pointing out that Labour’s new proposal for renters is a “betrayal of private tenants and a capitulation to the landlord lobby”.
Rent waivers only benefit landlords, tying tenants to them like a serf to the land. This also pushes tenants further into debt - at a time when around 25% of households already carry the burden of financial debt from before the current crisis.
Ultimately, ordinary people are being asked to shoulder the burden in order to ensure that the landlords get their guaranteed income, while tenants face homelessness on top of joblessness.
The New Economics Foundation, a progressive think-tank, have estimated that 1.2 million renters will face severe economic hardship as a result of this crisis. But the new Labour leadership has failed to step up to protect these most vulnerable in society, instead preferring to cosy up to landlords and big business.
Debbonaire and the billionaires
Pressure has been mounting from grassroots Labour members, however, who are rightly outraged at the five-point plan. Over 4,000 have already signed a petition calling on Labour to back rent cancellations,
In response, Debbonaire took it upon herself to whip out the law book, sharing a post in which a solicitor outlines why waiving rent is a violation of a landlord’s human rights!
Anyone asking why not a general rent waiver please see this thread about the consequences: https://t.co/Zzug7U8WKU— Thangam Debbonaire (@ThangamMP) May 10, 2020
Once again, we see how, under capitalism, property rights trump human lives. The law, like the state, is a tool designed to protect the interests of the capitalist class, and not a neutral arbiter.
For example, by Debbonaire’s logic, if the state were to requisition private housing for an emergency, they would be obliged to pay compensation to the landlords - otherwise this too would violate their human rights!
Make the rich pay!
Unfortunately, as can be seen by many other recent examples, Starmer’s leadership is swiftly becoming characterised by mild criticism (at best) and acquiescence (at worst) of this rotten system. Instead, Labour should be organising activists to overthrow it.
Rather than discussing with the landlords and big business, Labour should be fighting to end the housing crisis that these parasites and fat cats have created.
All rent from this lockdown period should be immediately cancelled. Any big management companies or landlords owning multiple homes should have these properties expropriated, brought under public ownership and democratic control, and allocated on the basis of need. Similarly with any empty houses that are being used by speculators and investors.
This should go alongside a mass programme of council house building after the pandemic - involving the nationalisation of the banks, the land, and the major construction companies - in order to meet everybody’s housing needs.
The capitalists and the landlords - not workers - must be made to pay for this crisis!