Why housing is an issue of equality

Many years ago, shortly after the 2001 census was taken, it became apparent that many children living above the fourth floor in tower blocks in England were black or Asian (1). At the time I wrote that this concentration was only possible because prejudice, poverty and locality are so closely linked – especially in London, where the richest tenth had become 271 times better off by wealth than the poorest tenth of the population. Since then those divides have widened further. 

The UK law is designed to criminalize people simply seeking shelter while it protects investors, including many from countries such as Kuwait, Russia and Saudi Arabia, who often buy property to leave it empty. But eventually even the rich will lose out as inequality increases because there will come a day when housing prices can no longer rise any higher. Investors trying to pre-empt that will start selling and be the trigger for housing price falls. When prices fall landlords often evict tenants to try to get a quick sale.

For other Europeans, the UK serves to illustrate the inequality effect, and what happens when the laws of a country are changed in favour of the affluent because they have become so rich that they can effectively buy the interest of political parties – often through obtaining media support – and hence politicians, and then, by getting the laws they want, they control the judiciary. However, rising economic inequalities are only sustainable for a relatively short number of years and the anger now building up in the UK testifies to that. Public support for right-wing politicians when there is great inequality relies on finding scapegoats to blame, diverting the blame from the politicians and businesspeople who are maintaining the existing inequalities.

Almost all European countries both have lower income inequality than the UK and also ensure by law that tenants who rent their homes enjoy much longer tenancies. To be able to do this, they have to give tenants a degree of certainty about how much rents can rise during the time they live in a property; otherwise the landlord can easily evict them simply by raising the rent. This is why rent regulation is so important. It is the only defense against arbitrary eviction.

The UK has extreme and rising wealth inequalities caused primarily by injustices in housing. The UK, and especially London, is suffering form a housing crisis. Tenants in the UK have some of the worse housing rights in all of Europe. All these factors are linked, the wealth with the poverty, the greed of the very rich with the lack of freedom for the poor. All it takes too see how we can be better housed is to look to examples in the mainland and act on what we see.

Professor Danny Dorling

This is an abridged extract from the book ‘The Equality Effect.’ The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Equality Trust.References: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/sep/25/communities.politics