Saturday March 25th was the day of the anti-Brexit demonstration in London.
Scores of Remainers descended on Westminster just days before Theresa May signed the article 50 bill informing the European Union of Great Britain’s intention to leave. While the above quote might apply to the decision to leave the EU, depending on your own political opinion, it is in fact in reference to another source of domestic controversy: the national housing crisis.
On the same day as the anti-Brexit march, a group of residents from Southwark in South London demonstrated around the borough for two and a half hours to protest against their own local housing crisis. The area has been plagued by gentrification, demolitions to council housing and increases in rents; the protester’s anger was palpable and despite the contrast in the sizes and scale of the marches in Southwark and Westminster, it would be a misconception to suggest that the force of feeling was any less in SE17 2US.
The prominence of these issues alongside the loss of jobs, the seizure of land and unreliable landlords is also a key concern for young people. Millennials angst regarding finding a place to live was only further exacerbated recently when Daily Express speculated that the incumbent government – who seem to be gearing towards the 2020 general election by appeasing the rich and the elderly – will be scrapping pink passports for traditional blue passports post Brexit. This will cost the government £500m, while the scheme to scrap housing benefit for 18-21 year olds will only save £95m up to 2020.
This is just one example of what seems to be a drive to undermine any sense of contentedness, security or happiness young people may hope to harbour. Millennials could be the first generation to be financially far worse off than the generations preceding them and according to The Economist, this disparity translates to housing as well; since 1980 real house prices have risen by 221%. This is 43x as much as Germany in the same period and 8x as much as Italy. On top of this, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors concluded that rents are ‘out of step’ with incomes and that rents will rise by a further 20% in the next five years.
With the Conservative government refusing to believe in the benefits of a living wage of at least £10 an hour, unpaid internships on the rise and a general lack of quality jobs in London and other UK cities, it is no understatement to suggest that the housing crisis is a dark and ominous worry for young people. Granted, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party have pledged to introduce the aforementioned living wage should they gain power but that will surely be too little too late by 2020.
The lack of action on jobs and housing from both mainstream parties now is symptomatic of previous failures of Labour and Conservative governments argues Glyn Robbins. “I think it’s politicians – It’s the political establishment. This [the housing crisis] hasn’t happened overnight – you can trace it back to the records of both Labour and Conservative [governments]. Neither of the political parties have done enough to invest in genuinely affordable homes.”
Glyn Robbins was one of five ‘Axe the Housing Act’ campaign representatives present at the protest in Southwark in March. Lamenting inaction from local Labour councillors and the central Tory government, there was a clear sense of indignation emanating from the group who plan to lead a larger, national march in central London called ‘March for Homes 2’ on the 24th of June.
They will be voicing their opposition to their namesake, the Housing and Planning Act, in an attempt to demand ‘secure homes for all, rent controls and homes for people not profit.’ It is the latter demand which is particularly pertinent to Glyn: “We need to have a much more balanced attitude to housing and to stop seeing housing as a commodity like something on a Monopoly board. Housing is about having a home.”
This lack of empathy and sympathy is obvious in the egregious homelessness statistics reported on last Christmas. Up to 120,000 children were homeless in December 2016, a figure which is particularly sickening considering that there are 700,000 empty homes in the United Kingdom. The spiralling homelessness and its consequences in the UK is a perennial concern for young people living in cities; unsurprisingly, only 6% of those on the streets are employed while 72% have mental health issues, 56% have poor physical health 26% use drugs. In Southwark, the local council evicted ‘Divine Rescue’ from Thurlow Lodge Community Hall, a charity which gave clothes and food to the increasing number of homeless in the district.
The NHS is already a political football used by both parties to score points; with more and more inevitably needing the service because of the repercussions of homelessness, it would not be at all surprising to see either mainstream political party promising lower waiting times at GPs or in A&E by the time those higher rents have kicked in in 2020.
However the answer is simple. The NHS was a central issue in the EU referendum and it indubitably will be at the next general election. Yet there is no need to fill voter’s heads with empty promises about their beloved health service when waiting times could be reduced somewhat by building cheaper homes, regulating rents and halting the demolition of council houses to combat potential depression, anxiety and physical harm suffered by young people.
Currently, this seems almost unthinkable. Sajid Javid is sitting on his hands as Communities and Local Government minister and Labour are too divided to seriously combat the Tories’ indifference. Remarkably, Glyn Robbins remains hopeful:
“Our government and the politicians aren’t doing enough about it. It’s time we stood up and demanded decent homes and controlled rents for all. We need action to solving the housing crisis and we can do it.”
Words by Ollie Sirrell