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50 Years Ago: Housing in London

The root cause of the housing problem in big cities like London is the capitalist system under which housing accommodation is bought and sold. For many years now the housing market has been subject to various controls but neither these, nor council houses, nor subsidies, alter the basic characteristic of housing under capitalism.

Once a city is established as such, the economics of capitalism ensure that the growth of demand for workers assumes a momentum of its own, for the great concentration of people in a city provides a vast market for so-called consumer goods and services. Even in times of depression the drift to the cities continues. But it is in times of full employment that the housing problem becomes acute because in such conditions the rate of growth of employment usually exceeds the rate of growth of housing. Inevitably this creates problems. This basically is what is happening in London today. As the Milner Holland Report puts it:

'If the growth of housing does not match the growth of employment there will be trouble of some kind.' (...)

Overcrowding, high rents, homelessness intimidation and the other ills from which many workers suffer are a direct result of the fact that demand for accommodation exceeds the supply. In large cities like London this must happen and is likely to be permanent. The Report itself says as much: 'the housing problems confronting great cities . . . are of a long term if not permanent character'. The Report also, very appropriately, draws attention to the fact that this problem is not new. They quote from a similar report made by Charles Booth in 1901. Of course since then some housing conditions have improved in many respects but as the Report points out the problem 'remains fundamentally the same.'

(from article by A.L.B., Socialist Standard, May 1965)