Worker’s Prosperity in 1961

The town of Watford, in Hertfordshire, is claimed by its Press to be one of the most prosperous in post-war Britain. One local weekly claims for it the distinction of being the second most prosperous town in this country—second after Coventry, in fact. Whether this held sgood after the motor car recession is not clear.

The sort of criteria applied arc the number of vacancies at the local Labour Exchange, wage rates offered, enquiries for juveniles leaving schools. Income Fax returns, rents of shops, increase ol population and. logically enough, price of house room either in rent or mortgage repayments. Unfortunately, this “prosperity” brings many unpleasant and disagreeable results.

In some ways, it is a miniature of what is happening on a national scale in Great Britain these days. A demand for labour raises its price. Higher wages bring workers from lower priced areas. And so Watford market resounds on Saturdays to the lilting song of the Celt, the gutteral voices of the Clyde, the broad accents of the East Coast, and, to be sure, Mick and Pat, who never had it so good in “Ould Oireland.” By the same token, a further 50,000 West Indians are coming to Britain this year, not as tourists looking at ruins, but workers seeking jobs.

The employers, through their Government, can easily control this foreign emigration—turning it on, or off, as required, like a tap. They have always done so, as when Campbell Bannerman’s Liberal Government in 1904 boasted that any Jew landing at London docks with £15 in his possession might remain here, or when the successive American Governmen’s at the turn of the century admitted emigrants by the million.

It is not quite so easy to keep them all at work once admitted, as all the historical cases show. The result of this in Watford is that Boom Town No. 2 is bursting at the seams. Although some employers, in their extremity, are making special provision for housing their workers, the unskilled (and paradoxically enough, even skilled building workers) are finding accommodation hard to get.

All this has prompted a local scribe to gently but firmly disillusion the large number of Easter Brides (and Grooms) about their chances of a roof in “prosperous” Watford. The local newshawk has taken the trouble to collect the facts. So you want to rent a house? he says. Forget it!

“Mum and Dad never had the problem young couples in Watford today have to face. Before the war, there were houses galore for renting.” I haven’t let a house in years,” one agent told me. Even if one did come on to the market the rent would be at least £5 a week.”

So that’s out. There are a few houses —but they are all for sale only. Advances on mortgages are granted only to applicants in permanent and secure employment. “Watford’s terraced properties have priced themselves out of all proportion to their actual values. Houses built for £800 at the turn of the century are now offered for anything between £1,900 and £2,900, and they sell.” (Watford and West Herts’ Post.)

The local writer goes on to say:

To get the house, Bob [our hypothetical homebuilder] would have to afford weekly repayments of almost £5 a week, and sign a cheque for almost £400 to cover deposit and legal fees. . . .
Another house advertised this week is a good semi-detached home in North Wat-ford with garage space. The price : £3,750. … A £400 deposit would mean a loan of £3,350. . . . Repayments on this loan would work out at about £24 15s. a month. And how much would the legal and building society men want from you in fees ? Just under £100.
What about interest on loans? That is the crippling thing these days. So many young Watford couples fail to realise just how much they will eventually pay for the house of their dreams. Borrowing only £2,500 on that terraced house Bob and Sylvia would, during those 20 years, repay the staggering total of £4,560. Almost double what they originally borrowed.
With a loan of £3,500 and repayments of £24 a month, the couple, with this -ball and chain firmly shackled to them, would pay back to the Building Society in 25 years the perspiring, hair-raising sum of £7,200. So do not think the Building Society is doing you a favour in lending you the money. They get it back with gold-plated interest.

What has our kindly press adviser to suggest?

If you are determined to live in this price-inflated piece of the country, then my advice to you is to live with Mum, live in two rooms, anywhere you can call home and save “like blazes.”

But what are the harsh facts? Just as sellers seek the highest price—buyers chase the lowest, and there may be those who hope that new towns and estates will supply their need. Unfortunately for them the facts are these. At least 4,000,000 dwellings in this country today are over 75 years old. At least 10 million dwellings will be due for replacement in the next 25 years, to keep up with depreciation. That would require 400,000 houses a year. The Government post-war target was 300,000 a year. This has been dropped, and is not reaching anything like that figure today.

The present positioris that slums are growing faster than rebuilding is taking place. Not only does this apply to slum dwellings, but to slum offices and slum industries as well. . .

At the present rate of building the indications are that the total of inadequately housed people will substantially increase over the next 25 years. [Franklin Medhurst. Town and Country Planning Dept, Manchester University. Guardian, March 24th, 1961.]

The choice before the married worker is a very limited one. He can either pay up to £6 a week repayments, which includes £3 a week interest—or move further afield where rent and mortgages are lower. Then, if he wants the higher wages, he must pay fares, or run a car and spend time in monotonous travelling. Alternatively, he can live with Mum.