Houses and Profits

The assumption that that the solution to the housing problem is simply to build more houses is an erroneous one. Access to housing, like everything else, depends on money. Houses are built to be sold at a profit. For example, even though there were in March 1974 28,866 homeless persons in Britain (Hansard 17th December 1974 col. 436) at least 35,000 newly completed houses remained unsold (Management Today, October 1974).
In the same month Management Today carried a survey of the building industry. The facts revealed (brick production down 16 per cent and deliveries down 23 per cent over the previous year, a decline in private house building of 50 per cent over the same period) led them to observe that

. . . the industry’s future over the next 18 months looks gloomy indeed. Since it depends to such a large extent on the health of the economy at large, it is not surprising that the industry is in a state of depression.

Came December and the Labour Government were confirming (again!) that the housing programme had “top priority” (Evening Standard 4th December 1974). By the end of January unused brick stocks had risen to 933 million and Tony Cadman, Director General of the Brick Development Association, could only gloomily say after two Labour budgets “I still resent the fact that the Government has not given major priority to housing”. (Building Trades Journal, 7 March, 1975.)
The anarchy of conflicting interests prevents rational planning to meet people’s needs. Problems for some are looked upon by others as an opportunity for profit making. Pushing their own sectional interest the British Woodwork Manufacturing Association urged Environment Minister Anthony Crosland to use timber-framed buildings in order to speed up the house-building programme. They claimed that such housing would also be less costly than conventional buildings. But perhaps they were being too optimistic — nothing in capitalism is ever that simple. In the very same week the Home Timber Merchant’s Association forecast grave difficulties ahead for the timber trade. The tax situation on forestry is chaotic and they claimed that

. . . this winter, largely owing to the Government’s tax confusion, some 28,000 acres will remain unplanted. Millions of young trees will have to be destroyed. (Building Trades Journal 7th March 1975).

Whatever the outcome of the representations made by these industries one thing is certain — capitalism cannot solve the housing problem. Its priorities are profit: “the health of the economy”.
Gwynn Thomas

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