1980s >> 1985 >> no-968-april-1985

TV Review: Whose castle?

World in Action, ITV, 11 February.
Mrs Thatcher’s proud boast that she is turning the country into a “property owning democracy” is well known, but the question this programme asked was “owned by whom?” It looked at three families who have been forced to give up their homes by Court Order because they can no longer afford the mortgage payments. Fourthly, there was the man who had possession of his house only because he exists on £9 a week. His staple diet is dumplings, teabags are used twice and sometimes three times, and one gallon of paraffin is used in one heater which is carried from room to room. When his arrears are paid off he will be left with the princely sum of £16 a week for everyday needs, but he is determined to hold on so as not to lose the benefit of years of mortgage payments.

 

At the other end of the scale was the man used to a salary of £24,000 to £30,000 a year as a construction engineer. Made redundant in middle life, he set up his own small business but failed. The bailiffs evicted him and his family and he now lives with his mother, his wife and children staying with her parents. They are faced with a legal separation they do not want so that the wife might qualify for council accommodation. The young couple with two children who moved back into council property and lost two-and-a-half years’ mortgage repayments when the building society repossessed their house were “lucky’ compared with others in the programme. At least they are still together and have a roof over their heads. Not so in the last of the four case histories — the widow of a young man who committed suicide when they lost their house was still too upset to be interviewed. The common thread running through all cases was that, when the mortgage commitment was made, the people concerned were in full-time employment and the repayments were well within their capabilities. Since then they have either become unemployed or put on short hours due to the demands of the profit system.

 

We learnt that in some of the major cities one-third of council tenants — seduced by the rosy picture of home ownership — decided to buy their houses and are now seriously in arrears with payments. In the whole country during 1984, 30,000 were months in arrears, owing the building societies some £18 million, and 11,000 houses were repossessed. Building societies who, two-and-a-half years ago, were offering 100 per cent mortgages with few questions asked, now tell us that defaulting has not been so bad since the Depression of the 1930s.

 

Housing Minister Ian Gow was unperturbed because only about one per cent of those with mortgages were in trouble. (There are, of course, no figures for the many thousands in similar straits to the man existing on £9 a week.) “Everyone knows that when they decide to buy a house they’re taking on responsibility”, he said. What he omitted to mention was that security is an illusion under a system which puts profit before basic human needs, as those workers who formerly “owned” their homes now know.

 

Eva Goodman