On Your Way!

There can be few experiences worse than being evicted from your home, but this is a problem affecting more and more people. In 2017, according to Ministry of Justice figures, an average of 169 evictions a day took place in the UK, an increase of over half since 2010. This ignores those who move because they are threatened with eviction, or fear they may be, or cases where the eviction is illegal, so the figures understate the extent of the problem and how much it impacts on people’s lives.

The effects of course can be devastating. In 2013 a housing association tenant in London killed himself as a result of being evicted, while a study in Sweden found much higher levels of suicide among those evicted than the general population (New Statesman 28 March 2018). One woman, who had been evicted with her husband and two sons from a London house for the second time in two years, said, ‘With young children it is a nightmare. It is awful to live like this, where every year you’ve got to move. We’ve got boxes that we haven’t unpacked. Everything is so temporary’ (Guardian 18 August 2018). In such cases the children’s education is inevitably disrupted. Eviction can also have major implications for people’s physical and mental health and their prospects of finding and keeping a job. In the US, being evicted can show up on a person’s official record, which may make it harder for them to get public housing.

As for the reasons behind evictions, falling behind with the rent naturally plays a large part. The introduction of Universal Credit has created problems for many tenants, with initial payments being delayed, and many landlords now refuse to accept tenants who receive any kind of housing benefit. But a surprising number of evictions are of the no-fault type: under section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act a landlord can evict a tenant who has paid their rent on time and has not damaged the property in any way. An Assured Shorthold Tenancy can be brought to an end because the landlord wants to sell the property, divide it into more flats or bedsits, or ‘improve’ it in some way. Such no-fault evictions have more than doubled since 2009, and there were over ten thousand last year.

The government’s response to such developments is to say that the reasons for evictions are complex, and cannot simply be ascribed to problems with Universal Credit. Of course, that does not stop politicians offering simplistic arguments, such as the claim by James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, that the big increase in rough sleeping was partly due to the spread of psychoactive drugs such as spice (Guardian 18 December). Now, probably most evictions have a fairly complicated story behind them. Even a no-fault eviction will have some tale about why the landlord wants to get rid of existing tenants, and other evictions may involve such matters as illness, unemployment, the break-up of a relationship, problems with claiming benefits, and so on. There may well be a vicious circle of poverty, eviction, unemployment, poverty.

But that does not mean that there are no underlying causes behind evictions – and behind homelessness and poor housing in general – and it is not hard to see what these are. Housing is provided, not to meet human need, but to make a profit for the landlord, house-builder or whoever. Many people simply cannot afford the rent, let alone the mortgage, for a decent home, and the number of ‘affordable homes’ is nowhere near the amount needed.

There are various ways in which the insecurity of workers under capitalism makes itself felt, such as fear of unemployment, a wage cut or a reduction in working hours. Fear of having your home repossessed is another example of how the profit system makes so many lives a misery.