By Allison Fewtrell
Despite the extension on the Eviction Ban to 31st March, tenants can still receive eviction notices.
Nearly half a million tenants are in arrears across the UK but according to research by the NRLA landlord lobbying group that figure is closer to 1 million.
In Greater Manchester, an estimated 16,800 households are in arrears and more than 4000 households are in temporary accommodation already — that system is now at capacity.
In 2019 Section 21 notices were the primary cause of homelessness in the UK. We cannot return to this situation. The biggest threat to our security and safety right now is the way Section 21 is being used.
No-one should lose their home during a pandemic. The safety of those individuals and of the public as a whole are put at risk when sections of society are unable to practice social distancing. One in six homeless households (17%) are currently placed into emergency B&Bs and hostels, where poor conditions and gross overcrowding are rife. Evictions should only be used in extreme cases and at the current time, only when safe alternative accommodation can be provided.
Independent think-tank, Resolution Foundation has called for loans to help tenants to clear their arrears, but this is not the answer. You can’t dig your way out of arrears with more debt. Where do people get the money to make the repayments? The country narrowly avoided technical recession in 2019 and since the banking crisis in 2008 wages have stagnated.
The additional burden of the pandemic means we are not recovering any time soon. According to the ONS, redundancies hit a record high of 370,000 in October last year, the highest since records began in 1992.
Even those who were furloughed, many of whom were struggling to get by on the minimum wage, are now only getting 80% of that. How can they be expected to make up the shortfall?
Renters in the private and social rented sector are the least affluent, the worst affected by the effects of Coronavirus and the most likely to hold key worker positions on the frontline of the crisis. A unilateral call for rent cancellation avoids anybody falling through the gaps for any reason.
If we take a look at who has power in our society, we can see why this is happening. 24% of Tory MPs, 18% of Lib Dems and 9% of the SNP are landlords. Of the 17 Labour MPs who are landlords 9 of them now have seats in the Shadow Cabinet. The government’s duty is to ensure the health and wellbeing of its citizens first and foremost, but here we have yet another example of MPs looking after their own interests instead.
Not only is the government simply avoiding addressing this problem by incrementally extending the ban at the last minute every time, but the threat of eviction constantly hangs over tenants and after a year of worry, the mental health of many tenants is being affected.
A long term solution is required. We need legislation — a Renters Reform Bill — that includes a raft of measures to ensure the health, safety and security of tenants, including longer lets, landlord licensing and rent controls. On top of this, we need action to replenish our council housing stock. Council housing is the only real solution to the housing crisis, and must form part of any future plan for UK housing. Moreover, a new council housing program would provide long term steady work for the construction industry which could go some way to helping our battered economy.
So, how do we win these demands? As noted, the political elite in this country represent the interests of the landlords. Our only hope as tenants and workers is to collectivise and speak out against this. We can put huge pressure on the government to make meaningful change. We’ve seen this work many times during the pandemic. Over the last year the government was forced into numerous U-turns over a whole range of issues, because of trade and tenant unions, community organisations and pressure groups brought people together to speak out as one voice.
The bravery and solidarity of the student rent strikes is inspirational, particularly the 9K4WHAT? campaign at the University of Manchester last year. Students occupied a building on the Fallowfield campus and won an unprecedented £12million rent rebate — small potatoes for the university, which reported a £40million ‘surplus’ in 2018-19.
At the beginning of the year, the NEU held a record breaking zoom rally, attended by 70,000 members with 400,000 people viewing online. They successfully prevented the premature re-opening of schools — protecting staff, children and families.
We should remember these successes and others, not only since the pandemic but throughout history, where the exploited and oppressed have collectivised to call for justice with one voice. The tenants movement has a strong tradition of refusing to bow to the establishment. Join us — we have a world to win!
Allison Fewtrell sits on the executive committee of the Greater Manchester Tenants Union.
Image credit: "Tenant Rights Protect Families banner at Tenant Rights Rally - December 2017" by Backbone Campaign is licensed under CC BY 2.0
23 February 2021