Guardian: Spirit of Rachman still walks the streets of London
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun Oct 31 16:13:26 GMT 2010
Spirit of Rachman still walks the streets of London
Britain's housing boom has provided lots of
opportunities for unscrupulous landlords
Anushka Asthana, policy editor
The Observer, Sunday 31 October 2010
Ever since Peter Rachman gained notoriety for his
exploitation and intimidation of tenants in
London's Notting Hill in the 1950s and early
1960s, Britain has been familiar with the
phenomenon of the rapacious private landlord.
"Rachmanism" later entered the Oxford English
Dictionary, defining "extortion or exploitation
by a landlord of tenants of dilapidated or slum property".
Britain's 30-year housing boom, combined with a
scarcity of affordable housing, has provided
plenty of opportunities for unscrupulous
landlords 40 years on. The charity Shelter has
revealed examples of a minority of "rogue
landlords" in 2010 who make their tenants' lives
miserable with harassment, illegal eviction,
unfit properties and withheld deposits.
But it is mainstream, law-abiding landlords whose
rents have risen so much that the housing benefit
bill has inflated to a colossal £21bn. The
coalition government's hope is that a series of
measures to limit the levels of housing benefit
available to recipients will mean that they have
to charge less. Whether they will remains to be
seen. The fate of thousands of families depends
on the government guessing right.
It is the long, steep rise in house prices that
led to such a radical gamble by this coalition
government one that critics have warned could
drive people out of wealthy inner-cities.
Margaret Thatcher's Housing Act, passed in 1980,
gave council tenants the right to buy their
homes. By 1982, 400,000 families had exercised
that right. By 2003, the number was 1.5m. As the
stock of affordable, rented accommodation shrank,
a property boom took hold, and rents kept pace with rocketing house prices.
Meanwhile not enough new affordable homes were
being built. Many would agree that former Labour
and Conservative governments have to share the
blame. As senior Labour figures now admit, the
Blair and Brown governments did little to ease
the problem of out-of control property prices,
high rents and a housing shortage. The
housebuilding programmes that were undertaken were too little too late.
In the latter stages of Labour's 13 years in
power, the buy-to-let phenomenon drove up
property prices still further. Those who could
not afford to climb on the property ladder were
obliged to pay some of the highest rents in
Europe. Or, in the case of the unemployed and
low-paid, councils were obliged to pay those rents for them.
As Campbell Robb, chief executive of the charity
Shelter, puts it: "There is not enough affordable
housing because of decades of under-investment in housebuilding."
Five decades after Rachman, housing is still an
emotive issue one that could make or break this government.
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