To the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community Good health and wellbeing of all UK citizens in or out of work must now become a national priority.
To the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community
The good health and wellbeing of all UK citizens in or out of work must now become a national priority.
The late Professor Peter Ambrose, in Zacchaeus 2000 Trust’s 2005 memorandum to the Prime Minister on unaffordable housing, described how the 1979 government had deregulated lending, abolished rent controls and allowed the free flow of funds in and out of the UK. House-purchase debt had stood at £53 billion in 1980. Following the deregulation of financial institutions and markets in the 1980s, that debt rose rapidly to £390 billion by 1995, to £536 billion by 2000, and was well over £800 billion by 2005.
The Blair, Brown, Cameron and May governments have let it rip, both before and after the 2007/8 crash. The consequence is that national and international funds have flooded the UK market in land, which is inevitably in limited supply, forcing prices and rents above the capacity of those on the lowest and middle incomes who wish to rent or buy an affordable home.
UK land has become a bank for the investments of wealthy national and international speculators, depriving British citizens of the land for homes, to which they have a right. The rich and powerful are allowed by the UK government to destroy local communities and small businesses.
We hold that land exists for the common good. It provides the basic needs of shelter, food and clothing, of which all should have a just minimum share.
THE URGENT NEED FOR TRULY AFFORDABLE RENTS
For the health and wellbeing of low-income men, women and children to flourish, the minimum household income must be enough to buy a healthy diet, water, fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities after rent, and council and income tax is paid.
However, the government’s definition is as follows: “Affordable rent is subject to rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80 per cent of the local market rent (including service charges, where applicable).”
The linking of affordability to the housing market, rather than to incomes, leads to rents growing faster than income and taking up more and more of the funds needed for food, fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities, thereby becoming unaffordable.
That has had dire consequences, as portrayed in the following PowerPoint presentations delivered at Taxpayers Against Poverty’s seminar on 1st May 2019 in Portcullis House, chaired by Debbie Abrahams MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Health in all Policies.
Professor Danny Dorling, University of Oxford:
"Beyond reasonable doubt – the deaths and the blame"
Dr Chris Grover, University of Lancaster:
"Understanding austerity as structural violence and social murder"
Professor David Taylor-Robinson, University of Liverpool:
"Child health unravelling in the UK"
The good health and wellbeing of every UK citizen in or out of work must now become a national priority.
A social-security system built on moral principles, as we outlined on the Fabian Society’s website in an article entitled Missing Morality, would allow people to flourish, reversing the impact of the current structures of the State via which the health, wellbeing and life expectancy of the poorest citizens are diminished by inadequate incomes and unaffordable housing.
STATE CARELESSNESS ABOUT THE HEALTH & WELLBEING OF LOW-INCOME RENTERS AND THOSE IN TEMPORARY ACCOMMODATION
The flammable cladding on the Grenfell Tower is only one example of the State’s carelessness about the health and wellbeing of low-income renters. The plight of the tenants impacted by the Grenfell tragedy, many now housed in temporary accommodation for two years, is part of the much wider emergency in London.
There is now an ever-growing population of homeless families and individuals. Families are in totally insecure temporary accommodation and individuals are often sofa-surfing or, worse still, on the streets. Their situation is like that of the councils’ reusable rubbish: they are sent to the “recycling centre” to be sorted and processed, or, too frequently, discarded.
We had the following letter published in The Guardian in February 2019:
At one end of the UK’s crazy housing market, Persimmon and other national and international property developers are encouraged by government policy to grab British land for huge private gain (£66k profit on every home. How a builder made £1bn, 27 February). At the other end, there are no policies whatsoever in place at Government or local-authority level to provide truly affordable homes for rent for the 79,880 homeless families in temporary accommodation. Their number rose by 65% from 2010, while, from 2013, Persimmon’s profits tripled. The condition of the temporary homes is often a disgrace. People can be forced to move several times, over 10 years of homelessness, sometimes via a hostel, while landlords default on their mortgage or take their profit from a speculative buy-to-let. Forced moves disrupt the education of more than 120,000 children. These low-income families are at the mercy of landlords, who can evict without reason, and of councils, which can compel them to accept an offer of permanent housing in a private tenancy at rents they cannot afford. It is more of a housing emergency than a housing crisis.
In the six months from June to December 2018, the number of homeless families in England rose from 79,880 to 82,310, and the number of homeless children by 500 to 123,230 – an increase since 2010, in percentage terms, from 65% to 71%. In the same period, the number of homeless families in London increased from 54,540 to 56,560 and there was an increase from 68% to 69% of the total number of families in temporary accomodation in England.
Source House of Commons Library
According to Trust for London, there are 3,986 homeless families in temporary accommodation in Enfield and 4,400 in Haringey. Both local authorities have very little council property left, so nowhere to house many of them except out of London or in the private sector. That could mean those families being moved from a council rent of £90 a week for two-bed accommodation to a private-sector rent of £300 a week.
To emphasise the unreasonable hardship inflicted, here follow two case histories of homeless families in temporary accommodation:
Case History 1
In this family, the mother is employed and the father self-employed. They have two young children. They have been compelled by the council and private landlords to move house several times over the years.
First, the property they were renting was repossessed by the landlord’s mortgage company two months after they moved in. Thereafter, they had a short-hold tenancy for eight years, but, having enjoyed some stability, were then arbitrarily evicted. They next moved into a flat – into the kitchen of which the upstairs tenant’s toilet subsequently leaked. After an eight-hour wait to be seen by officials in the Housing Office, they were then moved into a hostel, sharing the space with addicted single homeless adults. They have now been moved into a council estate that is due to be demolished.
They have none of the security of tenure needed by all families because, until a new Bill is passed by Parliament that will end faultless evictions, landlords can evict without reason and with no notice, using a Section 21 or Section 8 notice. Low-income families like this one are therefore not only at their mercy, but also at the mercy of council officials, who have the right to force them from temporary council accommodation into permanent private accommodation they simply cannot afford.
The government proposes to amend Section 8 and to require landlords to give their reasons for eviction in court. That will only be an improvement if tenants can appoint a housing lawyer to defend them. Such lawyers are in short supply, not to mention costly, and access to legal aid has been shredded.
Case History 2
This family of five receives social-security payments, but for only three of them. The father and a son aged five are entitled to benefits, but the mother does not have a British passport, so is not. They were unaware that the Government has limited child-benefit payments to two children when their third was born, so he, too, now aged eight months, is also without income.
Their eldest child, aged nine, is severely sight-impaired, has cerebral palsy on his right side, and has developmental delay and sensory issues. His father has a file full of medical evidence. It has satisfied the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that his severe disablement justifies making his Disabled Living Allowance permanent. However, the local authority has refused to guarantee that, in due course, it will move them out of temporary council accommodation into a permanent home in the catchment area of his school, even though such security in education is vital for a disabled child.
The inadequate payments they receive have been shredded by central government since 2010. Forcing them into the private rented sector is therefore wholly unreasonable – the rents there are prohibitive for a family of five with the income of only three.
The injustice of the council tax.
We hope the IFS Deaton Review of inequality and the Commission will ensure its agenda includes consideration of the deep inequality between UK renters and landlords or land owners.(Why we are troubled by elitist inequality review) Unlike other countries' our renters, of homes or small businesses, pay the landlords' property tax, which we call council tax or business rates. But renters get none of the vast increases in the value of land that have been given unearned and untaxed to landlords and land owners since the "big bang" of the 1980s. It would be a significant move towards equality if a small percent of the annual increase in the value of land was paid by its owners to local or national government leading to the abolition of council tax, business rates, stamp duty and, if international experience of land value capture is shared in the UK, a reduction of taxes on income.
A THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION
We hold that land is a gift of a loving and generous God, intended for the provision of shelter, food, fuel and clothes for all.
Peace in all the major faiths is not just the absence of conflict, but also the presence of health and wellbeing for all.
Two parables contrast a just use of power by a landlord with the abuse of power by a group of tenants in possession of the land. Jesus saw how power ought to be used to share the produce of land with everyone, which is the gift of a generous and loving God – and how power is abused.
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), what does the landowner do?
He goes out early in the morning, hires the available workers and agrees to pay them one denarius.
He goes out again at nine, noon, three and five, and hires all the available workers. They are all told, “Go and work in my vineyard.”
At the end of the day, he pays them all one denarius. When some complain, he says, “I’m not being unfair. Are you envious because I’m generous?”
That parable is about land. If we start with the proposition that land is the gift of a generous and loving God, intended for the provision of shelter, food, water, fuel, clothes and, so, health for everyone, then that parable and the parable of the workers in the vineyard become clear.
The landowner uses his power to ensure that everyone benefits from the land he owns.
In the parable of the wicked tenants (Matthew 21:33-46), what does the landowner do?
He rented out the vineyard and moved to another place. At harvest time, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.
Then he sent another servant to them. They struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent yet another and that one they killed too. He sent many others – some of them they beat and others they killed.
He had one left to send: a son whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, “They will respect my son.” He, too, was killed.
The tenants had assumed they owned the land and, so, used their power for their own profit and to exclude all comers from enjoying a share of the produce of the land, as demanded by the landowner.
This is the reverse of the first parable of the labourers in the vineyard, in which the landowner uses his power to ensure that all get a share of the produce.
Nicholas Sagovsky, in his 2003 paper “What will she need? A theological perspective on pregnancy, motherhood and minimum income standards”, referred to Martha Nussbaum’s list of 10 “central human functional capabilities”, as a helpful characterisation of the sort of life that ought to be the goal of social policy. Those capabilities include:
- Life: being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely or before one’s life is so reduced as to be not worth living
- Bodily health: being able to have good health, including reproductive health; being adequately nourished; having adequate shelter
- Bodily integrity: being able to move freely from place to place; having one’s bodily boundaries treated as sovereign – being secure against assault, including sexual assault, child sexual abuse and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction
- Emotions: being able to have attachments to things and people outside ourselves; being able to love those who love and care for us, and to grieve at their absence; being able to experience longing, gratitude and justified anger; not having one’s emotional development blighted by overwhelming fear or anxiety, or by traumatic events of abuse or neglect
- Other species: being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature
- Material: being able to hold property – both land and material goods; having property rights on an equal basis with others; having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having freedom from unwarranted search and seizure.”
Richard Rohr, in his book The Universal Christ, writes: “If you look at all Paul’s texts on evil or ‘the problem’, you see that sin, for Paul, was actually a combination of group blindness or corporate illusion, and the powerlessness of the individual to stand against it (Romans 7:14ff.), along with systemic evil (Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16ff.). Evil is not just individual nastiness. ‘Our battle is not against human forces, but the sovereignties and powers that originate in the darkness, the spirits of evil in the air.’ (Ephesians 6:12).
We now see that these systems (corporations, nation-states, institutions) have a life of their own, and are usually unaccountable to reason or even law – as much as we try to make them accountable. Paul was convinced that only corporate goodness could stand up to corporate evil, thus his emphasis on community building and ‘church’. This is probably why he is often called the ‘founder of the church’, and why he expected and hoped for so much from those first Christian communities.”
Gustavo Gutiérrez writes, in a Theology of Liberation: “The poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labour and despoiled of their humanity. Hence, the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we build a different social order.”
Rowan Williams said this about property at the commemoration service, in 2017, of the 100th year since the birth of Archbishop Oscar Romero: “Almost exactly 40 years ago, on 25 September 1977, Archbishop Oscar Romero, in his weekly mass homily, reflected on the biblical notion of property. Property, in Jewish and Christian scripture, he said, was something lent to the user, never absolutely given. Always to be used as if rented from God. And so, he said, the truth is that the rich pay to the poor the rent for the land whose use they are given for a time. In a just world, that is how we should conceive of property: we are given something through which we are set free to discharge our debt to the poor. Because if our God is with the poor, when we serve the poor, we serve God.”
THE IMPACT OF VIABILTY ASSESSMENTS
At the heart of the land problem in the UK is the viability assessment carried out by the landowner and the developer. The amount of affordable housing depends entirely on the profit of the landowner and the developer. The fewer the affordable houses, the larger their profit. A very good example of this is Battersea Power Station, which has been regenerated: at the last minute, the developer said it was not making enough profit, so Wandsworth Council allowed it to cut the number of affordable homes by 250 to 8% of the whole.
The same is happening in Tottenham, in Haringey borough, where, at the time of writing, the Peacock Estate, comprising 50 small businesses each owning their plot, are under threat of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to create a parcel of private land for development. The CPO also affects 180 council tenants.
“We expose Compulsory Purchase Orders as a classed tool mobilised to violently displace working-class neighbourhoods. In doing so, we show how a fictionalised mantra of ‘necessity’ combines neoliberal growth logics with their obscene underside – a stigmatisation logic that demonises poor urban neighbourhoods.” From By Any Means Necessary by Neil Gray and Libby Porter
The rich and powerful have assumed exclusive use of Haringey public land for their own profit and are excluding the poor and the powerless by building unaffordable homes and evicting them into temporary accommodation or onto the streets. A compulsory purchase order to enable the demolition of secure tenures in council housing, forcing the tenants into insecure temporary accommodation for up to and over 10 years, stands on its head our theological position that working with and for poor people comes first, and that land exists to provide shelter for all.
SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
The solutions we recommend are all currently viable, practical and successful in capitalist countries. They are recommended free of any political motivation, and for the common good.
- Empty and unused offices, houses and warehouses must be converted into decent homes without delay. Homeless families in temporary accommodation and individuals on the streets need immediate action.
- A small-percentage land value tax must be introduced. At the same time, council tax, business rates and stamp duty should be abolished. In the future, there could also be a reduction in income tax.
- The sale of public land must be stopped. Local authorities must build only housing for affordable rent on public land.
- The City of London, corporations and central government must be encouraged to invest in Community Land Trusts. A Community Land Trusts Act must be passed (see below).
Land value tax
The council tax is a property tax based on a 1991 evaluation. Property taxes in the USA, Canada and all other capitalist countries are paid by landlords and landowners. In the UK, however, those people enjoy unearned and untaxed increases in the value of their land. In contrast, their tenants pay council tax, but do not enjoy one penny of the increase in land value.
A summary of the benefits of a land value tax:
We believe dead weight losses are something of which the public ought to be aware and the Treasury ought to publish details. Meanwhile, we are emphasising, by all means available, the following points in support of the land value tax.
- A low-percentage tax on the undeveloped value of all land is a secure, progressive source of revenue. It should gradually replace inefficient and regressive taxes such as council tax, business rates and stamp duty.
- If it is introduced carefully, it would cost low- to middle-income homeowners less than council tax, owing to the larger tax base.
- It is paid by the landlord not the tenant. It relieves low-income tenants of the council tax and its draconian enforcement.
- Provision can be made to protect high-asset low-income households during the implementation phase of this fiscal policy.
- It has been found to bring empty homes and unused land into use in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and other US cities. It has also been shown to work in Denmark, Australia and Hong Kong.
- It would encourage the four big UK builders to release their bank of 450,000 plots of unused land.
- Land cannot be transferred tax-free via the internet to an overseas bank, so taxing it in the UK might even recover a little of the trillions shipped out to tax havens by the City of London.
- It enables landowners to contribute to the common good from the unearned increase in the value of their land due to the market, so relieving the landless tenants and themselves of the need for high income taxes.
A land value tax colloquium at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in 2015 concluded that, “the technical issues often quoted as providing reasons not to switch to assessing land rather than property – namely, valuation methodology and data – are capable of solution within the UK context”.
Community Land Trusts
Both council housing and Community Land Trusts (CLT) are means of providing the secure homes for low-income renters in which stable communities and relationships can be built. Council housing ought to keep, and CLTs to take, the land out of the market to enable affordable rents and leases to be provided.
CLTs are set up and run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes, as well as other assets. They act as long-term stewards of housing, ensuring that it remains genuinely affordable, based on what people actually earn in their area – not just for now, but for every future occupier.
The land is taken out of the market and put into a trust in perpetuity. On occasions, it has been bequeathed by a wealthy landlord, so the rents and the price of a lease can be calculated without it. On other occasions, it has been financed by a pensions fund that receives a regular interest payment.
CLTs are time-consuming for the committed local volunteers who set about campaigning for them. Their important job would be made very much easier if it was done in the context of a Community Land Trusts Act that commits public, corporation and private investment into CLTs.
The preservation of existing communities is needed as much as the creation and maintenance of new ones. Council housing has remained the one truly affordable source of housing for rent since the Labour Party, after World War II, and later Harold Macmillan, built tens of thousands of council homes. Whole working-class communities were moved out of the London slums into accommodation built on public land in new places such as Welwyn Garden City, and then the slums were demolished.
However, since 2010, in London, council homes have been demolished and communities destroyed, and the land sold for private housing without any equivalent truly affordable homes being built for working-class communities to move into. Many former tenants have been forced into the private sector, fuelling the increase in evictions and homelessness.
Power has been abused. Government policy since the “Big Bang” in the 1980s has provided huge unearned and untaxed increases in the value of land for the private benefit of landowners, landlords, and national and international developers. To the detriment of the health and wellbeing of low-income tenants, land has been moved further and further away from serving the common good.
As a landowner, the Church of England, is among the powerful beneficiaries of that injustice. The Archbishop says, “It’s time for a radical look at what enables people to live in communities, to build relationships.” In particular, it is time for the fair sharing of land in the UK, and time for that sharing to be seen as essential for the establishment of secure communities for all.
The Reverend Paul Nicolson
Founder, Taxpayers Against Poverty
Fred Harrison of the Land Research Trust estimates that “the UK is capable of producing an additional £500 billion in wealth and welfare, if the Government employed revenue-collecting mechanisms that were neutral in their impact (p14 of Debt Death and Deadweight). That £500 billion is the deadweight loss resulting from income taxes that take away from the public’s spending and companies’ investment in the economy. The only neutral way to raise revenue for the public purse is to collect it from rent – ie, beginning with a small percentage from the increase in the value of land. One of the technical reasons why rent does not distort people’s behaviour is that the supply of land is “inelastic” – that is, it is fixed in supply.