by Dara Fitzgerald, West London Socialist Party
The Tory council in Kensington and Chelsea is using funds supposed to be for ‘social infrastructure’ to buy two statues for £226,000 and £50,000. This money is being provided by Berkeley Homes. In the deal, the property developers will receive planning permission from the council to build 375 apartments at a new housing complex.
Kensington is an extreme example of the disparity between living conditions that exists in London. It has the greatest income inequality of any London borough. And the rent for the lowest earners is the least affordable.
Kensington is also a prime location for foreign investment in high-priced housing. Oligarchs can redirect funds from their own country to invest into mansions, apartment blocks, and commercial buildings.
The Shard is owned by the state of Qatar, the Gherkin by a Brazilian conglomerate, the Fenchurch building by a Hong Kong company. City Hall, which the mayor moved the London government out of in 2021 as the rent was too high, is owned by a Kuwaiti sovereign wealth fund.
These billionaires have worsened the problem. But the main issue is the commodification of housing. After World War Two, council house building boomed, with nearly 200,000 council homes being built in 1954 alone.
Then, in 1980, Thatcher’s Tory government brought in legislation to restrict the number of council homes being built. With ‘right to buy’, council tenants could purchase their property.
The policy was designed to create a new generation of Tory-voting homeowners. The idea was if your asset is tied up in your property, you are more likely to vote for proposals that will maintain or increase its value.
But the decline of council housing stock has sent house prices skyrocketing. In London, the average house price is £484,716 – 14 times the average annual wage.
I live and rent in west London. I make above the average wage in my area, which now is £33,000. I have a stable job in the tech industry, and it comes with a few benefits.
But even in my relatively advantageous situation, I will need to save for many years to be able to afford the deposit on a flat in London. And I’m nearing my 40s.
Council homes and rent control
We need better solutions to actually provide affordable housing for those that need it. There must a huge project of council house building, with lifetime tenancies. We need rent controls that cap the level of rent, and to improve the current council accommodation and replace dangerous cladding.
The large building companies, banks, and land should be nationalised to ensure good standard housing and affordable mortgages. And we need a democratic socialist society to ensure decent homes, jobs, and services for all.