Saturday, February 9, 2019

About Socialism (1988)

From the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. What is the Socialist Party of Great Britain?

It is a political party, separate from all others, Left, Right or Centre. It stands for the sole aim of establishing a world social system based upon human need instead of private or state profit. The Object and Declaration of Principles printed in this introductory leaflet were adopted by the Socialist Party in 1904 and have been maintained without compromise since then. In other countries there are companion parties sharing the same object and principles, and they too remain independent from all other political parties.

2. What is capitalism?

Capitalism is the social system which now exists in all countries of the world. Under this system, the means of production and distribution (land, factories, offices, transport, media, etc.) are monopolised by a minority, the capitalist class. All wealth is produced by us, the majority working class, who sell our mental and physical energies to the capitalists in return for a price called a wage or salary. The object of wealth production is to create goods and services which can be sold on the market at a profit. Not only do the capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class, but, as a class, they go on accumulating wealth extracted from each generation of workers.

3. Can capitalism be reformed in our interests?

No: as long as capitalism exists, profits will come before needs. Some reforms are welcomed by some workers, but no reform can abolish the fundamental contradiction between profit and need which is built into the present system. No matter whether promises to make capitalism run in the interests of the workers are made sincerely or by opportunist politicians they are bound to fail, for such a promise is like offering to run the slaughter house in the interests of the cattle.

4. Is nationalisation an alternative to capitalism?

No: nationalised industries simply mean that workers are exploited by the state, acting on behalf of the capitalists of one country, rather than by an individual capitalist or company. The workers in nationalised British Leyland are no less the servants of profit than workers in privately-owned Ford. The mines no more belong to "the public" or the miners now than they did before 1947 when they were nationalised. Nationalisation is state capitalism.

5. Are there any “socialist countries”?

No: the so-called socialist countries are systems of state capitalism. In Russia and its empire, in China, Cuba, Albania, Yugoslavia and the other countries which call themselves socialist, social power is monopolised by privileged Party bureaucrats. The features of capitalism, as outlined above, are all present. An examination of international commerce shows that the bogus socialist states are part of the world capitalist market and cannot detach themselves from the requirements of profit.

6. What Is the meaning of socialism?

Socialism does not yet exist. When it is established it must be on a worldwide basis, as an alternative to the outdated system of world capitalism. In a socialist society there will be common ownership and democratic control of the earth by its inhabitants. No minority class will be in a position to dictate to the majority that production must be geared to profit. There will be no owners: everything will belong to everyone. Production will be solely for use, not for sale. The only questions society will need to ask about wealth production will be: what do people require, and can the needs be met? These questions will be answered on the basis of the resources available to meet such needs. Then, unlike now, modern technology and communications will be able to be used to their fullest extent. The basic socialist principle will be that people give according to their abilities and take according to their self- defined needs. Work will be on the basis of voluntary co-operation: the coercion of wage and salary work will be abolished. There will be no buying or selling and money will not be necessary, in a society of common ownership and free access. For the first time ever the people of the world will have common possession of the planet earth.

7. How will socialism solve the problems of society?

Capitalism, with its constant drive to serve profit before need, throws up an endless stream of problems. Most workers in Britain feel insecure about their future; almost one in four families with children living below the official government poverty line; many old people live in dangerously cold conditions each winter and thousands die; millions of our fellow men and women are dying of starvation — tens of thousands of them each day. A society based on production for use will end those problems because the priority of socialist society will be the fullest possible satisfaction of needs. At the moment food is destroyed and farmers are subsidised not to produce more: yet many millions are malnourished. At the moment hospital queues are growing longer and people are dying of curable illnesses; yet it is not "economically viable" to provide decent health treatment for all. In a socialist society nothing short of the best will be good enough for any human being.

8. What about human nature?

Human behaviour is not fixed, but determined by the kind of society people are conditioned to live in. The capitalist jungle produces vicious, competitive ways of thinking and acting. But we humans are able to adapt our behaviour and there is no reason why our rational desire for comfort and human welfare should not allow us to co-operate. Even under capitalism people often obtain pleasure from doing a good turn for others; few people enjoy participating in the "civilised" warfare of the daily rat-race. Think how much better it would be if society was based on co-operation.

9. Are socialists democrats?

Yes: the Socialist Party has no leaders. It is a democratic organisation controlled by its members. It understands that Socialism can only be established by a conscious majority of workers — that workers must liberate themselves and will not be liberated by leaders or parties. Socialism will not be brought about by a dedicated minority "smashing the state", as some left-wingers would have it. Nor do the activities of paid, professional politicians have anything to do with Socialism — the experience of seven Labour governments has shown this. Once a majority of the working class understand and want Socialism, they will take the necessary step to organise consciously for the democratic conquest of political power. There will be no Socialism without a socialist majority.

10. What is the next step?

Many workers know that there is something wrong and want to change society. Some join reform groups in the hope that capitalism can be patched up, but such efforts are futile because you cannot run a system of class exploitation in the interests of the exploited majority. People who fear a nuclear war may join CND. but as long as nation states exist, economic rivalry means that the world will never be safe from the threat of war. There are countless dedicated campaigns and good causes which many sincere people are caught up in, but there is only one solution to the problems of capitalism and that is to get rid of it, and establish Socialism. Before we can do that we need socialists; winning workers to that cause requires knowledge, principles and an enthusiasm for change. These qualities can be developed by anyone — and are essential for anyone who is serious about changing society. Capitalism in the 1980s is still a system of waste, deprivation and frightening insecurity. You owe it to yourself to find out about the one movement which stands for the alternative.

If you have read this set of principles and agree with some or all of them, contact the Socialist Party with your questions and ideas about what you can do to help speed the progress towards Socialism.

Editorial: In Place of Wishes (1988)

Editorial from the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Each year at this time an arbitrary line is drawn across our lives. It has as much mysticism about it as any religion. On one side of the line lies the Old Year with its mistakes, its problems, its inadequacies. On the other the New Year beckons us, with its pristine sanity, enlightenment, happiness. It is a time to make resolutions that the next twelve months will be innocent of the disfigurements of the past twelve. Some people mark the occasion by getting drunk, to lubricate the process of acting towards others with warmth and respect. Others may rely on the collective hysteria of the occasion to intoxicate them. Happy New Year, they wish each other. It’s probably not all insincere, either.

But powerful as alcoholic poisoning and popular delusions can be there is an amnesiac scale about the event which is positively staggering. For does life really get better from year to year for the millions of people who wish to each other that it should? The millions who snatch the short holiday to pretend that they are something other than the social class which, although productive and useful, is exploited, repressed and deceived?

That question was what actually dominated the election last June. Thatcher and her crew energetically told us that things were not only getting better but would carry on like that, as if the Tories will never rest until they have drenched us all in prosperity. Enough workers were impressed by this campaign, shrewdly aimed as it was, to send the Iron Lady back to Number Ten.

It is likely that the Tories won a lot of votes through their schemes to enable workers to buy shares in the privatised industries. This whole idea, with its elaborately buoyant publicity, rested on the assumption that the Stock Market is a casino where share prices always go up, so that workers who borrowed a little money to buy a few shares could then sell them quickly and so make a small profit. This illusion — that the class structure of capitalism had been radically changed by Norman Tebbit was badly damaged by the stock market crash, which catapulted distraught yuppies into a position of media-dominance. In fact, a falling stock market also offers the possibility of making money — but in a way not usually open to penurious workers.

It is worth mentioning this if only because a popular response to any criticism of Thatcherite Britain is that the critics are motivated by a septic envy. There is, apparently, an opulent gravy train on the move for those who are economically nimble enough to climb aboard. The economically disabled have only themselves to blame. But is this society, which we labour under, really so carefree an arrangement? Are its critics really so devoid of material to support their arguments?

Well what, apart from the events on the Stock Exchange, happened last year? What effect did all those salutations, last January, have for us?

It was, in fact, a year of disasters in a very material sense. The crazy massacre of Hungerford cannot be explained away as an isolated mental breakdown. Michael Ryan was a man who could not answer, to his own satisfaction, the sexual, social and familial expectations of capitalism. So instead he loved his guns, his cars and his terrible fantasies. The capsize of the Herald of Free Enterprise was not an accident for the ship was being sailed just as the company's balance sheet thought appropriate. At the time of writing the immediate cause of the King's Cross fire has not been made public, but emerging facts have shown up the reductions in vital staff and the tardiness in replacing dangerously outdated equipment, in the cause of reducing costs and so maximising profit.

Although as a disaster it is rather less dramatic, the problem of the homeless grew worse, with the numbers of families with nowhere to live increasing as their chances of finding anywhere within a reasonable time decreased. Young workers have been coerced into accepting government approved work or courses under pain of being cut off from state benefit. The government's discovery that state benefits can be cut by changing their name and the conditions under which they can be claimed brings memories of the special indignities heaped on the unemployed during the 1930s. Finally, in face of the official statistics which tell us that it is not happening, the waiting lists of workers who need treatment in hospital grew longer so that some die while they are waiting and babies are prevented from having desperately needed operations through a lack of specialised nurses who have been driven out of the work through their paltry wages. Even the consultants, contemplating the beds kept empty by the priority of conforming to a budget, have been moved to make their unequivocal protests.

There was no happier prospect abroad. At the end of the year Bob Geldof was flying back to Ethiopia to ask why, after all that effort and expenditure, millions have to suffer an agonising, degrading death by starvation. Those sickening pictures of dying babies, too sick even to take their mother's milk, are condemnation enough of capitalism in themselves. The Gulf War continued to consume its fearsome human diet, there is slaughter in Africa, Haiti, Afghanistan and the brutality of South Africa's racist regime does not lessen. The cold cynicism of capitalist politics has been exposed by the Irangate affair, which cannot be hushed over by even Reagan's consummate acting skills. He may yet be saved by the diversion of a treaty to abolish medium-range nuclear missiles which, even if it should ever be fully implemented, would still leave us living in a world with more than enough destructive power to kill us all several times over.

No, it was not a Happy New Year. Neither was 1986, 1985, 1984 . . . We shall need to do more than wish that things will get better. We have the power to change the world and the ability to run it in the interests of the human race. And the reasons for that are all too obvious.

Running Commentary: Common assault (1988)

The Running Commentary Column from the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1669, a petition was presented to Parliament by a "lively boy" on behalf of schoolchildren, to protest at "the severities of the school discipline of this nation", calling schools "not merely houses of correction but of prostitution". In 1889, one of the four demands of the London schoolboys' strike was an end to caning. This has now finally been instituted in Parliament by a vote of 231 to 230, nearly a hundred years later (so much for the speed of the reform process). But beating children in schools is still legal and widespread in countries like the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. And in Britain, parents and those having "lawful control or charge" of children are still allowed to administer "moderate and reasonable" physical punishment with impunity. How a physical assault on someone who is smaller and weaker can be moderate and reasonable is one of the mysteries which only the great Law Lords in their wisdom can fathom.

Corporal punishment in schools was banned in Poland as early as 1783, in France in 1881 and in every other European country by 1982. One of the main reasons it was not banned sooner in Britain was the teachers' trade unions' passionate defence of the right to beat schoolchildren. The NUT became committed to opposing corporal punishment, through Conference Resolution, only in 1982 and the NAS/UWT has remained in favour up to its inevitable acceptance of the new Act. Figures taken from school "Punishment Books" in the early 1980s by the Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment showed approximately 250,000 school beatings a year in England — one every 19 seconds. In 1979, Buckinghamshire celebrated the International Year Of The Child by reintroducing corporal punishment for infants. And a 1974 survey in Edinburgh found over 10,000 instances of use of the tawse (leather strap) on just 70,000 children in two terms.

In the USA, corporal punishment is legal in 42 states, especially in the Southern Bible Belt where the inane and barbaric dictum "if you spare the rod. you spoil the child" is popular. The traditional weapon for this purpose in the States is the wooden "paddle". It has been officially estimated that there are about three million such beatings there each year, mostly at the primary level and disproportionately carried out on black children (Times Educational Supplement, 31 July 1987). In Georgia, state law gives immunity from civil or criminal action if the punishment is given "in good faith" and is not "unduly severe". Last year one Georgia 13-year-old who had been "paddled" returned and stabbed the principal to death and an Alabama mother is being charged with assault after hitting a teacher over the head with the paddle he used to hit her seven-year-old son. The comment of John Sikes, the Georgian School Superintendent, once again acknowledges the inevitable problem of setting up up compulsory conditioning centres, like prisons, and calling them places of learning:
We've been using paddling here since schools began, and to be honest with you, I don't know what we'd do without it. The only alternative is to send unruly kids home, and they won't learn anything there.
Recent reports from both Malaysia and Swaziland have also exposed widespread sadistic treatment of schoolchildren (TES, 14 August 1987). The Malaysian NUTP union has documented 200 cases including savage beatings, locking children in cupboards for long periods, making children lick urine from the floor and one teacher who habitually punishes boys by squeezing their testicles; one of his pupils recently had to have one testicle surgically removed; the head reassured the union that this teacher was being "transferred to another school ". All of the other documented cases have also led only to the teachers concerned being reprimanded or transferred.

With all of the recent press coverage of assaults on children, it should not be forgotten that this vast number of legal assaults is taking place across the world. Such 'sanctions' are a common part of the compulsory conditioning of capitalism's schools.
Clifford Slapper

Running Commentary: Abortion debate (1988)

The Running Commentary Column from the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Abortion debate

David Alton's Bill seeks an 18-week time limit on abortions — to make it illegal for any woman to have an abortion after the 18th week of her pregnancy. Alton is fully aware that many of the tests for handicap and hereditary disease cannot be performed until after the 18th week but he thinks it is wrong to seek an abortion on those grounds. There will be an exclusion clause in the Bill allowing mothers the “right" to an abortion after 18 weeks. If the mother's own life is at risk her pregnancy may be terminated.

Alton's Bill has the support of some women who object to abortion on religious grounds. Many of the other supporters are churchmen or priests who argue their moral case from the authoritative position of perhaps never having had a sexual relationship. much less risked the anguish of an unwanted pregnancy. All of these people are convinced that a pregnant woman who waits more than 18 weeks before deciding whether to have an abortion should, in future, be forced to bear the child, regardless of the economic or emotional consequences.

Speaking in opposition to the proposals on a TV programme were two women who had chosen to have their pregnancies terminated. Neither enjoyed the experience, did it for "selfish" reasons or came out of it psychologically unscathed. Also opposing the Bill was a representative of a major charity-run abortion clinic who witnesses the human misery of unwanted pregnancies every day of the week. Ultimately, though, the Bill will stand or fall on the say-so of the majority of men in Parliament.

But the issues are not the time limit or the moral correctness of abortion. It is the present economic and social system that turns the birth of a human being into a nightmare of poverty, lost freedom and missed opportunity. So before becoming involved in what Alton claims is a "human rights" issue, consider instead a society where women and men are free to make their own decisions and shape their own lives on equal terms.

Read all about it

"Workshy costing firms £5bn a year", shrieked the headline. I couldn't believe it. Here was a reactionary newspaper finally telling the truth about the ruling class. A full and frank expose of the idle rich and the nature of capitalism. I read on. "Industry chiefs are planning a crackdown on absenteeism after a survey showed days off work are costing British business £5 billion a year . . . The survey puts the UK in a bad light compared with major trading competitors". The truth was revealed. It was not fearless revelations about how capitalism exploits the working class but just another attempt to make workers feel guilty because they weren't producing enough surplus value for their benevolent bosses. The final paragraph said it all. "It is not a comforting record, particularly when there are so many on the dole who would work conscientiously at any job they were fortunate enough to have".

Muttering "Victorian values" I turned the page. "Royal pair back to work after brief reunion" met my gaze. Concern for my blood pressure prompted me to quickly pass on. As I did so 1 thought of all those on the dole who would consider themselves fortunate to have a "job" like Charlie and Di and how much better it would be if their watchword was "Abolition of the wages system!"

Adjacent to the Royal story was one headlined. "Part-time workers getting raw deal". A report by the Low Pay Unit showed that nearly four million British part-timers earn less than the "decency threshold" of £3.25 an hour and many more miss out on redundancy payments and maternity benefits. The low paid include 98 per cent of shop checkout workers. 96 per cent of bar staff and 89 per cent of receptionists. It's not reading these things in newspapers that's bad for your health, it's capitalism that's bad for your life. Let s get rid of capitalism.
Dave Coggan

Less can mean more (1988)

From the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

While all the razzmatazz, media hype and self-congratulation has been going on in Washington over the INF agreement, a group of NATO nuclear experts have quietly been engaged in discussion over what are euphemistically called ‘'compensatory measures", or in other words, how to fill the gaps left in the western alliance's war machine by the scrapping of missiles under the terms of the INF treaty. The end result could be more, not less, nuclear weapons in Europe.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the INF agreement marked the dawning of a new age heralded by those two saintly peace-makers Reagan and Gorbachev. In fact the INF treaty is a paltry little agreement that at best will get rid of just 3-4 per cent of nuclear weapons on both sides — there will still be plenty more left to blow up the world several times over. Under the terms of the agreement (if it is ratified by a two-thirds majority in the US Senate — Gorbachev can be confident that the Supreme Soviet will obediently endorse their leader s decision) all Cruise and Pershing II missiles already deployed in Western Europe will be destroyed over a three year period. In return Russia will scrap its SS20s, and shorter range SSI2 and SS23 missiles.

But meanwhile, in NATO, strategists are proposing ways of plugging the gaps left behind — like through the deployment of new air- and sea-launched nuclear weapons or moving more US F-l 11 nuclear bombers to bases in Europe so that they are within easy reach of Russian targets. No doubt Russia's military supremos have been engaged in similar planning of "compensatory measures”.

The determinedly optimistic will probably argue that the INF treaty is only the beginning and that it is likely to be followed by the cutting of strategic weapons by 50 per cent within a year or so as a result of START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks). Fifty per cent certainly sounds like a big cut until you realise that what they are arguing about is an agreement which aims to achieve a common ceiling of six thousand warheads on both sides. It's hard to feel optimistic about that.

Once all the euphoria has evaporated and the media circus has left Washington for the next location on the non-stop leadership-promotion tour, perhaps people will reflect in the cold light of reason, on what has really been achieved by this treaty.

Firstly, it is an agreement whose main purpose must be seen as economic and political rather than the removal of the threat of nuclear annihilation. Gorbachev needed an arms reduction treaty — and the worldwide publicity which accompanied it — in order to bolster his political position and enable him to pursue his programme of domestic economic and political reform from a position of greater strength within the Russian political elite. Reagan badly wanted to be remembered for something other than the shabby deals connected with the Irangate scandal, the enormous budget deficit, his penchant for jelly beans and his inability to string together a coherent sentence unless he had a script in front of him.

Secondly, the treaty does not address the problem of how to dispose of nuclear weapons. Even when the plutonium has been removed from the warheads, the remaining rockets — packed full of highly flammable fuel — will be extremely dangerous to destroy. Nuclear missiles are designed to explode causing the maximum possible damage, not to be dismantled with minimum damage.

Finally, and most seriously, the INF agreement does not even begin to tackle the real problem of nuclear weapons. Not only does it propose to scrap only a tiny proportion of the total nuclear stockpile but also it raises no questions at all about why we have nuclear weapons, or indeed any other kinds of weapons. In fact to the extent that arms treaties of this kind reinforce the position of political leaders (and hence the capitalist class which they represent) and present them as basically reasonable, benevolent people, then they could be said to also reinforce the capitalist system and all its attendant problems — including war.
Janie Percy-Smith

Socialist activity in Ireland (1988)

Party News from the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The World Socialist Movement continues to make its presence felt in Ireland. Recently, the World Socialist Party (WSP) has run very successful public meetings on the case for world socialism in Belfast. Dublin and the place which has acquired the name of "Stroke City" as a result of being referred to as Derry-Stroke-Londonderry for fear of offending either side in the sectarian dispute over its name. New members continue to be attracted to the WSP including those who, in becoming socialists, have overcome the bigotry and prejudice of either side in that sectarian dispute. It is clearer than ever, that the only real basis on which Protestant and Catholic workers there will unite is that of class consciousness and the principled movement for a socialist alternative. The local journal, the Socialist View, produced in alternate months at 20p, has recently doubled its print run to 1000 and is selling well on the streets of Belfast in particular. Out of the violent conflicts of capitalism, workers are increasingly looking for a sane and practical answer, and they are finding it in the form of the World Socialist Party.

50 Years Ago: Elections in Russia (1988)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Sunday, December 12th, some 94,000,000 Russian "electors" went to the poll to cast their votes for the 1,100 unopposed candidates chosen for them by the Government to sit in the new two-chamber Parliament, the Council of the Union (569 members), and the Council of Nationalities (574 members). Except in one or two constituencies there was no alternative candidate. so there was no element of choice — opposition parties not being allowed. It was also made plain to the electors that they should not deface the ballot papers or stay away from the polling booth, so the result was almost as much foreseen and prearranged as if the figures had been wholly faked by the authorities.

Russia has changed much since 1918. in which year Lenin, with a Cromwellian gesture, used armed force to disperse the democratically-elected constituent assembly when he found that that body, long demanded by the Bolsheviks and elected under their authority, had a non-Bolshevik majority. In a few more years, in spite of all the scheming of Russia’s rulers, their fraudulent democracy will perhaps be changed into the real thing under the pressure of the electorate.

[From an article “The Russian Election. What is Stalin's Purpose?" Socialist Standard January 1938.]

Shelter for the homeless? (1988)

From the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nineteen eighty seven was International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. What was the government's response to attempts to draw attention to the plight of those without anywhere decent to live? It published a Housing Bill which it claims will "revitalise housing in England and Wales" by reversing the decline of rented housing and improving its quality; giving council tenants greater choice through the "right" to choose another landlord; and by directing money more accurately at the most acute problems.

But rhetoric aside, what will the government's Bill do for the homeless? Nothing — they are not even mentioned in the proposed legislation. What will it do for tenants? Nothing — except make them liable to higher rents and harassment by landlords. What will the Housing Bill do for landlords? Plenty — they will be able to raise rents and evict tenants more easily as a result of "deregulation". What will the proposals do for the Tory party? They hope that it will aid their political fortunes by increasing the number of "owner-occupiers" — considered to be more likely to vote Conservative than council tenants. They also see the new measures as a means of reducing the powers of local authorities who are regarded as a potential source of opposition to central government power.

What is in the Housing Bill?
There are 22 million tenants in Britain, the majority of whom rent their homes from local authorities. Council housing is far from ideal. At its worst it is typified by vast rundown estates and bleak high-rise or deck-access flats. Much local authority housing is "unfit" and in need of major repairs, renovation and. in some cases, demolition and rebuilding. Furthermore local authority housing managers have been guilty of racism in housing allocation practices and inhumanity in their treatment of the homeless.

Nevertheless it is also true that at its best, and for those who can get it. council housing has also been a means for workers to obtain low cost housing — a pitifully small step in the direction of recognising people's need for warm, dry, decent homes. But even that tiny glimmer of recognition of the importance of collective provision is now under attack. The government's main purpose in this legislation is the continued encouragement of home "ownership" and the removal from local authorities of the responsibility for housing. They aim to achieve these objectives in a number of ways:

  • Offering council tenants further inducements to buy their homes while at the same time discouraging local authorities from building any new homes for rent through new arrangements for housing finance (see below).
  • Setting up Housing Action Trusts (HATs) in certain inner city areas which will compulsorily take over all local authority tenancies in a designated area. Housing Action Trusts will be run by boards appointed (not elected) by the Secretary of State and unaccountable to either tenants or the local electorate.
  • The "Pick-a-Landlord" scheme — yet another Tory con-trick which uses the hijacked language of rights, freedom and choice. Under the proposals council tenants will be given the "right" to transfer their tenancy to a landlord of their choice — a tenants' co-op, housing association or private landlord. Once the tenancy has been transferred — and it won't be a case of individual houses or flats being transferred to new landlords but whole estates — it will not be able to be returned to the local authority.
Implications of the Housing Bill
The housing pressure group, Shelter, has said that the Bill will mean "a future where anyone who cannot afford to buy will find it almost impossible to find a decent home". There will be fewer council houses to rent — some will be sold off to tenants, others will pass to new landlords under the "Pick-a-Landlord" scheme. The remaining council houses will either be those that are in such poor condition that no-one wants to buy them even at hugely discounted prices or so expensive as a result of higher local authority rents (see below on Housing Finance) that workers on low incomes will not be able to afford to live in them. Some of the worst council houses will become "dump" estates for the homeless and "problem" families for whom local authorities will still have responsibility under the Homeless Persons Act.

Housing Associations have, until now, had a policy of providing good quality housing for people on low incomes or with special needs. Under the government's proposals. Housing Associations are intended to have an increased role in the provision of housing. However, they will also be forced to change their priorities and policies in order to fit in with the demands of that new role (see inset on Housing Associations). Firstly, they will be forced to raise their rents; secondly, they will be obliged to restrict the number of low income tenants in any development. In other words they will end up behaving in much the same way as any other large institutional landlord — providing housing for those who can pay rather than for those on low incomes or with special needs.

The removal of Rent Act protection and the establishment of new kinds of tenancies in the private rented sector (see below) is also likely to mean higher rents, harassment by landlords, illegal evictions and the selling of rented property by speculators at huge profits.

Meeting Housing Needs
The Housing Bill will be a disaster for all those workers who cannot afford to "buy'' their homes and especially for the homeless. For years people have been talking about a "housing crisis" in terms of the scale of homelessness and unfit, decaying housing stock. We should not be surprised that a government which barely disguises the fact that it panders to the interests of those with wealth and power at the expense of those with neither, should propose this Bill as an answer to that "housing crisis". It is, however, particularly sickening that it also hypocritically uses the language of "freedom of choice" in order to sell its proposals to workers who, in reality, have very little freedom or choice. For the majority are forced to "choose" to buy houses they cannot afford knowing that if they default on the mortgage "their" home will be repossessed by the bank or building society from whom they borrowed the money. Tenants are now to be given the "right" to choose a new landlord. In fact it will be the landlord who chooses them — or rather their homes — where he or she thinks they will prove to be a profitable investment. In most cases council estates will be attractive to new landlords for their land or for the sales potential of suitably gentrified houses. Council tenants’ "freedom'' to transfer to a new landlord may turn out to be freedom to be winkled out by landlords who want to sell their homes without the negative asset of a sitting tenant.

Clean, dry, warm, decent housing is a fundamental human need. Capitalism has never placed that need very high up its list of priorities. This Housing Bill makes that sad fact abundantly clear.
Janie Percy-Smith

Housing Finance
The government is proposing to change the way that Local Authorities manage their housing budgets by establishing an accounting measure called "ring-fencing". What this will mean is that councils will no longer be allowed to subsidise local authority rents using money from the general rates fund. If this happens there will have so be huge increases in council rents in order to compensate for the shortfall caused by the withdrawal of subsidies,

The continuation of the right so buy council homes at substantial discounts will exacerbate the tendency towards higher rents, since local authorities will no longer be able to limit she discount available to take account of building or renovation costs incurred on the property since 1974, as at present. The abolition of the ‘cost floor rule", as it's known, will mean that the council could build a house for £40,000 one day and the tenant could buy it the next for just £16,000 (a discount of 60 per cent). Obviously this will be a major disincentive to councils building new houses But it will also mean that the remaining local authority tenants who cannot afford or do not want to buy their homes will have to pay higher rents to subsidise the cost of houses sold under the new system as a result of the way that council house costs and rents are pooled.

Housing Associations
Housing Associations currently finance their projects by taking out loans from either the local authority or the government-funded Housing Corporation. Rents are fixed at "fair rent" level by the Rent Officer but are subsidised by grants which cover 85 per cent or more of the shortfall between cost and what can be raised by means of a "fair rent".

Cuts in the Housing Corporation's budget and in local authority expenditure have already reduced the money available for grants to Housing Associations. Under the government's latest proposals, grants to Housing Associations will be reduced — probably to a maximum of 50 per cent of the cost of house building or renovation schemes. The balance will have to be raised on the private money markets.

But for Housing Associations to be an attractive proposition for private investors they will have to expand — more properties mean more assets and more security for investors’ money — and they will also have to increase their rents to ensure that investors get a return on their capital.

The Private Rented Sector
Under ihe new legislation Rent Act protection will be abolished on all new lettings. Instead landlords will be able to let property using two kinds of tenancies:

Assured Tenancies — first introduced in 1980 for newly built properties owned by landlords registered by the government. The Housing Bill will extend the range of properties for which assured tenancies will be permitted which will mean more rights for landlords to set rent levels and determine the terms and conditions of tenancies. Tenants' rights will be correspondingly reduced.

Shorthold Tenancies — will last from between six months and five years. At the end of the agreed period the landlord will automatically regain possession of the property. Although tenants will still be able to get their rent registered by a rent officer the level will be determined in accordance with "the market" rather than a “fair rent'’ and so is likely to be higher.

Although housing benefits will still be available to help those on low incomes there is likely to be an upper limit set for rents in each area above which housing benefit will not be payable, in order to deter people on low incomes from moving into high-rent property, even where that is all that is available.