Sunday, June 9, 2024

Editorial: Slums doubled since 1933 (1955)

Editorial from the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

In their election manifesto, “United for Peace and Progress,” the Conservatives promised to start a programme for clearing the slums and aiming to rehouse “at least 200,000 people a year from them.” (P. 23).

As the Conservative Minister of Housing, Mr. Duncan Sandys, put the probable number of slum houses at a million (Manchester Guardian, 12/1/55) and as you can reckon that there are between three and four million people living in that million slum houses, it would take a very long time to clear the existing slums at the rate proposed. And in the meantime more slums will have appeared out of the other millions of old and dilapidated houses.

The Conservative manifesto went on to make the claim that “there has been only one full-scale slum clearance drive in British history, and that was when Conservatives were in office in the late ’thirties.”

But, according to the Labour Party’s “Handbook 1951” (p. 234), that Conservative slum clearance programme had closed or demolished only 245,000 slums by March, 1939, so that nearly half of the original 1933 estimate of 472,000 slums were still being lived in.

It will be observed that, according to this estimate, there are about four times as many slums now as there were in 1939 and double the number that existed in 1933.

Slum clearance fares no better in New York according to an article by Mr. Gerard Fay in the Manchester Guardian (9 May, 1955). There, too, they plan to abolish the slums and “the housing now planned, when built, will be a victory over a problem which must once have seemed insoluble, but it will be far from total victory.”

“At the end of 1952 there were still 426,792 apartments in the city which were more than 50 years old. This does not sound alarming by European standards but New York tenements more than 50 years old, especially in Manhattan, are often below, far below, any decent housing standard.”

He writes of “ the more than a 100,000 apartments in New York which have no private bath or toilet . . . an equal number which have no running water or are classified as * dilapidated,’. . .  the more than 50,000 which have cold water only.”

Lastly, “the housing shortage could be ended and the slum problem finally solved only by building something like 400,000 apartments. The present plans fall far below this ideal."

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