I argued in my last post that we should have a Citizen’s Income to guarantee a minimum amount for everyone in the drive to eliminate poverty. On top of that, the essentials for living need to be affordable. For example, I have previously argued that we should nationalise energy. Essential utilities should be publicly owned and provided by the state to ensure that they will always be affordable and profits won’t be siphoned off by for-profit companies.
Another basic requirement for living that needs to be reasonably priced to help rid ourselves of the poverty scandal is housing. Everyone needs somewhere affordable to live, but those who rent often do so at the whims of private landlords, who can charge what they like, and evict people for spurious reasons. For example, landlords can legally discriminate against those on benefits even if there have been no problems with their payments.
I also said in my last post that most people do not work in jobs that are directly related to making produce that is essential for our survival; we are a country that can easily produce above and beyond the survival essentials, and yet we still lack in these areas. More houses need to be built, and the government needs to commit money to spend on it. We need to concentrate on essentials before luxuries.
In some ways, the case for nationalising housing rental is stronger than the case for nationalising utilities such as gas, electricity and water. Making money simply by owning property is a perfect example of what is wrong in our society. Landlords make more wealth for themselves simply by passively having wealth in the first place. This creates a bigger gap between the wealthy and everyone else, fuelling inequality and poverty. We need to break this vicious circle. Not only that but they are subsidised by the state! They are also the biggest beneficiaries of housing benefit, so it is the public’s money – our money – being used to create a bigger gap between rich and poor.
Setting strict limits on what rent can be charged, as happens in some countries such as Germany and Canada, would be a good start, but nationalisation of housing rental should be the ultimate goal. Housing is a basic essential that should be provided by the state.
Of course, an outright ban on private tenancy might seem an extreme move. If someone has a spare room in their own house, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for them to have a paying lodger. And I wouldn’t be looking to stop this. It is houses that are purely owned for renting that I am concerned with. To start, the government needs to start building more houses and set its own rate for renting. This way, rent limit or not, landlords who charge high prices would simply be priced out of the market. But in the long term, houses that are owned purely for renting purposes could be compulsorily purchased by the government, and then let out by the government. Compulsory purchase orders are nothing new. They are often used to evict people from their own homes that they actually live in, for roads or other developments. Compulsory purchase of landlord’s rental houses is very minor in comparison as it would not force anyone out of their own home.
Is this illiberal? I would argue not. Land ownership more than any other sort of property ownership intrudes on the freedom of others. If I own some item, say a bike, then yes, it uses some the Earth’s natural resources (the material it is made of), but in the general scheme of things this is negligible, and it does not really mean that there is less stuff for other people. But land ownership is different. Land is limited in a much more obvious way, and I also think that there is on an intuitive level less of a right to claim ownership of it – to privately own part of the country. Often it has just been passed down through the generations, having initially been acquired through arguably dubious means. And the land ownership inequality we have in this country is enormous. According this article, 69% of the land in Britain is owned by 0.6% of the population. According to this article, 432 people own half the private rural land in Scotland. And according to this article, a third of the country still belongs to the aristocracy.
In any case, I’m not suggesting an outright ban on private land ownership. People who own houses that they live in would have nothing to worry about under my proposals. But people who own part of our country for no other reason than to passively make money from it should not be allowed to do so.