Britain’s Housing Crisis There has been a series on BBC looking at some of the problems facing local councils and others trying to help people in need of housing. We all know that the situation is bad, but it takes a programme like that to show just how bad it is. There are people living in squalor that you would not believe, rat infested areas, dead rats lying in alleyways, interior walls green with mildew, and they are paying private landlords exorbitant rents for the pleasure. There was one man with a family, a hard-working man with a wife with a debilitating illness, who was paying £2000 a month rent for a house that was not really fit to live in. At a time when there are just not enough houses it is criminal to allow extortion by landlords, because that is what it is. Much of the time in the programme has been devoted to efforts by councils to bring back into use properties that have been left empty for a long period, many of them derelict. A praiseworthy effort, no home should be left empty when people are crying out for shelter, but it is only scratching at the surface of the problem. We are slipping back into the bad old days that I remember from my childhood and never thought I would see again. In 1942, at the height of the war, the government gave approval to a report by William Beveridge which has come to be regarded as the blue-print for the welfare state, in those days there was a genuine wish by all politicians to improve the life of the least well off and, after the war, we saw most of Beveridge’s plan put into action, but now we are almost back to where we were. If Beveridge were still alive, he would be weeping. The root of the problem lies with Mrs Thatcher’s deregulation of the private renting sector together with the ‘Right to Buy’ policy. It was bad enough to force councils to sell houses for less than they would cost to replace, although perhaps fair enough for those who had lived there paying their rent for many years, but to forbid the councils from using the money to build new homes ensured that there would be fewer houses available for the council to house those in no position to buy. It also ensured that there would be fewer new houses being built. It was truly a crime perpetrated against the least well off, a crime committed by our own government. Some of those that did purchase their council house at a bargain price suddenly found themselves with a substantial equity, and some of them had never before had more than two beans. A number showed some lack of wisdom and yielded to the temptation to realise that equity. People in more fortunate circumstances saw the opportunity to invest in these houses and became private landlords and commenced renting those houses at far higher rents than the council had been charging. The situation was made worse when people with money were able to borrow money easily and cheaply and many houses that came on the market were bought on borrowed money by those intending to rent them out. Forcing the house prices up and ever-increasing rents. You all know all this, it is a situation of the government’s making, and, since Mrs Thatcher’s government created the situation, successive governments have sat on their hands and watched. I was a young man in the post-war period, I watched with some excitement and some joy at what the Labour government and councils of the day were doing in an effort to ease the housing shortage that had arisen as a result of enemy action and the inability to build during the war. I saw thousands of prefab buildings erected, they were cheap and not to a standard that would be acceptable today, but many people loved their prefabs and some were sorry when they were demolished decades later. I saw whole new towns, Crawley, Bracknell, Stevenage, Welwyn and Hatfield, Harlow, and tower blocks of new flats in the existing towns, flats that people were overjoyed to live in. Yes, it was realised later tower blocks had their short comings, but the effort was there (many of those tower blocks are now in private ownership and have expensive flats). They built a million homes, 80% were council. The next Tory government continued the programme, and pursued a policy of slum clearance, that was the time when the Tory Party was a caring Party, not the pretend one that it is today. The current situation is a national disgrace of enormous proportions. At last the restriction on council house building has been lifted, allowing councils to borrow to build may help, but councils have been so starved of cash that they can hardly contemplate heavy borrowing, so that is not going to solve the housing crisis. Theresa May’s government did make promises of building hundreds of thousands of homes, but they did not actually do very much, relying on the private sector and not doing anything very much to encourage, or ease the path for private developers. Help to buy schemes for first time buyers seem to have pushed prices higher so that the help is swallowed up by price increase. Boris has said very little about housing, I’m not sure that he knows a crisis exists. Ten years ago, following an in-depth study, Sir William Marmot produced a report; ‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives’. Recently he has produced a new report; ‘Health Equity: The Marmot Review 10 Years On’. His conclusion was that life expectancy has stalled for the first time in 100years and for women in poorest communities it has declined, he concluded that England has lost a decade. Much of the problem with ill health is due to poor housing. What is needed is a full-scale assault on the housing problem with some of the vigour that was shown back in 1945-55.
More on Saving the Planet I said last month that I could only see using hydrogen as a fuel as a way of making air travel carbon neutral. I remembered later that, many years ago, when I was working on rocket engines, we did look briefly at ammonia (NH3) as a possible fuel. It is a possibility as a fuel for jet engines and even car engines, and I believe there has been work on using it for fuel cells. It does have some advantages over hydrogen, but it does bring some major problems with it. In ‘your local paper’ recently was the report on a road test of the Kia e-Niro all electric car. The report was glowing and did provide some technical details: The battery has a 64kWh capacity (180Ah) and weighs 457kg (almost half a tonne and not far off half the weight of the rest of the car). The report did not say what sort of battery, but one would guess that it would be lithium-iron. The power output available is 201bhp, comparable with some super-cars, and capable of providing some brisk acceleration, 0-60 in 7.5s with a top speed of 104mph. (Not quite super-car performance but super-cars are not so heavy) Of course, the sixty-four-dollar question is: What is the range? The tester reported that he covered 280miles on one full charge, which is very commendable. The second important question is how much? £36,495 – the government grant of £3,500 = £32,995. The tester said “For me the Kia gives a lot for very little money” !!? The report does make the car appear to be a viable proposition, but there are many questions not least, how long would that half tonne of battery last? And how much would it cost to replace? What was his average speed that enabled him to cover of 280miles? 64kWh of battery capacity would not get that far on a motorway at motorway speeds. Nevertheless, the car does look practical for most every-day use and overnight charging on a domestic circuit at say 7kW would come close to a full charge and would possibly be enough for two or three days of commuting and other daily use.