Saturday`s Money section in the Guardian on the problems facing those renting privately, and a recent editorial, both acknowledged that "all the parties see housing as a major election issue", with Labour in particular, pledging to "improve the lives of tenants in the private rented sector". However, with many tenants already paying as much as 50-60% of their income on rent, it is difficult to see how Labour`s proposed cap on future rent rises will ease the problem. The charity consortium, Just Fair, reported that a quarter of those renting "rely on housing benefits to meet the cost" of what are clearly, in many cases, exorbitant rents, especially as over 30% of this accommodation does not meet "basic standards of health, safety and habitation". This situation has to change; taxpayers cannot be expected to provide, as they did last year, £9.2bn to private landlords in housing benefit, who profit not only from the renumeration provided by the high rent they charge, but also from the failure by tenants` employers to pay the living wage. Tory proposals will undoubtedly compound the problem, as extending the right-to-buy policy to 1.3m housing association tenants could well see yet more property being bought cheaply by private landlords, as happened under Thatcher; in Wandsworth, for example, 40% of the council flats originally bought by the tenants are now owned by private landlords!
What, evidently, is needed is for the next government to place all matters relating to renting and owning property under the auspices of a Ministry of Housing, whose remit would include responsibility for inspecting all rented accommodation. Depending on size, condition and locality, all such property could be placed in bands, similar to council tax ones, with the appropriate level of rent for each band set by the government. It is absolute nonsense to continue with the present policy where modern-day Rachmanism is allowed to flourish. With the "balance of power on the side of the landlords", the editorial`s conclusion summed up the situation perfectly: housing has to be "rescued from speculation".