Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Not so long ago I knocked on a door in a freezing cold, rain-soaked street in Easton, Bristol. The house had water leaking through an unfinished kitchen ceiling and the floor was rotten.
In Easton 70% of homes are sub-standard – and rents rose almost 20% last year. But five months after I knocked on that door in January 2014, 100 Easton residents launched the first ACORN group in the UK, voting to campaign for renters’ rights, and setting us on course to build a powerful mass organisation for renters. It’s not just the rents that are rising.
Almost 12 million of us are renting. We are young families (now the majority of renters), retirees, young professionals, students, migrants, low waged and service workers. We represent the new working class: anyone who didn’t buy a house decades ago and isn’t wealthy enough to buy one now. We’re 25% of Britain today, and en route to be a majority of under 40s in eight years time. And we’re being screwed.
We pay up to 70% of our income in rent, have mouldy walls and leaking roofs, lose our deposits for no reason and pay hundreds of pounds in agency fees. Sometimes our landlords let themselves into our bedrooms, and blame us for things that happened before we moved in. Increasingly we’re evicted. In fact, five families in England are being made homeless every hour. The rise in evictions ‘coincidentally’ mirrors the rising rents.
From our roots in Easton, our union of renters and others affected by the housing crisis has grown to involve 20,000 members and branches in Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Reading, Sheffield and Weston-super-Mare, with allies organising in Manchester and London, and our sister organisation Living Rent organising in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
With our hybrid digital and face-to-face community organising model, focussing on peer support and collective direct action, our members step up to help each other out of housing problems and they stand together to win repairs, deposits and prevent evictions. What’s more, they’re turning ‘the renters’ into a powerful political constituency which is beginning to flex its muscles.
Take Bristol. Last month, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees – who took office in Bristol as Labour gained an overall majority in Bristol’s local elections last year – faced 100 tenants to update them on their progress toward addressing the city’s spiralling housing crisis.
Saying that tackling housing is the “single most effective policy” to ensure the best start in life, they declared ambitious plans to support community developments, run a council-owned building company and run the biggest social home building programme in the city for 30 years.
The tenants then broke into roundtables to discuss and mandate the city on further solutions. Innovative ideas were put back to the room, from organising with the major UK cities to lock out greedy developers, to short term solutions addressing rough sleeping and pushing for local powers to bring in rent-control.
These quarterly “Big Housing Conversations” – an unusual joint project between a renters’ union and a city council – are a mark of how our members are building a collective voice and putting housing firmly on the agenda.
Every campaign our members take on set the stage for organising growth and taking on bigger issues. We’ll always stand up for individual members (and tenants facing trouble should join our 800-strong Tenant Support Group on Facebook) but why build a voice if you don’t use it?
Over the last three years tenants’ action has prevented an emergency accommodation provider evicting sitting tenants to cream the profits, and extended landlord licensing to new areas.
We’ve even made a multinational bank back down, as tenant protests planned in eight cities pushed Santander to remove a clause in their buy-to-let mortgages requiring landlords raise rents to “the maximum”.
But it’s the positive steps from Bristol City Council – from adopting our renters’ charter into their new ‘rental standard’, to meeting tenants quarterly – that show the potential when tenants get organised and push politics to respond.
Together we are beginning to win on affordable housing. While Bristol’s policy demands 30 to 40% affordable housing (depending on area) in any new development, new developers were typically getting away with less than 10% by using dodgy ‘viability assessments’. Last month, the council forced developers to make the assessments public, and this week – while ACORN began mobilising thousands of members – councillors succeeded in getting a pledge of 100 affordable units out of a developer previously offering none.
Make no mistake, this is still a crisis. Long walks are made of small steps, but we need to push ourselves as hard as possible to leap forward. One in five renters have faced eviction, and the government is spending £3 billion on emergency accommodation. This makes the plan to axe housing benefit for 18 to 21 year olds this month a cruel joke (it will save just £3 million, and put 9,000 at risk of homelessness).
In this context, nothing short of a massive expansion of social housing will solve the problem. We need councils fully funded to enforce the housing laws they have. We need rent controls. And we need affordable homes in new developments. But most of all we need an end to the sell off of social housing, and just a tiny bit of this country’s massive wealth put into the cause of a home for all.
Political will is – as always – built on the back of mass organisation. Join the union today.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite