The Divide: ‘must-watch’ documentary

Rosanna Hutchings from campaign group Renters' Rights London explains why they hosted a public screenings of this documentary

July 28, 2016
5 min read

phoneThe Divide is a new documentary that offers a stinging critique of the capitalist philosophy sold to the Western world. Focusing on the UK and the US, it tells the story of seven individuals striving for a better life in in a society where the top 0.1 per cent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent. It examines both economic and social trends, ultimately exposing a division in society that is perpetuated by fear rather than fairness. With insightful commentary from academics, Wall Street bankers and economic advisers – mixed with the thoughts and personal stories of people from all walks of life – it traces the historical process of adopting neoliberal free market economics at the expense of ordinary people.

So what’s that got to do with renters’ rights? Well, on one level, the UK’s current housing system – which encourages anyone with a small amount of capital to buy a home then rent it to a tenant at a rate that could easily leave the tenant without enough money for food or heating – is a huge driver of the inequality that the film discusses.

On another level, we were interested in the film’s focus on how people justify their economic status and their position of advantage. Private landlords repeatedly resist attempts to regulate the sector, even arguing against having to meet basic safety standards. This is what makes a film like this relevant to renters’ rights. Psychologist Paul Piff argues that we have seen the pursuit of self-interest over collective interest, resulting in a ‘moralisation’ of greed, with greed seen as a good mentality. As Wall Street analyst Cathy O’Neil puts it: once you have cleaved off ethical considerations, you are incredibly efficient.

That’s what’s relevant to the renting debate. London’s 2.5 million private renters frequently find themselves victims of no-fault evictions, uncontrolled rent rises and poor conditions, yet when policy makers suggest anything resembling a fairer system, private landlords argue that it would damage their profits and their assets. We need to be having a discussion about buy to let landlords, what they can reasonably be allowed to charge their tenants, and in return for what kind of treatment.

The Divide’s focus is on income inequality, with attention drawn to the CEO of Walmart who earns 1,000 times the average income of his sales assistants. Director Katherine Round exposes a system in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As archival footage shows the technology boom leading to a rise in sports car sales, this is accompanied by adverts for short-term loans such as those offered by Wonga. It is a matter of accountability. As the former Vice President of Deutsche Bank puts it, ‘to Wall Street, debt is just a product that they can buy and sell and package. So it’s just another way for them to get as much profit as they want. They treat it as such. They treat it like a game.’

But it is not a game that private renters can win. In an unregulated rental market, private renters have little choice but to pay whatever rent is demanded in order to pay off the mortgages of their landlords. New research from Centre for London shows that housing costs are linked to living standards, and that the proportion of private renters living in poverty increased from 23 per cent in 2001 to 33 per cent in 2011. The majority of these are in work. Research from Trust For London last year found the number of children living in poverty in London’s private rented sector has doubled to a quarter of a million.

The way out of the private renting sector is increasingly restricted. Social mobility is at an all time low, and it is those who are born into wealth that achieve wealth. This can be applied to housing in the UK, where it is now only those who can depend on family wealth that are able to get a mortgage, as buying is impossible based on salary alone.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The film depicts three of the individuals challenging the dominant narrative by speaking to the press and joining worker strikes. When it comes to private renting, the situation in the rest of Europe is different. There are more rights for renters, more regulation and more rent controls. At Renters’ Rights London, we talk about renters’ rights all the time – not because renters currently have lots of them (we don’t), but because we have to try first to introduce people to the idea that we could have any.

Inequality is not about economics, it is also a human problem. Director Katherine Round’s interviews with individuals are intense and enlightening, and offer a counter-narrative to what is commonly heard in the media.

The documentary works to draw our attention to the institutions and attitudes that prioritise getting ahead with no attention to the consequences. As one commentator notes, ‘Inequality isn’t caused by a few bad apples. It’s the actual barrel that’s bad.’ In the film, he’s talking about the banking crisis, but it could just as easily apply to the way we structure the housing system. It is the barrel itself: the institutions, the structures and the collective sense of what is an acceptable thing to do to another person.

Find your nearest screening at www.thedividedocumetary.com


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


93