by Niall Dooris
Across the island of Ireland, decades of neo-liberal policy are being felt in the housing sector. In the past four decades, there has been an absolute failure to build affordable and social housing by both governments. The effects of this failure have been catastrophic. A recent statistic that 25% of homeless deaths in the UK have been in Northern Ireland, while our population only accounts for 2.8% of the UK’s total, really highlights the scale of this crisis.
In 2018, 55,000 people presented as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, while there are at least 6,000 children living in unstable or unsuitable housing. Furthermore, it is estimated that 75,000-156,000 live in a situation where they would prefer to live independently but don’t have the financial means to do so. This is the reality for many because rent and house prices are so high they continue to live with parents and so on. In March 2018, there were 36,198 people on the waiting list for social housing; the number of households in priority need of social housing is at an all time high. The fact is that there isn’t social housing available for these families.
In Dublin, we can see anger over the issue of social housing and homelessness reach boiling point. On 5th December, thousands came out onto the streets to demand action on the housing crisis. All over the country, they were joined by solidarity protests. This was an outpouring of working-class rage over the issue and there is already talk of turning the campaign into a mass movement of civil disobedience, like that which defeated the water charges. This is what will be needed to force action on the issue.
Under capitalism, this neglect of working-class needs should not be surprising. The fact is that, while the housing crisis has an enormous human cost, it is extremely profitable for the rich landlords and speculators. According to the logic of capitalism, this profit is preferable to your well-being. The solution is clear; mass construction of social housing on public land, while taking the big construction companies into democratic public ownership.
To bring this about, we need a mass anti-sectarian, working-class movement. The building of a cross-community, socialist alternative will be crucial to this. The power of the trade unions in the North should be brought to bear on this issue, which would bring the support of 250,000 organised workers. A campaign of this character would show that when the working class is united, it will never be defeated.