In October 2014, The Living Rent Campaign was founded in response to a Scottish Government Consultation on a new tenancy type for the Private Rented Sector (PRS) in Scotland.
Put simply, we’re demanding the type of change private tenants in Scotland, and across the UK, have needed for too long now. Security of tenure – protection from unjust ‘no fault’ evictions – and the re-introduction of the rent controls Thatchers’ Government scrapped so long ago.
100 years ago in 1915, Mary Barbour found herself in a similar situation to that so many of us do today. Rents were rising, quality was falling and tenants were being forced into absolute deprivation by slum landlords and a state that didn’t care. But Mary Barbour knew she could change it, and she knew the way to get them to listen and to change was through their pockets. She started a rent strike.
Tens of thousands joined her, and following mass demonstrations and rent strikes. spreading outwith the cities. Led by women private tenants they won within the year. Rent controls were introduced, capped to pre-war levels, and slum landlords were driven out.
Since those controls were scrapped in 1988, we have found ourselves in a housing crisis across the UK. With the PRS growing massively due to increasing house prices, wages stagnating and the death of social housing, many people are forced into the market with nowhere else to go.
But that market has failed, demand outstrips supply and people are forced to pay ever more for a necessity like a roof over their head. In towns and cities they can’t find cheap accommodation, it doesn’t exist.
Of course this disproportionately affects those the labour movement was founded to help the most – the working class. With the most marginalised in our society being the most likely to rent, people are the most likely to find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords if they are non-british, non-white immigrants with no support.
So we need to take back control. We need to seize the argument and remind ourselves that a house is a home. It isn’t a luxury. It isn’t another way for us to be exploited by capitalism.
We could win this fight in Scotland, and we’re lucky to be facing a much more progressive Government than the rest of the UK. But I want the argument to be won everywhere. So the Labour Party has to shift its focus, and we need to make. That process starts by you, their members, putting it onto the agenda.
However we shouldn’t assume that these things are won inside political parties, and we should recognise that some of the biggest change a society can, and has throughout history made, is through grass roots campaigns set up in our communities.
The Living Rent Campaign was never intended to be party political, and we have activists from right across the spectrum who recognise that where we might disagree on one thing, we can achieve so much together on others.
The Living Rent Campaign will be out on the streets as much as possible, speaking to the public and getting signatures on our petition to show the public support us.
If you live in Scotland, or will be visiting anytime soon, get in touch with @alasdair_clark on Twitter if you want to join us.
You can also sign our petition online no matter where you live and share it with your friends.