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Thousands march in London housing crisis protest

Government bill would force local councils to charge the same rents as private sector landlords

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 May, 2016, 3:28pm

Thousands of Londoners marched through the British capital on Sunday in protest over a government housing bill as residents feel the pinch of soaring rents and house prices.

Demonstrators have marched repeatedly against the Conservative government’s Housing and Planning Bill, which critics describe as an attack on those living in public housing.

Carrying banners reading “You’re heartless, we’re homeless” and “I’m not moving”, the crowds marched to the houses of parliament, where they held a rally addressed by activists and trade union representatives.

“It’s a bill which destroys social housing. The Tories are going to socially cleanse the centre of London so poor people and middle income people can’t afford to live there any more,” said Diane Abbott, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party.

We’ve been told to move along because you know, we are not rich enough to stay in these places any more
Samyia Walji, protester

Changes include a rule to force local councils to charge the same rents as private sector landlords if their tenants earn above a certain income level, and to make tenancies reviewable after a few years rather than indefinite.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has been accused of worsening a shortage of affordable housing by forcing councils to sell high-value housing, which is only partially replaced.

“The government is just going to sell our houses. You either pay or you move,” said protester Samyia Walji, who lives in social housing. “We’ve been told to move along because you know, we are not rich enough to stay in these places any more.”

As homelessness rises, the average London house price has risen 13.9 per cent in the past 12 months, according to figures released in January, reaching an average price of £530,409 (HK$5.9 million).

While London’s population is growing by around 100,000 people a year, just 25,994 new homes were built in the British capital last year, 9 per cent less than in 2014.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government defended the bill, saying more council housing had been built since Cameron became prime minister in 2010 than in the previous 13 years.

“The housing bill makes sure we make the best use of social housing based on need and income,” the spokesman said. “We have set out the biggest, boldest and most ambitious plan for housing in a generation.”