Let All The Children Boogie

A wise old man once wrote: ‘Give me a child till he’s seven, and I’ll give you the man’. David Bowie was born in Brixton, where he lived until the age of six. He was also born into the newly created Welfare State that this Tory government is working to demolish. A key tool of this demolition is the Housing and Planning Bill, which is being voted on in Parliament today.

The genius of Bowie was also the genius of the British working class, and that brief moment in time when it made this country known for something other than the Queen, first-class carriages and running other people’s countries. That’s all over now. Last year, the home where Bowie was born, a four-bedroom terrace house in Brixton, sold for £1 million. Whoever grows up there now, she won’t be the daughter of a waitress and a charity worker. So when hereditary millionaires like David Cameron call Bowie’s death ‘a huge loss’, we should consider what is being lost with him, and who is waging this class war.

The Housing and Planning Bill is long and complex, but these are its main attacks on social housing.

  • Replace the obligation to build homes for social rent with an enforceable duty to build state-subsidised Starter Homes provisionally capped at £450,000 in London and £250,000 across the rest of England.
  • Extend the Right to Buy to housing associations without the obligation to replace them with like for like, further depleting the number of homes for social rent.
  • Compel local authorities to sell what the government decides is ‘high value’ housing, exploiting London’s exaggerated property values either to transfer public housing into private hands or to free up its coveted land for property developers.
  • Force so-called ‘high income’ tenants with a total household income over £30,000 (£40,000 in London) to pay market rents, targeting low-income families.
  • Grant planning permission in principle for housing estates to be demolished and redeveloped as ‘brownfield land’.
  • Phase out secure tenancies and their succession to children and replace them with 2-5 year tenancies.

However, the effects of the Housing and Planning Bill will not be limited to existing residents of social housing, but will have an impact on everyone in England. The hundreds of thousands of families evicted from their homes will drive up an already inflated private rental market. The financial speculation on Starter Homes for the rich will further increase house prices, making it even harder for people to get on the property ladder. And the buy-to-let landlords, property investors and builders will get richer and fatter on state subsidies and enormous profit margins.

Last night, thousands of Londoners came out onto the streets of Brixton to say farewell to the Starman. But I like to think we were also there because there is a growing awareness that unless we do something soon, the Brixton and London we live in will soon be gone. There’s a Starman waiting to be born in every working-class home on every council estate in Britain. They won’t all turn into Bowie, but they all deserve the chance to try. Let all the children boogie.

Simon Elmer

Bowie Brixton