Big Capital: Who’s London For? by Anna Minton

The Blurb On The Back:

Revealing exactly what is causing London’s housing crisis – and what can be done.

London is facing the worst housing crisis in modern times, with knock-on effects for the rest of the UK.  Despite the desperate shortage of housing, tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of affordable homes are being pulled down, replaced by luxury apartments aimed at foreign investors.  In this ideological war, only market solutions to housing – which is a public good – are considered, which paradoxically makes the situation worse, because the market responds to the needs of global capital rather than ordinary people needing homes to live in.  In politically uncertain times, the housing crisis has become a key driver creating and fuelling the inequalities of a divided nation.  Anna Minto cuts through the complexities, jargon and spin to give a clear-sighted account of how we got into this mess and how we can get out of it.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Anna Minton’s timely book about the London housing crisis is a sobering and comprehensive look at the failures of both social housing and benefits policies, the built-in failures of so-called gentrification, the rise in overseas investment and the consequences for Londoners, including the rise of “generation rent” and the wider social implications for the capital but – disappointingly – is short on possible solutions.

Anyone who’s lived in London over the last 10 years won’t be surprised by the picture that Minton paints in this book.  Her chapter on the housing benefit crisis, which recounts how a combination of a lack in social housing plus cuts and caps on the level in housing benefit and changes to rights to social housing accommodation has led to councils effectively forcing people to agree to live in other cities hundreds of miles away or risk being deemed to have made themselves intentionally homeless is searing and stark and completely heart breaking and she makes the excellent point about the impact this has for those in those other cities who also need social housing.  Also excellent is her chapter on the demolition of London housing estates by councils in the name of “gentrification”.  Although I had been aware of the antics of property developers who do deals promising X% of social housing but then seek to lower it yesterday, the behaviour of the councils themselves was an eye-opener in terms of how they seek to force people off estates earmarked for gentrification (including deliberately running them down) and the dirty tricks that are deployed to defeat attempts to resist.

Where the book is weak though is on potential solutions.  She calls for a paradigm shift in housing policy, planning policy and the incorporation of the so-called “Right to a City” and a re-examination of the operation of property and land ownership and their relationship with taxation and seems to promote an approach where housing activists become involved in the political establishment (although her examples suggest this may not actually be as effective as hoped).

Ultimately despite its faults this is a book that deserves to find an audience within the United Kingdom because it is so effective at describing just why the London market is so dysfunctional and there are lessons there that the British government would do well to heed.

BIG CAPITAL: WHO IS LONDON FOR? was released in the United Kingdom on 1st June 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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