The Myth of the Good Landlord

Boarded up houses in Kensington, Liverpool

Boarded up houses in Kensington, Liverpool

The Myth of the Good Landlord

… or, Why Landlordism is Inherently Exploitative

By Tom Lavin (@tomlavin13)

By way of an Introduction

This article was originally published on the Greater Manchester Housing Action website in June 2020.

I believe it deserves greater distribution as it argues, in a clear and accessible manner, the issue surrounding the existence of private landlords in Britain and what that means for those who are at their mercy.

The present difficulties from which private renters are suffering weren’t caused by the covid-19 pandemic – events of the last ten months or so have merely exacerbated the problem. At the same time the present ‘crisis’ has pointed the spotlight on a failing in British society which had been pushed into the background in the past by the obsession of ‘home ownership’, the ‘housing ladder’ (I’m still looking for the cretin who first came up with that concept, which apart from anything else helped to inflate housing prices) and the concern for the ‘first time buyer’.

The problem so many people have in acquiring decent, rented accommodation is only one of the issues they have to contend with in capitalist society. The majority of those who are forced into renting from private landlords are also more likely to be in low paid and/or insecure jobs, having to juggle their budgets through the uncertainties caused by short term or zero hours contracts. And in the present pandemic they are the people most likely to have lost their jobs – or had their hours reduced.

Such a situation has seen real suffering throughout the country resulting in the number of people dependent upon food banks going through the roof. As well as the growing dependence of so many people on food handouts so the arguments (and U-turns) which led to the extension of free school meals shouldn’t be considered a victory or a demonstration of a caring society. The UK is one of the top ten richest countries in the world and the admission that so many of its population (many of whom are in full time work) need such support to be able to live a basic life should be considered a disgrace. Politicians who proclaim the need for such support should hang their heads in shame – as indeed, so should the rest of the population who are not (yet) in a similar situation.

Some of us argued in the 1970s that a considerable minority of the population were just ‘one wage packet away from destitution’. It’s taken a pandemic to show the validity of that statement. It is hoped that people don’t forget it in the future.

After the outbreak of the pandemic it took weeks for the Government to declare that there would be a ban on evictions – and that only happened following campaigning work by those supporting private renters. On the other hand support for those with a mortgages, other proposals aimed at sustaining the property market and the shovelling of more public cash into property speculators’ bank accounts were announced within days.

Whilst billions of pounds have been handed over to private business, both big and small (and a not insignificant amount allowed to be stolen by fraudsters, gangsters and thieves, due to lack of due process and monitoring by government agencies) there has been no long term support for private renters, many some of the most needy in the present circumstances. Although ‘mortgage holidays’ have been agreed for home buyers rent arrears will continue to accrue for private (and social) renters but there is no support for those people who will find the payment of such arrears a near impossibility.

When the ban on evictions comes to an end there will be thousands of households in severe difficulties due to no fault of their own. The incompetence of the Government in its ‘handling’ of the pandemic has caused hundreds of thousands of redundancies, especially of those who rent their homes. The lack of understanding and sympathy by the Government to their plight over such an extended period will also be resulting in extreme levels of stress amongst most of those people – stress which can lead to other problems in the familial context.

Tenants and community unions such as Acorn (in England) and Living Rent (in Scotland) are preparing for the worst and expect an avalanche of eviction notices once the ban on them is lifted.

Frederick Engels on Housing

Even though it was written almost 150 years ago it’s worthwhile making reference to Engels’ pamphlet ‘The Housing Question’, which was first published in 1872. Although, obviously, the situation in Europe and Britain at that time was very different from what it is now there are still some general principles and ideas that are as valid now as they were then. (Those interested in housing issues could do a lot worse than reading this short booklet as he puts any local struggle into a much wider context.)

After examining the situation in various European countries Engels comes to the conclusion that;

‘Capitalism does not desire to abolish the housing shortage even if it could.’ p59

In the same way neither does capitalism want to see the end of unemployment, the end of discrimination, the end of poverty, the end of war – even the end of the pandemic. All those ‘social ills’ to the working class are what maintain capitalism by dividing the workers and also provide capital with its profits. So to do away with the ‘social ills’ would mean doing away with the profits – the reason for capitalism’s existence.

Engels further puts the struggle for decent housing for all into the context of a capitalist reality;

‘…. it is not that the solution to the housing question simultaneously solves the social question, but only by the solution of the social question, that is, by the capitalist mode of production, is the solution of the housing question made possible.’ p50.

He also argues that, in reality, there’s no real ‘housing shortage’, only the will to resolve the problem;

‘In the beginning, however, each social revolution will have to take things as it finds them and do its best to get rid of the most crying evils with the means at its disposal. … the housing shortage can be remedied immediately by expropriating a part of the luxury dwellings belonging to the propertied classes and by compulsory quartering in the remaining part.’ p51.

Or bring the thousands of boarded-up houses throughout the country up to a decent standard and make them available for use rather than their being the toys of property speculators.

There are limits to what can be achieved in the present reality when it comes to fighting for decent housing;

‘It is perfectly clear that the existing state is neither able nor willing to do anything to remedy the housing difficulty. The state is nothing but the organised collective power of the possessing classes, the landowners and the capitalists as against the exploited classes, the peasants and the workers. What the individual capitalists …. do not want their state also does not want. If therefore the individual capitalists deplore the housing shortage, but can hardly be persuaded even superficially to palliate its most terrifying consequences, then the collective capitalist, the state, will not do much more. At most it will see to it that the measure of superficial palliation which has become standard is carried out everywhere uniformly.’ p67

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be fighting for better housing (as is the case for other social conditions such as employment, wage levels, education, health and other social amenities). Engels is just pointing out the limitations.

Introduction: Good Landlord/Bad Landlord

Nominally ‘progressive’ housing charities, NGOs, politicians and newspapers are all quick to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ landlords (for a particularly craven example). When they want to add a bit of drama, they enjoy describing the bad landlords as ‘rogue’.

Whilst it is necessary to identify subcategories within landlordism (clearly some landlords behave better relative to others) it is a mistake to describe the relatively better forms of landlordism as in any way ‘good’. To do so is to take renters for idiots.

An analogy: it is preferable to have £5 stolen from you than £50, but you would not describe the theft of £5 as being a ‘good theft’.

The Cotton Mills of Victorian Manchester

When Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels wrote about the exploitation of Mancunians working in Victorian cotton mills, they argued the relationship between mill owner and worker was inherently exploitative:

  1. When an employee worked in the mill, they produced something of economic value to the mill owner. This had to be the case, as a rule. If the worker did not do so, there would be no commercial sense in the owner employing them and paying their wages. To give a simplified example, a weaver in a mill might transform a bag of raw cotton worth £1 into cloth worth £3, creating £2 of economic value for their employer.
  2. For the employment of the worker to make commercial sense to the mill owner, the wages they paid the worker had to be less than the actual economic value of the employee’s work as a rule. Were this not the case, the owner would not make any money themselves as the economic value created by the worker (£2 in our simplified example above) would be immediately cancelled out by payment of £2 to the worker in wages!

Marx and Engels argued the fact there had to be a gap between the economic value of what the worker produced and the wages they received proved the workers were being exploited by the mill owners; their wages did not reflect the true value of their work.

The myth of the ‘good cotton mill owner’

Fast forward 150 years, and Mancunian children are taken on school-trips to a former cotton mill situated by Manchester Airport known as Quarry Bank Mill. The visits serve as a sort of civic rite of passage for young residents of a city once nicknamed ‘Cottonopolis’.

On guided-tours children are told, whilst there were many cruel cotton mill owners, the owners at Quarry Bank were some of the better employers of the era, providing half-decent workers’ cottages and an education for the child-labourers they employed (things their peers did not always do).

If we assume the tour guides’ claims are true and the owners were significantly better employers than their cotton mill owning peers, Marx and Engels would still maintain the arrangement the Quarry Bank owners had with their workers was inherently exploitative:

By paying wages that were less than the value of the labour being provided by the workers, they were ripping their workers off. To return to our theft analogy, they may have been stealing less than their fellow mill owners, but they were committing theft nonetheless.

The myth of the ‘good landlord’

Imagine the landlord equivalent of the romanticised Quarry Bank Mill owners, the idealised ‘good landlord’.

You are probably imagining a landlord who is prompt and attentive when there is disrepair in your home but at other times gives you ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the property. They do not charge a large sum for a deposit at the start of your tenancy and take a fair, common-sense view on the concept of ‘reasonable wear and tear’ at the end of it. Although they need to turn a profit for the arrangement to be commercially viable to them, they charge rent that is below the market rate for your area.

Even in this idealised, very rarely seen in the wild, scenario, the relationship between landlord and renter is still inherently exploitative if we apply reasoning similar to Marx and Engels:

If the landlord charged only what it cost them to supply the property to the renter, they would not make any money, making the arrangement a waste of time from their perspective. Therefore, for the arrangement to be commercially viable for the Landlord, they must as a rule charge the renter, a level of rent that is above the actual costs they incur in supplying the property.

Defences of entrepreneurialism

Marx and Engel’s views on mill owners have not gone unchallenged over the past 150 years.

Defenders of mill owners argue that, by being the people who had the initial idea to open a cotton mill, by taking a risk investing their money in machinery needed to weave cotton (when there was no guarantee doing so would be commercially successful) and by completing the administrative task of running the mill, they were justified in taking for themselves some of the economic value created by the employee’s hard work.

Each reader will have their own opinion on how much credence should be given to these arguments. (As an aside I would suggest anyone sympathising with the mill owners investigates how it came to be that a few individuals at that time had the wealth available to become cotton mill owners whilst everyone else had nothing!) If you are feeling unsympathetic towards mill owners, try instead to picture an entrepreneur you have some degree of admiration for.

It is perhaps hard not to respect the proprietors of the first curry houses on Rusholme’s Wilmslow Road, (setting up long before it was known as the ‘Curry Mile’).

Immigrants, new to rainy 1950s Manchester, an unfamiliar and sadly frequently racist place, risked everything to open restaurants, gambling that their fellow Asians, newly employed in textile mills across Greater Manchester and beyond, would travel to visit for a taste of home, and that the existing local population would take a liking to food from the other side of the world.

When you think of the risk and stress endured and the skill involved in running such operations, combined with all the cumulative joy the restaurants brought to the city, few would seek to deny the restaurant owners some financial reward for their contribution to society.

But the things that make us respect these curry house pioneers cannot easily be applied to what landlords do. In fact, when we try to apply the defences of entrepreneurialism to landlordism, it is remarkable how comprehensively they fall flat.

Applying the defences of entrepreneurialism to landlordism

No equivalent skill or ingenuity is required to buy housing, the only thing the prospective landlord needs is money or access to finance. To notice that there is a demand for shelter during a housing crisis requires about the same level of observation as noticing there is a demand amongst humans for drinking water.

A landlord might argue they possess a skill in predicting in advance when a residential area will ‘gentrify’ and that they use their skill to invest shrewdly in such areas to bring themselves greater profit margins. Such a ‘skill’ is of no benefit to society, so is unclear why it warrants financial reward.

Minimal bravery is required to invest in a buy to let property. In the unlikely event a landlord fails to find some desperate soul to rent their purchase to, they still have a capital asset that is likely to have appreciated in value.

The administrative burden of being a landlord is minimal when compared with running a cotton mill or a curry house. Arranging viewings, having to occasionally call a plumber, supplying annual gas safety certificates etc. are not arduous tasks. Despite this, many landlords either fail to fulfil their small role adequately or sub-contract to a letting agent (who is usually effectively paid for by the renter through further inflated rent).

The idea landlords might bring happiness or ‘spark joy’ for renters in the way restaurant proprietors might do for their patrons is of course risible, as every renter living in HMO Magnolia-land will be quick to attest.

Can an alternate ‘pragmatic’ defence of mill owners be applied to landlordism?

Mill owners might accept that the relationship they had with their workers was inherently exploitative, but argue any unfairness was ultimately justified by the productive nature of the arrangement and its results.

It is indisputable that mill owners’ employment of their workers saw raw cotton transformed into cloth on an industrial scale, that this was something society benefited from, and that the purchases of the cloth enabled the workers to receive a wage that was sufficient for (at least some of them) to survive. Without this arrangement, however unfair, how else would the workers have survived?

Whatever merits we believe this defence may or may not have in relation to cotton mills, it is difficult to see how it could be applied to the landlord and renter relationship. Landlordism is just not productive in the same way that a cotton mill is.

An indignant landlord might at this stage point to the millions of people in the UK living in rented accommodation as proof of landlordism’s productive output, but to do so would be a sleight of hand.

By the time a landlord takes ownership of a home, the home already exists. (There are a small minority of occasions where this is not the case e.g. a landlord who purchases a property at auction that is unfit for human habitation and carries out work to make it habitable could arguably be said to have brought a home into existence. For such landlords, the subsequent section does not apply.) The workers involved in the hard work of physical construction give society its housing stock and the renter their shelter, not the landlord.

Landlords are closer to Hand Sanitizer Hoarders than Curry House Pioneers

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, opportunists bulk purchased hand sanitizer before re-selling it at extortionate prices. This led to widespread condemnation, even Boris Johnson denounced their ‘profiteering’.

These profiteers did not manufacture their own hand sanitizer, no additional hand sanitizer was made available to society because of their actions, they just took ownership of a limited resource leaving desperate people at their mercy.

The parallels with landlordism should cause landlords moral discomfort.

In fact, in certain respects, the behaviour of landlords is worse. The hand sanitizer profiteer eventually transfers ownership of the commodity they have hoarded, the landlord withholds the right of ownership from the renter, preferring to profiteer month by month for as long as they please. There is also something particularly repugnant about profiteering from those who are almost certainly poorer than you are.

What is the actual cost to the landlord of supplying a property to a renter?

Given the traditional landlord battle-cry “I’ve got my own bills to pay too don’t you know!” readers may be surprised to learn nearly half (45%) of landlords own their renters’ homes outright i.e. without a mortgage.

For these landlords, the ongoing cost of supplying a property to a renter is limited to the costs incurred keeping the property in a good state of repair and fit for human habitation.

In comparison to average rents these costs are negligible.

According to research by the insurer ‘More than’, the national average expenditure necessary on a three-bedroom home for repair work, maintenance and buildings insurance is only £73.17 per month. (£17.76 on buildings insurance and £55.41 on house maintenance)

In comparison, the average rent on a three-bedroom home in Manchester in 2018 was £895.00 per month, more than 10 times the average ongoing cost to the mortgage-free landlord in supplying the property.

To put it another way, such a landlord’s yearly costs would be covered by payment of their first months’ rent (with change to spare), with every payment thereafter pure profit.

But what about costs incurred by the landlord in acquiring the property?

In acquiring their asset, some landlords will have had the good fortune to have become owners of a property at no cost to themselves e.g. following an inheritance from a wealthy parent. Most, however, will have had to either invest savings or take out a mortgage to pay for their asset, or some combination of the two.

To the landlords who took out a mortgage and had renters living in the property for the lifetime of the mortgage, we can say with accuracy; the renters living in the property were the ones who paid off the mortgage, not you. 

As outlined above, for an arrangement to be commercially viable for a landlord, they must as a rule charge the renter a level of rent that is above the actual cost they incur in supplying the property. The mortgage, deposit, stamp duty etc. are all costs incurred in supplying the property so are inputted into the rent.

It is therefore unjustifiable, once mortgage free, to use the original cost of purchasing the asset as grounds for charging rent above the ongoing cost of supplying the property. The original purchase price is a cost previous tenants have already borne. Despite this, readers will note landlords never issue their tenants with significant rent reductions once the mortgage is paid off!

But what of landlords who have used hard-won savings (we will be charitable and assume they have not just acquired wealth through inheritance!) in order to purchase their asset, or landlords who have an outstanding mortgage that they must make payments towards each month. Should the original cost of investing to purchase their asset and/or their outstanding mortgage payments be factors in a fair calculation when setting rent for their tenants?

“No taxation without representation!”

If landlords want someone else, i.e. renters, to cover the costs of acquiring ownership of their assets, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest, as a basic point of fairness, ownership of the assets are transferred to the ones doing the actual paying in exchange.

Under the current system landlords seek to have their cake and eat it at the renter’s expense.

When America was a colony of the UK, Americans fighting for independence highlighted a basic unfairness (that they were obliged to send taxes to the Crown but were not allowed to send representatives to Parliament to have a say how those taxes should be spent) with the rallying cry “No taxation without representation!”.

Renters could issue a similar, albeit less catchy, slogan; “No paying landlords’ costs of acquisition without transference of ownership!”

Landlordism should be actively discouraged

Under no duress the landlord takes it upon themselves to behave like a hand sanitizer hoarder.

(An argument could be made that there is a level of economic duress, that under the current system landlords are forced to make such investments and exploit renters to give themselves a pension. There may be a degree of truth to this (one way or another capitalism makes monsters of us all, how many readers can say with confidence the clothes they have on were not made in a sweatshop in conditions similar to a Victorian cotton mill?) but this is an argument to improve the state pension, not an argument for landlordism.)

They acquire ownership of a pre-existing home, simultaneously preventing anyone who might want to live in the property themselves from doing so, in the hope their ownership will enable them to make money out of those in need.

That they encumber themselves with mortgage debt or use up their savings to achieve this morally dubious aspiration, is their choice for which they need to take personal responsibility.

When landlords choose to behave in this way, society has no obligation to indulge or humour their behaviour. On the contrary, we have a moral obligation to deter such anti-social acts.

As Danny Dorling writes in All that is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster (Allen Lane 2014):

“If people hoarded food on the basis its value was sure to go up when others began to starve and would pay anything, we would stop their hoarding. But hoarding is now happening with shelter in the most unequal and affluent parts of the world”

It is unlawful for landlords to profit from re-sale of water, why is re-sale of shelter any different?

Sometimes, because of the layout of the plumbing in certain properties, usually old houses that have been sub-divided into flats, it is impossible for water companies to provide individual water bills for each household.

When this is the case, the landlord of the building will receive one water bill for the entire property and then invoice each household for their portion of the bill based on a formula set out in law that forbids the landlord from making a profit.

It is unlawful for landlords to make a profit from the re-sale of water as it is recognised it would be morally abhorrent to profiteer from something so necessary to human survival when the water company has already done so.

Given shelter’s own importance to human survival and given the builders and everyone else involved in construction have already been paid, there is no obvious reason why re-sale of shelter should be treated differently.

Our housing stock has already been paid for. That we continue to pay for it again and again in perpetuity is a form of collective madness.

Consider the housing in your neighbourhood; the workers who dug the clay that made the bricks have been paid for their work, as have the builders who laid the bricks, as have the loggers who felled the trees and the carpenters who constructed the floors, as have the workers who quarried the slate and the roofers who laid the tiles. Everyone involved in the physical creation of the housing stock of the nation has been paid. (William Sorenson uses similar imagery in his excellent article.)

Yet as renters we are, under threat of eviction and homelessness, forced to spend an unforgivable amount of our limited time on earth working to earn wages to pay and repay for perpetuity for this housing stock that has already been paid for!

Picture a renter who has lived in their home for 30 years. Over this time they will pay rent each month at a rate their landlord calculates is necessary to cover;

  • The Landlord’s mortgage payments, deposit, stamp duty etc.
  • The cost of keeping the property in a good state of repair and fit for human habitation.
  • The Landlord’s profit– i.e. the amount on top of the cost of supplying the property that makes the arrangement worthwhile to the landlord.

After 25 years, the renter has paid off their landlord’s mortgage (of course, their rent is not reduced to reflect this landmark!). Several years later, the landlord retires and decides to sell the property to a new landlord. The new landlord takes out a mortgage to purchase their asset, and it is now the role of the renter to toil away to pay this off for them.

On and on this merry go round will go until housing is taken out of the hands of commercial landlords.

Breaking away from landlordism and moving towards a ‘People’s rented sector’

If we broke away from landlordism, our housing costs would be limited to the cost of keeping our homes in a good state of repair and fit for human habitation, alongside a small contribution to the costs of continually replenishing the nation’s housing stock. (This could either be done by a small surcharge applied to rent or, more equitably as part of a progressive taxation system.)

For most renters this would represent a life changing reduction in housing costs. We would then all have the choice to either use the money saved on things that actually bring us happiness or cut our working hours giving us more leisure time to do the things that bring us happiness. And we would do so living without fear of homelessness. The overall benefit to society would be immense.

Landlords currently own our homes, but this can be changed. The renters’ rights movement ought to see transference from landlords to common ownership as our ultimate goal, what Joe Bilsborough terms a ‘People’s Rental Sector’.

Under current laws, to bring our homes into common ownership landlords would need to be compensated but the cost would be nowhere near as daunting as you might first think.

The alternative to taking ownership away from landlords is to keep renters chained to an exploitative relationship for perpetuity. If we believe landlordism should end at some point, why shouldn’t it be in our lifetimes?

When Nye Bevan founded the NHS in the aftermath of the second world war, he remarked he was only able to do so and placate his detractors by ‘stuffing their mouths with gold’.

The post- COVID-19 global recession will offer fertile ground for radical change similar to 1945. If we want to free people from housing costs the way Bevan freed people from healthcare costs, a similarly pragmatic attitude towards compensating profiteers in order to break free from their control may be required. Just like the NHS, doing so would be worth every penny.


Tom Lavin is a member of ACORN Liverpool’s organising committee and a Justice First Fellow working in housing law at Merseyside Law Centre. He previously worked for Shelter as a housing adviser.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Alex Hendrikson, Hamish Reid and Isaac Rose who took the time to read an early draft and all gave very helpful advice.

8 June 2020

A printed version of this article has also recently been produced, available from Greater Manchester Housing Action.

Britain still in covid-19 lock down – with the lunatics in charge of the asylum

More on covid pandemic 2020-2?

Britain still in covid-19 lock down – with the lunatics in charge of the asylum

The same issues keep on coming up and the Government of the Buffoon (but with the Buffoon himself stating out of the limelight) still makes policy decisions which most find mind-boggling. Welcome to Britain – but if you come after 8th June be prepared to put yourself in a 14 day quarantine.

Testing

The much vaunted figure of 100,000 tests per day was, surprise, surprise, attained on 31st April – but not on too many days since. And in place of an investigation into why numbers are not going up we are merely given another number and another target date.

But some doubts have been cast on whether the information is even accurate, with the possibility that some tests are being counted twice. That might be a valid approach if that was the way they have been counted in the past – but shouldn’t have people been informed of that? I’m sure than most people would have thought that the number of tests carried out was, in fact, the same as the number of people tested.

I might be missing something but is the Government still declaring how many tests are carried out each day? It seems those numbers were bandied about when it suited but things have gone quiet as the targets are difficult to attain. And now all the news is about the new antigen test. So two different tests which will cause even greater confusion and make it almost impossible to know what is going on.

Test – Track – Isolate

Adam Kucharski, working on the mathematical analysis of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Radio 4, World at One, 21st May;

Q. Is the NHS Confederation correct that there should be no lifting of lock down until a plan for contact tracing is in place?

‘Countries have to be very careful about lifting restrictions without having something to replace them that can ensure a reduction in transmission. Over time we can have more targetted measures, such as track and trace, when we don’t need the more blanket measures. We are still seeing infections appear so we have to be cautious in how we lift those measures.’

Q. Are other European countries lifting lock down measures without track and trace in place?

‘It’s not entirely clear what the long term strategy is in some of the countries. If you lift restrictions then outbreaks can occur and be spread fairly easily so unless there’s something to replace restrictions you may well see other outbreaks occur.’

Q. How easy is it to have personnel doing the contact tracing and is the app necessary?

‘We probably need both these things to work in tandem. Manual contact tracing is labour intensive and if you look at countries who have done this, like S Korea, they have access to a lot more data, such as credit card transactions, phone location data. Even with that level of oversight very quickly the manual effort can increase. The app can particularly pick up contacts that are very difficult to trace. To identify someone in your own house is very easy, identifying some one you sat two tables away from in a restaurant would be much harder. Here apps could potentially add a lot more value.’

Q. Do apps need to be closely integrated to those doing the manual work?

‘From a public health point of view these things are always more effective if you integrate them because then you don’t have them overlapping in effort and wasting resources. Also we need to be thinking about social distancing measures that remain in place alongside these. Other countries that have used contact tracing have still kept infection control and physical distancing. Ideally we can do that in some more moderate way but we need to think of this as a sequence of tools and find the best possible way of combining them.’

Q. We hear of issues of those employed to do the tracing not knowing exactly what to do. Can you see contact tracing all happening by the beginning of next week?

‘To make sure of identifying contacts and to be confident, especially of lifting measures, we do need to ensure that we are capturing quite a large proportion of transmissions. Our modelling shows as soon as you get delays in identifying contacts this will lead to more transmissions. We want the system to be as effective as possible.’

On 20th May the Buffoon made a big thing about a ‘world-class’ contract tracing system being up and running by 1st June. Only a day later that was changed to ‘early next month (June)’ but now without the much vaunted NHSX Smartphone app.

The NHS Confederation was still cautious about any major changes in the lock down before effective contact tracing was in place. Niall Dickson, chief executive of the confederation, said on 21st May;

‘We are absolutely clear that contact tracing is the right thing to do, it is absolutely critical, it has got to be in place to prevent any notion of a second surge if the lock down is being further released.’

Testing – or not

Although already mentioned it doesn’t do any harm to remind people about the report that surfaced on Tuesday which criticised the decision to stop community testing on March 12th.

Antibody tests

These are likely to be the next ‘best thing’, theoretically providing proof of whether someone has already contracted the infection, recovered and possibly immune to any re-infection. Their efficiacy still hasn’t been proven (but even so the Government has a contract with the pharmceutical giant Roche to provide millions of such tests) but already major companies are playing on peoples’ fears, and hopes of immunity, and are selling them online.

The high street chain Superdrug was one of the first. On sale 21st May, sold out on 22nd – at £69.00 a pop.

14 day quarantine on international arrivals

Loath as I am to have to say so but I agree with one of the most unpleasant present day representatives of the free market economy, Michael O’Leary, the Chief Executive of the budget airline Ryanair, that the introduction of a 14 day quarantine for anyone arriving in the UK is a crass and irrational response to any fear of the virus coming into the country. Millions of people have arrived in the UK since the lock down was declared on 23rd March and any measures to protect the country so late in the day borders on the farcical. After a lock down the last thing you need is a further restriction on movement – especially one that doesn’t make any sense at all.

More details were unveiled on the afternoon of 22nd May. For some reason this will not come into force until 8th June. There will be exemptions – but what’s the point of a rule if there are exemptions which will basically undermine the rule?

The role of unions in the covid-19 pandemic

When we live in a time ‘ruled’ by a bunch of useless public schoolboys (and girls) – who most of the time of the covid-19 pandemic in Britain seem to be running around like chickens with their heads cut off – it’s an opportunity to those organisations of the workers to show some ability, insight and forward thinking and take on a role of leadership. In light of the fact there is no revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Party to take up that banner it has been left to the Trade Unions. However, with few exceptions, they have shown themselves lacking.

In the early days of the lock down there were a number of wildcat strikes where workers were taking immediate action to safeguard their safety – decided upon and organised at a local level, without recourse to the national leadership and certainly with no concern of so-called ‘cooling off periods’ and the only ballot being a showing of hands.

Most of the time we hear of trade unions in the present situation it’s when the union leadership reacts to an event, this is from both individual trade union leaders and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which should be presenting a unified approach of organised labour to the ‘unprecedented’ crisis that covid-19 has brought to the fore.

At the moment it’s the education trade unions that are not covering themselves in glory. At best they are merely frightened at worse they display a total inability to analyse and respond to an unknown situation. Instead of looking for ways out of the problem they seem to look for reasons NOT to do something, being obstructive in the face of the (admittedly half-baked and muddled) plans of the Buffoon and his government to get education moving again.

One of the education union leaders, Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union (NEU), seemed to treat the whole thing as a game and a poll carried out by the NASUWT, one of the other education unions, found that only 5% of its 30,000 members believed it was safe for children to return to education on 1st June – going against the vast majority of the scientific evidence that such a move was neither prejudicial to the children nor the teachers themselves. And these are the people entrusted with the education of future generations.

We can all criticise how this pandemic is being managed (and that’s all I’m doing on these posts) but there comes a time when to move forward others have to take the reins of leadership. The British Labour Party is incapable of doing so and that leaves the task to the workers organised in their unions – but that won’t be the case if all the unions do is cower in a corner and hope the the pandemic will just go away. They are acting just the same as the Government.

Problems don’t solve themselves and it’s for organised labour to face up to the problems now or they will have no chance of having any positive impact upon society when we return to the ‘new normality’ – a normality which will have many more hundreds of thousands of workers in unemployment on top of the abysmal situation we have allowed workers conditions to fall into in the years before anyone ever heard of covid-19.

Nationalists

The nationalist parties in the UK, especially the Scottish, have loved playing their own game in the last two months of the all Britain lock down. The fact that areas such as health were devolved as part of the capitulation to the nationalists means that here is an area where the devolved governments have a great deal of autonomy. And the Nationalists have used it to their utmost, perceived, advantage. But they don’t like it when it’s pointed out.

Profiteering during the pandemic

Although there may be positive changes in attitude by many during this pandemic, which makes the society more cohesive, there will always be those who seek to profit from the misery of others. There’s constant mention in Britain (when isn’t it when it comes to any crisis?) of the Blitz (the aerial bombing of London and other major cities in Britain by the Nazi air force in the Second World War) and the Dunkirk Spirit (when retreating British armed forces escaped from western France in 1940) and how the country came together. But they conveniently forget the looting of bombed properties, the ‘Black Market’, the ‘spivs’ (small time conmen), break-ins and burglaries, rapes and murders that went on in the black-outs as well as all-round profiteering when companies knew they could charge the Government what they liked for their goods or services.

Obviously not on anything like the same scale (although we don’t now all that’s been going on in the last couple of months) profiteers have already had a field day and are filling their boots when they can. Although the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is a part of Government nothing will happen about these abuses. The response of the Government to this sanctioned theft? The Department for Business maintained ‘the vast majority’ of firms were acting responsibly.

How is knowledge growing about covid-19?

After infections and deaths over a period a little under three months since the first death on 5th March the statistics of the infections and deaths in the intervening period have started to paint an interesting picture of the pandemic – as it has worked its way through the UK but whilst also filling in the international picture.

Taking the statistics up to the week ending 8th May it’s possible to say (according to David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University);

  • ‘pattern of covid deaths is changing
  • ‘around half the deaths from covid were in the community – and therefore only half in hospitals’
  • ‘the median age of deaths for women was 87, for men 82’
  • ‘this shows the penetration into care homes’
  • ‘epidemic in the community seems to be largely under control’
  • ‘in care homes and even hospitals there’s a bigger risk of infection’
  • ‘1 in 1600 of the population have died of covid’
  • ‘for those over 90 ‘1 in 70’
  • ‘for kids between 5 and 14 there’s only been one registered death, in a population of 7 million – although there will probably be more’

Other information from the statistics available at this moment, 22nd May;

  • 90% of those who had died in March and April had ‘underlying health conditions’
  • in 25% of all deaths the persons had diabetes (although it is not specified whether that is Type 1 or 2) – that came out as 5,800 out of 22,000 deaths in hospital
  • those with dementia and Alzheimer are highly at risk
  • at any one time (according to statistics released for the first two full weeks of May) 1 in 400 people in the UK are infected. That means the chances of meeting one by chance is very low – the problem with covid-19, however, is because an infected person can be asymptomatic and be infectious you don’t know who that one person might be.

How is the virus spread?

By a small percentage of the population normally. This has been the pattern with previous recent outbreaks such as HIV, SARS and Ebola – and now covid-19 it has been proposed. This report suggests that events where there are a lot of people, in very close proximity and where there might be a lot of vigorous activity, such as fitness centres or night clubs, could be classified as ‘super-spreader events’. Nothing is certain here as the spread of any infectious disease can be complex, but such studies start to suggest that certain activities and locations could be pin pointed as potential infectious hot spots which could then be approached in a considered manner.

Such an approach is needed to get away from the blanket approach which, honestly, only displays fear and ignorance – the approach that has characterised virtually all countries response to the pandemic.

Universities in Britain – all Open University now

The Open University was established in 1969 with the aim of providing part time, distance learning degree opportunities for those who (for various reasons) couldn’t commit to a full time university course. And it did – and is still doing – its job very well, the invention of the internet making distance learning more proactive and with occasional meet ups with fellow course members at various times of the year. But this was the exception – not the rule.

When the lock down was declared in March all universities eventually closed down, sent their students and staff home and any teaching went on line. This time of year is exam time and so even exams are taking place online – although I don’t know exactly how they are doing that. This made sense in the initial stages when knowledge of the virus was in its early stages.

But what normally also happens at this time of year is that the new intake of, mainly, 18 year olds decide at which university they want to study. At least one, Manchester University, stated they would only have lectures online for the first term of the 2020-2021 academic year – others are expected to follow suit.

However, on 19th May Cambridge University declared that all lectures would be online for the whole of the academic year.

If this matter becomes more general I can’t see why anyone would want to go to university in the academic year 2020-2021 – especially first year students. Going away to university in Britain isn’t just about education. For first year students it’s the first time any of them have been in any way independent in their lives. It’s the moving away from the parental home (although that trend has reversed with the costs of living expenses in the last few years) that makes staying in further education more attractive – as is the so-called ‘campus experience’. And those foundations get laid down in the first year – subsequent years work and study (theoretically) take precedence.

Universities have already stated (as has been the case since the lock down in March) that even if teaching goes online students would still be expected to pay full fees. Even if students do enrol in universities and the ‘social distancing ‘ rules remain the same there’s absolutely no incentive to leave home and pay the huge expense rent and other living expenses in often substandard accommodation and perhaps with people with whom you would rather not spend too much time.

The wider community would also suffer if the thousands of expected students stayed away for a year. Education has become so much of a business in the last 20 years or so that students and what they spend can be as important to a city as is foreign tourism – be that national or international. This is, yet again, a decision which seems to have been taken without taking into account the fall out.

And who is this really protecting? Students in their late teens or early twenties are among the least likely to suffer serious consequences from covid-19 and wouldn’t be at any greater risk than if they stay at home.

I just don’t understand this decision, another example of how risk averse (based upon no evidence) Britain has become.

The old may be dying but it’s the young who will pay the long term price

A report by the Resolution Foundation reports that it’s the young who are going to carry the long term consequences of the pandemic.

It found that;

  • young employees are most likely to have lost work due to furloughing, jobs losses and hours reductions
  • compared to prime-age adults, a smaller proportion of young employees had the same pay in May as before the coronavirus crisis hit
  • young (and old) employees are the least able to weather the crisis by working from home

On top of this the number of new job vacancies has also fallen sharply – 170,000 fall from February to April, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

And all the debt that’s being accumulated in the last couple of months will be expected to be paid by someone – hands up the young.

The poor you will always have with you (Mark 14:7)

It’s amazing how the poor are also thought about in times of crisis – but totally ignored in the ‘good times’. There have been many declarations of concern for the poor in the last two months of the lock down such as the homeless and children who need to claim free school dinners (who are always, insultingly, described as coming from ‘deprived backgrounds’).

In the debate about whether or not schools should restart (or at least part of them) on 1st June, Andy Preston, the Mayor of Middlesbrough, argued that it was important to open the schools as soon as possible as this was imperative for the ‘deprived’ children as they need education to get them out of their ‘deprivation’.

This is merely an example of the crassness of British society. There’s the concept, constantly being promoted by those who have the wealth and the power that it only needs an extra push for the poor to drag themselves out of the mire in which they find themselves – this is the so-called ‘social mobility’ lie.

Such arguments are loved by those in power as it places all the responsibility of their poverty on the poor themselves – all they need is to pull themselves up by their own boot straps. This idea was pushed in the 19th century and it’s still with us now in the 21st. Those 200 years have not eradicated poverty and neither will the next 200 if things remain the same.

The sanctimonious Victorians made such trite statements and those who continue in the same vein maintain that ‘improvements’ in poverty can be made without any substantial changes to society. They don’t realise, or accept, that poverty is a pre-condition for the existence of capitalism.

Activities which result in large donations to charities are applauded, the very existence of food banks in every town is considered an ‘advance’, but if people are really serious about eradicating poverty, in this country or any other part of the world, a much more systemic change is necessary.

Putting matters into perspective

Amphan is the name of the cyclone that has been battering India and Bangladesh in the last few days, made landfall early on 21st May and then headed north. Events like this should make people living in the privileged ‘industrialised’ countries put the covid-19 pandemic into perspective. Before this cyclone moves away hundreds, if not thousands, of people are likely to lose their lives.

Bangladesh is one of the countries which is particularly susceptible to climate change as the vast majority of the country is only a few metres above sea level. The winds that are moving inland will no longer be causing damage but the amount of water in the rainfall when the storm hits the high mountains will eventually arrive at the Bay of Bengal, flooding the huge low lying delta on its way.

And those in different parts of the world whose lives were precarious before the arrival of covid-19 will now be in even more danger of the ravages of poverty. The 60 million (surely only a wild guestimate) of these people identified by the World Bank certainly puts the numbers of deaths in Europe, so far due to the pandemic, into some sort of perspective.

Changes to laws under the radar

The various British governments (of whatever colour) have built up a reputation of releasing contentious reports or trying to introduce changes to legislation on ‘quite news days’. They are also not averse to slipping in such law changes when everyday is a big news day and covid-19 drowns out everything else.

That’s what is happening to changes in the already draconian anti-terrorism laws. You wouldn’t have thought there was any need to restrict even more any legal rights for a suspected (but not convicted) ‘terrorist’ – but not the British Government. When someone can be arrested and held just on the say so of the security services already the Tories (no doubt with the implicit support of all the other political parties in Parliament) now want to increase unlawful detention indefinitely.

Whenever ‘terrorist’ legislation is discussed in Britain the argument is always presented, by the State, that if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear. However, everyone should be aware that the definition of a ‘terrorist’ is growing all the time and can theoretically include any anti-State activity.

We shouldn’t let the dominance of one problem in society blind us to what is going on around us, hidden and without our permission.

More on covid pandemic 2020-2?