Opinion: Renters ‘marginalised’ for decades

Rev Paul Nicolson believes UK housing policy has increasingly failed since the 1980s. Picture: POLLY

Rev Paul Nicolson believes UK housing policy has increasingly failed since the 1980s. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK - Credit: Archant

UK housing policy has increasingly failed since the 1980s to provide homes at truly affordable rents that can be paid by low income tenants.

The balance of power is with those who control the land and take for private gain the untaxed and unearned increase in land value.

Renters have been marginalised by high rents and the cuts in housing benefit. That requires some rent to be paid out of minimum incomes needed for food, fuel, clothes transport and other necessities.

Now there are record highs in the numbers of homeless families in temporary accommodation, rough sleeping and deaths among the street homeless.

Compassion in politics would set statutory minimum incomes at a level which can meet all human needs.

Economists have said that the burden of rent is the mechanism for the impoverishment of "the people".

Our Bible has much to say about the use and abuse of power. Parables are stories about life that illustrate moral and theological points. Two of them contrast a compassionate use of power by a landlord with the abuse of power by a group of people in control of the land. Jesus saw how power can be used to share the produce of land, but also how power can be abused. It's the same now as it was 2,000 years ago.

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In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), the landowner goes out early in the morning, hires all available workers and agrees to pay them one denarius. He goes out again at nine, noon, three and five, and hiring anyone at the gate. They are all told, "Go and work in my vineyard." At the end of the day, he pays them all one denarius, regardless of how long each has worked. When some complain, he says, "I'm not being unfair. Are you envious because I'm generous?"

That parable is about land. We start with the proposition that land is the gift of a generous and loving God, intended for the provision of shelter, food, water, fuel and clothes, and so health and wellbeing for everyone.

Humanist would say a gift of nature for the same purpose. Both ways the message become clear: the landowner uses his power compassionately to ensure that everyone benefits from the land he owns.

In the parable of the wicked tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) the landowner rents out his vineyard and moves to another place. At harvest time, he sends a servant to collect some of the produce of the vineyard, but they seize him, beat him and send him away empty-handed. The landowner sends another servant. They strike this man on the head and treat him shamefully. He sends yet another and that one they kill. He sends many others - some of them they beat and others they kill. He has one left to send: a son whom he loves. He sends him last of all, saying, "They will respect my son." He, too, is killed.

This group of people, in control of the land, want it all for themselves no matter what the cost to others.