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UK lawyer: housing crisis perpetuates poverty

İpek Eser/YJI

LONDON – The housing crisis in the United Kingdom is a “national scandal” that perpetuates generational poverty and homelessness due to sky-high rents, said a British barrister. 

Leslie Thomas said legal policy in the UK has widened wealth inequality and no current political party can tackle the issue.  

“The law is wielded by the rich against the poor,” said Thomas, a professor of law at Gresham College in London, which provides free public lectures at a university level throughout the year. 

Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government introduced the ‘right to buy’ scheme in the 1980 Housing Act when she was prime minister. 
This led to a massive decline in council house building as landlords took control of former council properties, leaving tenants disempowered, according to Thomas. 

In contrast, Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government – he served as prime minister from 1945 to 1951 – is credited with generating a housing boom known as the “golden age of housing” that included over 1 million new houses, 80% of which was council housing, Thomas said. 

In his February lecture, Thomas criticized the modern UK labor market, stating that it favors employers and continues the tradition of the ‘’Tory war on trade unions.’’  

He said policies like the bedroom tax and benefit cap are laws that both Conservative and Labour governments have used as a “tool for promoting the class interests of the rich.” 

Linking 18th-century repressive criminal legislation to harsher sentencing for the working class, Thomas cited the 2011 London riots where individuals who stole water received six-month sentences. The 2008 financial crash was highlighted as another example of “making the poor pay for the crisis caused by the rich.” 

Despite the provisions for publicly funded legal aid introduced in the 1800s, eligibility has drastically decreased, leaving many without access to justice.  

Research by LexisNexis found that 12.45 million people live in legal aid deserts for housing law. 

Thomas concluded by highlighting the need for more council homes being built in the UK to tackle this wealth inequality.  

But he expressed his lack of trust in the current or future UK government in bringing this change.  

Instead, Thomas said, lawyers have a “moral responsibility” to protect the interests of the poor and highlighted lawyers’ reputations for “waging a war on the poor” through defending government policies or even helping to evict tenants.  

Lawyers must ultimately support the fight for housing rights, he said.  

“In one of the richest countries in the world,” said Thomas, “there is no excuse for failing to provide adequate housing for all.” 

Anjola Fashawe, a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International from London, wrote this story. 

İpek Eser, who is a Reporter and Senior Illustrator with Youth Journalism International from Istanbul, Türkiye, made the illustration. 

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