The Blog

Forget Myleene's Mansions - Britain's Housing System Is Just a Rigged Lottery for the Richest

You shouldn't be able to get rich because you bought a house for a pittance in 1974 that's now, all of a sudden, worth a fortune. Property in the UK today is a lottery that doesn't sell any tickets to the poorest. That's unfair, and, mansion tax or no mansion tax, it ought to change.

Let me give you a window into the life of an irregular student journalist writing infrequently for this website. You write a post. You submit it. It goes live. Your friends like it on Facebook (bless them). Your dad reads it at the office when he should really be working. You get attacked in the comments. Then, after about a week, you're back in the void, wondering what on Earth to write about next. This spell of time in the Twilight Zone of Not Having Any Good Ideas is often broken by seeing a tweet or a Facebook post that makes you a) confused, b) angry or c) confused and angry. I've been lucky this week. When you see a video of a former Hear'Say member asking the Labour leader if he's going to tax a glass of water, you automatically jump straight to c).

Where to start, really. The mansion tax has flaws, like any policy, but it's reasonably sound. It's a proposal that targets wealth, rather than income - an excellent way to address the structural inequalities in our society. Myleene Klass's belief that it represents Ed Miliband's desire to tax everything - right down to glasses of water - is pretty rank and completely pathetic. What's wrong with taxing houses that have astronomical value? After all, a rise in the value of a property does nothing to help the economy, except for keeping a few estate agents in comfortable employment. It wasn't earned. It wasn't the result of any sort of positive action. It was luck, pure and simple (bad pun alert).

The attention given to Klass's attack on Miliband has obviously been disproportionate. If she wasn't Myleene Klass, we wouldn't all be talking about it, because the public doesn't generally expect a former popstar to become an outspoken critic of Opposition policy. If we all forget that she's Myleene Klass (net worth - £11million, according to the oracle that is Wikipedia), and analyse her arguments, we can see that she's talking gibberish. The idea that London is full of little old ladies shivering in their £2million-valued hovels is nonsense. The mansion tax is designed to hit the rich oligarchs who have turned London into a Monopoly board, hoarding property however they want. For almost everyone in this country, the idea of owning a £2million house is pie in the sky. It's not the norm, and Klass's attempts to characterise it as the opposite are ridiculous. Furthermore, if it were the norm, surely the response of any rational person shouldn't be, 'Don't tax high-value property.' What we should really all be saying in that scenario is, 'How the hell do we live in a society where £2million properties are for anyone other than the privileged few?'

Klass is wrong. A £2million property is out of reach for almost everyone. It's hard to know exactly how many properties hit the £2million valuation, but estimates range from 50,000 to 110,000. That's not a great swathe of the population. What's more, 80% of these houses are located in London and the South-East, proving the point that this idea is a wealth tax, concentrated on those who have the most. Lots of people, including Labour mayoral hopefuls who frankly should know better, say that the mansion tax would be a 'tax on London.' The response to that charge should be, 'Yes, good.' A tax on the most unequal city in the developed world? Count me in.

The basic principle for taxing wealth is that it's harder for the very rich to hide their wealth in the same way that they shield their income from the Treasury. Also, unlike income, wealth can be passed down, creating a system of unearned, permanent privilege. If you believe that those who have more should pay more in taxation, then the mansion tax is an imperfect but necessary tool to achieve that goal. Labour has even said that the mansion tax won't hit cash-poor homeowners - Klass's semi-fictional grannies - as they can pay the tax once their estate is settled after death. That puts paid to the idea that Miliband will soon be evicting little old ladies from their cherished family homes if he gets into Number 10.

What Klass's intervention did achieve, however, was to put housing policy, in some form, at the top of the agenda in British politics. It's a little depressing that it took a celebrity outburst to achieve this, and that we're focusing on issues at the top of the housing scale rather than the bottom, but never mind. In a roundabout sort of way, Klass showed us that London and the South-East represents a mini Monte Carlo for anyone who's concerned about housing costs. Ordinary working people can't buy a home in London these days - they're only for the new gentry generation of property developers and multimillionaires. Lots of people even struggle to afford the rental costs that private landlords can charge. We're faced with a vicious cycle of disenfranchisement. The UK's much-vaunted economic growth is concentrated in London. It's generally accepted by many young people that their best hope of making a good living is by getting a job in the capital. But how can they do that if they can't afford to live there? Wealth and opportunity is ringfenced within the Greater London area, while affordable housing is nowhere to be found. What's the result? The richest get more opportunities, more wealth and more advantages.

The mansion tax is a good way of raising revenue for UK public services. However, it papers over the cracks as far as British housing policy is concerned. We should be building more cheap housing. We should be reforming the rules around rent, so that the poorest private tenants don't have to pay a fortune for poorly-maintained houses full of damp and decay. Most importantly of all, we should stop thinking of housing in the selfish, wealth-accumulating way that we do today. Housing shouldn't be an investment. You shouldn't be able to get rich because you bought a house for a pittance in 1974 that's now, all of a sudden, worth a fortune. Property in the UK today is a lottery that doesn't sell any tickets to the poorest. That's unfair, and, mansion tax or no mansion tax, it ought to change.