Clive Lewis has declared that he will be supporting rent strikes by those unable to pay for coronavirus-related reasons and has called for local councillors to “support that direct action”.
The representative for Norwich South made the comments today during an online Zoom event hosted by Positive Money for the launch of their report, The Tragedy of Growth, which the Labour MP is also supporting.
Lewis criticised his own party’s policy of a rent deferment, and said that the additional cost of paying back rent arrears could be “the difference between eating and not eating” for some people.
Commenting on issues faced by people as a result of the coronavirus crisis, Lewis said: “There are a large number of people going into debt… There will be rent strikes, I think, taking place in London which I’m going to be supporting.”
He added: “My own party’s policy has been to extend the time that people have to pay back their debt, and I think it’s been worked out that if you extend it by two years the average rent each month will increase by about £125 a month. For some people, that’s the difference between eating and not eating.”
The former shadow Treasury minister had already criticised Labour’s new housing policy announced over the weekend, which advocated a two-year repayment plan for renters with coronavirus-related arrears.
He warned that “power concedes nothing without demand and hence why, yes to answer the other question, I will be supporting those rent strikes”. Appealing to councillors watching, he said: “Get involved in that direct action, be a part of it, get your local party to back this.”
The report released by Positive Money describes how the tendency for unemployment and inequality to rise with the absence of growth in a free market economy creates a ‘growth imperative’ for policymakers.
It argues for a number of reforms that it says would help overcome this imperative, including a universal basic income, an “ecosystem of public banks” to provide fairer access to credit, higher marginal tax rates on the highest incomes and the cancellation or reduction of household debt.
It also calls for the government to stop publishing GDP figures and instead place more emphasis on social and environmental wellbeing with a wider range of indicators. Lewis has supported the report and said that “Covid-19 is showing us that our economic system as it’s currently configured is broken”.