LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
[Correspondents are requested to keep their letters as brief as is reasonably possible. The most suitable length is that of one of our "News of the Week" paragraphs. Signed letters are given a preference over those bearing a pseudonym.—Ed. THE SPECTATOR.]
[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.]
SIR,—The article by Lord Balfour of Burleigh on housing, in your issue of February 8th, is invaluable to all those inter- ested in the question of Slum housing. Lord Balfour points out that private enterprise will be unable to meet the housing needs of the working classes requiring low rents nears their work. He sums up by indicating that what is really wanted is to ascertain by survey how many new houses are needed to overtake overcrowding as well as to replace the slums."
Unfortunately, any survey is left entirely to the Local
Authority. The Ministry of Health limits its survey to pro- perties named and submitted by Local Authorities, and it makes no investigation to see that such programmes are adequate for local needs. In slum areas this remains a fun- damental difficulty which has not been touched upon by Lord Balfour, but which no doubt will be provided against in his constructive programme.
The system of leaving to the Local Authority all selection of what must be cleared needs reconsideration. In districts *here conditions are notoriously bad, the Ministry of Health_ should be empowered to make its own investigation. Unless this is done, the laws passed at Westminster will be inter- preted as the Local Authority chooses. In the Parliamentary Division of Silvertown, in the County Borough of West Ham, the Local Authority's published programme to date merely provides for the demolition of 87 houses. In this district there are whole streets of houses that can only be described as unfit for human habitation, with leaking roofs, ceilings held up by planks and struts, damp and bulging walls where rats swarm and bugs thrive in thousands, and where beneath the rotten ground floor boards, stagnant water can be found.
But in Silvertown, as in other areas, the question of unfit houses is only part of the housing problem. The unfit houses are bad enough, but the overcrowding is tragic. Hundreds of families are living 7 or 8 persons in one small room, 10 in one room is not unusual, and 12 is not unknown. It must be realized that these families have to cook, eat, launder, play, sleep, be ill, die, and in fact do everything in their one room.
The furniture usually consists of one double bed where the younger ones sleep top and bottom, plus perhaps one folding bed. During the day a folding table usually replaces the folding bed.
The despair of the mothers, who have adolescent mixed families growing up under these conditions has to be-beard to be understood. Yet the moral standard is amazingly high. Some rooms occupied by whole families have no direct light or air, only a fan light connecting with a passage. In such cases artificial light being S permanent necessity, the families frequently sit in the dark to save expense. Usually the rooms contain no -cooking stove or oven, just a small open fireplace ; consequently, only boiled dinners are possible. If a death occurs, the body has to remain in the room with the family until removed. Bathrooms are almost unknown in 'Custoni • House and Tidal Basin; as-these houses were built before bath- rooms were considered necessary. The sanitary arrangements are always unmentionably inadequate. Yet the cost of much of this accommodation is high.
The question of unemployment has no bearing on the question of overcrowding. Overcrowding is mainly due to the fact that the men must be near their work—on account of the local night shifts. Many families living under the worst overcrowding earn good money Mid could afford decent accommodation were it available locally. - Concerted National effort based onaroused public opinion is needed to obtain legislation for supervision and control from the Central Authority. Those interested should take a
'bus to Canning Town Station and investigate for themselves conditions in Custom House and Tidal Basin. With so much capital lying sterile today, why not -float a National Housing Loan and do the job -properly ?=-Toers faithfully,
26 Altmtesquieu Street, Tidal Basin, E.16.