Towards a National Housing Survey
MR. ARTHUR GREENWOODwill soon bring his long-expected Housing Bill before a House of Commons which is perhaps' better :qualified than any Parliament of recent years to give effect to far-reaching and constructive legislation. • The three parties are agreed that something must be done, and done quickly. The present Minister of Health has spoken. of Boroughs and' Councils whom it is "impossible to bring into action " ; Mr. Neville Chamber- lain hasrecently stated that " under all the schemes which have been submitted to us since the War' only 14,000 houseS are affected, that is, only 1,400 hOuses per year " ; Mr. E. D. Simon has called attention to the fact that the problem of housing our poorest workers has remained virtually untouched ;' and_Mr. lialdwinSumined up the situation bluntly by saying that we'. can paSs Acts of Parliainent Until' we " are black in the face " so long as " obscurantiSCLocal Authorities " do not mend their ways. - - • .
A summary recently issued by the -National Housing and Town :Planning Council gives extracts from the reports of Medical Officers of Health in sixteen London Boroughs and thirty-one cities in England ; and every one of these 'doctors calls attention to the terrible eon- ditions overcrowding which still exist. The report conchides " that the appalling housing conditions out- lined above are detrimental to the national well-being and constitute a perpetual danger to the physical and moral health of the community:" Some thousands of -us,' by personal enquiry, reading, and the use of such imagination as we possess, know that these things are true. Some three millions of us, inarticulate for the most part, know in their own bodies that they are true, for that is the number of persons who are at present overcrowded by any reasonable standard of decency. "- From the point of view of the tenant," writes Mr. G. W. Currie in a' circular to the London Diocesan Conference, " the failure of public opinion to attack the slum is not merely or mainly an injury to himself,' an insult to his wife or an outrage to his Children; it is 'a fraud. In my own view, sheer ignorance counts a good' deal more than' .anything that can be called 'deliberate fraud. But the tenants unfor- tunately have to live 'in the actual houses ; they are concerned with the facts' as they find them."
The facts are not in dispute. It will cost money to replace, rebuild ancl'sometimes recondition those desOlote areas 'that spread disease and depression throughout the land. But how' much More will it -cost us to 'keep them as they are ? Can anyone calculate the' value in hninan lives that are- being maimed :Mid perverted' in order that we shall not he under the necessity of adding a penny to the rates ?
Millions of men and women and children are slum- dwellers through :no conceivable fault or failure in efficiency.. That" another class also exists is true : there are the feckless and the degenerate among the poor a3 well as the rich. Both must be looked after and both are nuisances. But the majority of slum dwellers need not moral reform, but material opportunity. They work hard and keep them.4elves and their derelict surroundings in a state of tidiness that should shame many more prosperous people. They have to live two, four, six in a room. They share a cooking-range with a dozen others, and often there is only one convenience between two e.' , 'and even three families. But they keep a brav front, patch their roof, whitewash their verminous walls and somehow or other scrape up enough to pay their weekly rent. Would that' some Shaw or Wells could show us the lives of victims of circumstances in their beauty and courage.
They do not ask for pity. They ask for nothing. Yet, unknown to themselves, they are our judges, and may become our destroyers. Some will become Communists, seeking blindly to overthrow a system which tolerates such misery. The progress of the disease of slumdom, if we do not take a knife and extirpate it, may develop in various ways : in increasing physical and mental deficiency, in decline in energy and self-reliance, in loss of trade, in hopelessness, and in fantastic political. experiments. .The infeetiOn will spread to the whole country unless we face the facts in all their implications, historical, eugenic, economic, political.
The need of the moment is a .clear attitude towards the last. What can be done to vitalize the local authorities who still persist in hugger-mugger policies of inertia ? How can we wake up the Bumbles ?
An enlightened public opinion, as has been repeated by every student of the question with an almost tiresome iteration, is the first requisite. But such an opinion cannot be truly enlightened unless it has experienced as well as read and imagined. It is for this reason that we welcome the initiative shown by a group of young people who went to see for themselves the state of a slum area in Manchester. These young people made a survey of Salford similar to the well-known reports of Mrs. Barclay and Miss Perry in Westminster, Shorediteh and Chelsea. Their considered opinion, after personal_ visits to every house in the district, deserves the widest possible publicity.
" We undertook our survey (they write) becauie we believe that very feW people can visualize in 'concrete detail and in tents Of human life 'arid bricks and 'mortar the real meaning of the slum problem. Ordinary imagination does not carry one that far. We ourselves did not know of the reality until we went to investigate. We hope we may have helped in some degree to remedy this deficiency through this small survey. Our group is only small, but if other groups throughout the country went to see for themselves, the data obtained would enable the country to form its own opinion."
Here is an example of practical citizenship which young people throughout the country should follow. An armchair attitude towards the slums is not enough. Sick children, promiscuity of sexes, darkness, disease, squalor, stink and vermin are facts which must be realised by our own senses if we are to arouse public opinion to the necessity for a national survey of the housing needs of the people, for which the Bishop of Southwark has been pleading, and which we have so long advocated.