Letters to he Editor
[Correspondents are requested to keep their left suitable length is that of one of our " News of era as brief as is reasonably possible. The most the Week" paragraphs.—Ed. THE SPECTATOR.'
OVERCROWDING IN LONDON
[To the Editor of Tim SPECTATOR.] Sot,—There have recently appeared in the public Press several earnest appeals from the highest authorities for a mass attack upon the " slums " ; but, in the special circumstances of London, what is wanted there is a mass attack not merely on the "slums," but on slum conditions, wherever found, and particularly on overcrowding of the worst type, which is so widespread all over central London, not so much in the obvious slums as in the thousands of substantial and appa- rently decent houses of two to six floors originally built each for one middle-class family, but now subdivided so that each houses at least one family on each floor.
}low futile the London housing campaign has so far been as a solvent of the overcrowding problem may be judged from the fact disclosed by the latest census figures that, in spite of the erection of over 50,000 subsidized houses by the local authorities of London County in the 10 years 1921-31, there was actually an increase of what may be called "intense overcrowding," viz., overcrowding at over persons per room, in that period.
In 1911 there were 27,342 families of 173,637 persons living at an average of more than 3 persons per room. In 1921 the corresponding figures were 22,516 and 147,591 ;- in 1931, they were 23,354 and 150,130. Further evidence of retro- gression is supplied by the increase in the percentage of small dwellings (those of 1, 2 or 3 rooms only) to the whole of London's dwellings. This percentage was 54 in 1911, 58 in 1921 and 59 in 1931.
The explanation is that on account of high rents only a
negligible proportion of the new houses were available for the poorer classes, who cannot spare more than 21s. 6d. per week for rent- (including rateS). Since 1923, when landlords were first allowed to raise their rents for new tenants, these poorer classes have had to cling on to their cheap dwellings with no hope of escape from overcrowding as their farnilies grew larger and their children older.
It is not surprising, therefore, that over 99 per cent, of the intense overcrowding is found in dwellings of 1, 2 -or 3 rooms, since these house the bulk of the poorer classes. Of the 23,354 faridlies found intensely overcrowded in 1931, 12,115 were families of 4 to 11 persons in 1 room ; 9,250 of 7 to 15 in 2 rooms, 1,829 of 10 to 16 in 3 rooms, and 1,829 of 13 to 16 in 4 rooms.
A comparison Of the 1911, 1921 and 1931 census figures
in respect of large families (more than 3 persons) shows that-this seetion of the population has been steadily growing smaller.. It absorbed, 76, 70 and 64 per cent, of the whole population in the 3 years respectively. Of these large families the percentage living in small dwellings (1, 2 or 3 rooms) has been 35 in 1911, 38 in 1921 and 39 in 1931. Of the population of these large families in small dwellings the Percentage_ living more than 4 persons per room .Was 15 in 1911, 121 in 1921, but 141 in 1931.
It is surely clear from these _figures that the anti-over- crowding. campaign should not be postponed any longer in favour of an anti-slum campaign, which will not only leave the .bulk of the . intensely overcrowded families un- affected, but will reduce their chance of relief from bad housing, since under the policy . of concentration on slums all available vacancies in the local authorities' cheap dwellings are sire to be reserved for the re-housing of families now living in the slums.
What is required in London is that both the, anti-slum
and the anti-overcrowding campaigns shall proceed pani possu ; that, pending provision of dwellings, old or new, at rents of 12s. 6d. orless.for the poorer classes, the demolition of cheap dwellings shall be restricted as far as possible ; rind that vacancies in cheap dwellings Shall be utilized to provide housing not only in slum clearance schemes, but also in schemes for abatement of intense overcrowding.- Late Director of Housing to the L.C.C. (1919-21). 5 Cathcart Road, Lon-don, S.W: 10.