By Haniish Fraser
IT is commonly alleged that in our modern complicated industrial civilisation it is impossible to give practical effect to Catholic social principles. Even such Catholics as pay homage to the ideals of Reruns Nnvarunt and Qztadragessimo A nno tend to assume that there is no practical alternative to that expediency which characterises the approach of both major political parties to the problem of social reform; too often, it is all but impossible to find anything specifically Catholic in the policies championed by politicians whose loyalty to the Church in the matter of faith and morals is unquestionable.
That is why there is so little evidence to quote in favour of a wider distribution of productive property; it has not been tried.
Apart from the most praiseworthy efforts of a mere handful of industrialists—many of them non-Catholic--little or nothing has been done in this country either to introduce or to popularise the ideas of profit-sharing and copartnership in industry; but the greatest tragedy of all is that even such evidence as exists has been all but ignored; the general tendency has been to drift with the majority.
IF Catholic laxity in the industrial sphere is not justifiable it is at least comprehensible; what appears to be the easy way out has always its attractions for fallen man.
But it is not even understandable why anyone who is not a doctrinaire Marxist should prefer communal to individual ownership of house property; for the present Labour-Conservative policy for working-class housing, which has the effect of making the majority of working-class families tenants of the municipality, is proving to be so disastrously uneconomic that it is easy to show how much more economic and socially advantageous it would be to help the worker to own his house.
There is no one in Westminster today who is not conscious of the terrifying burden imposed on the local authorities by local government housing schemes; but neither the Government nor the Opposition appear to see what is the obvious solution.
To demand, as does the Labour Party, that the burden be borne by the national Exchequer rather than by local rates may be sound electioneering; but it in no way helps to reduce the crushing burden of taxation which is the lot of the ordinary man who pays for the expenditure of central as well as local government.
The Conservative policy of building more house ; for sale. and of selling some of the houses originally built for letting, merely sidesteps the basic problem involved; for, if the people who have no capital are to be re-housed, there is no possibility of easing the total burden of taxation unless an end is made of the present policy, the ultimate effect of which is to force the ordinary working man to become a tenant of the State at a total cost to the community of anything up to £4,000.
Half the cost
THE cost of building houses to let has become astronomical.
A few years ago, according to figures supplied by the Ayr County Council, the cost of financing the building of a £1,200 three-apartment house amounted to no less than 1.2,211—i.e.. an annual deficit of £36 17s. for 60 years. According to the Glasgow Herald of February 29: "On houses completed in Glasgow before the rate of interest was raised the corporation were paying £35 per house per annum for 60 years, against the Government subsidy of £23 a year"—a total cost to the community of £3,480 per house. Nor dots even the latter figure represent the ceiling; for, according to McPherson-Raft, Glasgow Corporation Housing Convener, unless the 622 houses of Glasgow's much-publicised Merrylee scheme were sold, the total cost to the community would have been no less than £24 million—approximately £4,019 per house.
These figures represent the fantastic cost to the community of a policy which seeks to make everyone who has no capital a tenant of the municipality: the cost of building houses which will never be owned by anyone.
It is true that if there were no other means of re-housing the lower income group, then, the cost notwithstanding, it would nevertheless be the duty of the community to find the necessary means; for the family is the basic social unit, and the housing of the people should be the social service with highest priority in any wellrun society; but the truth is that it is possible to enable workers without capital to become homeowners for less than half the cost of concentrating the ownership of housing in the hands of the public authorities.
TAKE for example the threeapartment house which a few years ago cost £1,200 to build tn Ayrshire.
The cost of borrowing £1,200 from a building society at the old rate of interest (4 per cent.) for 25 years was only £720. The assessed rental of the house in question was £20, and rates approximately 15s. in the £: i.e., the total cost of rates, owner and occupier, for 25 years
would be a mere £375. Which means that it would have been possible for the State to pay all the interest on a loan of £1,200, as well as all the rates for a period of 25 years, at a total cost of £1,095—as compared with 12,211, the cost of financing the building of the same house to let.
Moreover, since the worker home-owner—who had been granted an interest-free loan would have had to meet only the repayment of capital, he would have been able to attain to the position of full ownership after paying the modest sum of 18s. 6d. a week for 25 years—less than what is, in many cases, being paid in rent.
Worker's share TODAY, of course, the cost of house building like everything else has rocketed.
Now, according to local authorities' estimates, the average cost of building a four-apartment house in Scotland is £1,900. Yet, even at that figure, and allowing for the increase of mortgage interest to 44 per cent., the cost of interest and administration charges on a loan of £1,900 for 25 years is only £1,401, and even if to that sum were added the cost of paying all rates on an assessed rental of £24 for 25 years, i.e., £450, given rates at 15s. in the £, the total cost of thus freeing the worker homeowner from all liabilities other than repayment of capital and repairs—a mere nominal amount in the first 25 years' life of a house— would be only £1,851 as compared with the £3,48044,019 it cost to finance the building of a house to rent in Glasgow before the rise in the rate of interest.
The cost to the worker of repaying the £1.900 capital in 25 years would be only £1 9s. 3d. a week.
Eiallifitripati0111 THE arguments in favour of such generous subsidising of home ownership are incontestable. In any country it is the duty of the State to encourage responsibility among its citizens; and if at present the State will pay anything up to £4,000 in order to free a man from the responsibility of owning his house, it is surely not a misuse of public funds to spend half that amount in order to enable the citizen to assume the responsibility of ownership.
In terms of social good, every single worker so uplifted would be at least partially emancipated from proletarian status, and the effect in political thinking might well be such as to completely transform the political situation in this country within a few years.
For the worker it would mean his having a stake in society; he would become. literally, a man of substance, with all that entails in independence of outlook.