Monday, 29 July 2013

Goodbye Home - Hello Ghetto

The Tories continue to churn out legislation designed to destroy the Welfare State.  It’s almost as if – in case they lose the next election – they are determined to leave it wrecked beyond salvage.

And – as I have said before – they are attacking on every front, with such a barrage of cuts and changes that, as fast as you turn your attention on one thing and start to oppose it, they are attacking something else behind your back.

This morning, news came out of yet another assault on Britain’s Welfare State, when Eric Pickles, Secretary of State at the DCLG announced that social housing tenants who earn more than £60,000 are to be forced to pay market rent (rather than the 80% ‘affordable’ rent they pay at the moment). 

Another Nasty Tory Policy
At first this seems just another typically nasty and divisive piece of Tory bile.

We know now how the Tories work:

  • First, they identify a small group of the population – in this case, high-earning social housing tenants.
  • Next, they wage a propaganda war against them, suggesting to the rest of the population that this group is somehow stealing from them, and needs to be penalised for the benefit of the majority – the ‘we-cannot-afford-it’ argument is the usual justification.
  • Then they float/consult on a suggested penalty for these ‘scroungers’ and – when the initial outrage has died down a bit – move in and hammer them. 

So it comes as little surprise to find that this is what has happened to high-earning social tenants:

Plans set out by the Communities and Local Government department last week state the government will enshrine in law that the onus is on tenants who earn above the threshold to reveal their earnings ‘to ensure they are making a fairer contribution’.  
Of the very few people beyond those-directly-affected who even know what is happening, many will read the rhetoric and actually agree.  Why should people who could afford to buy their own house ‘take up’ valuable ‘social’ housing?  And why shouldn’t they pay market rent – the extra money can be used to build more much-needed social houses.

The Flawed Initiative
But think about it – begin to look at it for what it is, a Tory initiative, and look for the social damage, and for the hidden agenda (because there always is one).

High-waged people living in rented, social housing have a reason to do so.   It is a major financial decision to choose to pay rent all your life for a house you will never own.  Perhaps their job is not secure, or needs them to move about the country.  Perhaps they have family living nearby for whom they need to care. This is yet another Tory regulation, of which the social consequences have been inadequately forethought.

More to the point, the reaction of many people faced with a sudden 25% hike in their rents will probably be to move.   Firstly, this is likely to undermine, not strengthen, the Registered Housing Providers who are already (because of the ‘bedroom tax’) finding it difficult to let larger houses.  More to the point, moreover, when people make the inevitable decision, and decide to put their money into a mortgage rather than rent, it will increase demand for private houses and lead to a rise in house prices.  Given that this is also the inevitable outcome of the government’s help-to-buy scheme, we can fairly much assume that this was the government’s intention all along ... a housing bubble.

The Death of the Welfare State
But what I want to concentrate upon is not the flawed practicalities of the scheme, but upon its flawed principles.

Because – when you charge high-earning tenants full rent – you are making a mighty statement about social housing.

When Newton Aycliffe was built after the war as the embodiment of the Welfare State, no private housing was allowed at all.   It was ALL Council Housing, and everybody was expected to live in it – the manager next to the mechanic, as they explained at the time.  We had ‘all been in it together’ during the war, and we were going to ‘all be in it together’ as we built post-war Britain.

When I first came to Newton Aycliffe, therefore, as a young Oxford graduate, I automatically went into a Council flat.  There was no stigma attached, no idea of my Council house being in any way ‘inferior’ or accommodation for the inadequate; even then, almost all the housing in Newton Aycliffe was Council Housing (and very nice it was too).

Of course, Thatcherite Britain long-since ditched such Socialist ideas – private housing estates burgeoned all over Great Aycliffe, and ‘Council’ housing became ‘Social’ housing, with all the baggage that the word entails.
And now, this new measure puts the final nail in the coffin.

‘Social’ housing is no longer to be an option for people able to support themselves – they should be in private rented accommodation, or should be ‘aspiring’ to own their own property.
No. ‘Social’ housing is for the poor. For those on benefits. For those unable to look after themselves. For the 'failures of society', and those without acceptable ‘aspirations’. 

‘Social’ housing is to be ghettoised … it is to become the British equivalent of the South African townships.

Housing as a Means-tested Benefit
And there is a second, even darker, connotation to this restriction of social housing to poor people, because it amounts, essentially, to the means-testing of housing.

It thus subtly reduces the status of the social tenant – even if they are paying the full 80% rent – to ‘scrounger’.
Theirs is not an economic contract, paying an agreed rent for the house provided, as a full and equal citizen.
No.  Social house tenants are getting a means-tested cheap deal.

This is not a case of getting housing benefit to pay your rent if you need welfare benefit.  The social house itself has become a welfare benefit.

This latest DCLG announcement, therefore, is designed to the same end as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and other new DCLG rules that see social housing, not as a ‘home’, but merely as a temporary, revolving-door accommodation, into which you move because you cannot do otherwise financially, but out of which you are expected to move when your circumstances change. 

It is the death of the Beveridge vision for housing.

After the second world war, politicians such as Attlee, Bevan and Beveridge adopted a socialist model of Council Housing to try to solve Britain’s severe housing shortage.  Personally, I cannot see why what they did then would not work again now.

But, looking at what this Tory crowd are doing to our housing, I cannot help but think that they would feel that fighting the war had been a wasted effort.

1 comment:

  1. Sensible article: