Friday, 1 April 2011

No Dogs No Blacks No Irish

So today the changes in housing benefit come into force.

Since the government proposed this saving they’ve been told by various charities, Opposition and their own committees, working parties and anyone else with an interest in fairness, that this will force poor people out of their homes and communities, so it’ll be interesting to see what actually happens.

Which is to say that it’ll be interesting to see just how many families are made homeless, are shoved into hostels, how many children are forced to leave their friends and schools and how many people are forced to move away from their local support networks (used to be known as ‘friends and family’.)

Take a look at this
[Paragraph 59] It is difficult to predict the precise impacts of the LHA changes in London given the number of factors involved. Nonetheless it is clear that the changes in London will result, as they are intended to, in substantial levels of household movement. The Government has acknowledged this and has increased funding for Discretionary Housing Payments, in order to provide local authorities with the means to assist with the transition.  [My emphasis]

It’s fairly obvious where my political sympathies lie but I suggest that it takes a certain kind of person to consider it appropriate to bodily remove people from their home on the sole basis of their income. And yet this issue is being discussed quite openly by apparently civilized people. “Why should poor people live in nice areas? Why should poor people live in decent homes?” or as Shaun Bailey asks, "
"You can talk about your right to live in the community where you grew up, but where do you get the right to spend other people's money?”
We hear a great deal about the politics of envy and that charge is always leveled against people who object to gross inequality, but it seems that it is partly envy that motivates what passes for discourse on this subject. “I don’t get my home paid for, why should They? I can’t afford to live in a pleasant area, why should They?” The question I have never heard asked is: Why don't more people live in good rented homes that don't cost more than a quarter of their income, in pleasant areas?

That's a book unto itself, but it's interesting that Germany, with a strong economy similar to our own has a home ownership rate of around 40%. Most Singaporeans live in public housing and there's no social stigma at all. There's a real link in Europe between poverty and home ownership. Supply and demand are obvious first principals here, and in the UK we're told that one of the primary signs of being a successful adult is the possession of a morgage.

Which is what caused the financial meltdown in the US and which will cause, as it did in the 90's, huge numbers of repossessions as interest rates rise, as they must.

Another question that no one at all seems to ask is, why did councils build social housing in or close to affluent areas in the first place?

The life of Octavia Hill is a textbook example of the Big Society. She left school at 14, her father blew the family money and within 8 years she’d created 15 housing schemes with 3,000 very low paid or occasionally paid tenants. She was also a martinette and was only really interested in the Deserving Poor, making whole families homeless because the children weren’t sent to school, but she was amongst a group of social reformers who shamed society into caring for the very poorest people.   
Two decades before Hill, the destitution, disease and despair of slums had become too much too ignore and, more pointedly, an exhausted workforce was not productive, which prompted reformers and Government to address the issue. The Quakers, with a solid foundation in basic fairness, created factories with communities built around them – decent homes and schools that recognized the need for and allowed people, families and communities some dignity.
Although decent homes were originally built for workers the concept that The Poor ™ could be made better by emulating The Good (no irony intended, to be rich was to be good, with a plain opposite) but there’s always been unease about having The Poor too close. Garden Cities were a way of moving whole communities into new homes in decent surroundings, promoting self-sufficiency. I wonder what all those philanthropists, most of them steeped in the Protestant Work Ethic, would think the new housing benefit scheme shifting familes wholesale into effective slums and flophouses?
During both wars, it was noticed that poor people were simply too ill to fight and more rounds of social reform were undertaken. The Minister for Health & Housing, Aneurin Bevan, created new estates where ". . . the working man, the doctor and the clergyman will live in close proximity to each other,” because of its basic humanizing effect for all concerned, and as a measure of the standards of building and environment. 
In Europe, we look to Paris to see what happens when we shunt poor people into miserable, low employment, low income dumps. In South America it's the favela. It’s been called Apartheid, and has a particular resonance with post-Colonial immigrant groups in France, but it’s much the same in the UK, and today’s changes make that absolutely, unequivocally clear.
The internalized self-hatred of so many low earners is depressing. I know Shaun Bailey, the Conservative ex-candidate who speaks so forcefully and endlessly about his deprived background – in Notting Hill. He now works towards dismantling the support and help his mother and he got throughout his childhood so that it can’t be afforded to anyone else. I mention Mr Bailey in particular because he’s a very public figure who seems to believe that everyone should be like him, something that so many of us seem to believe too. If you’re ill, then just get better. If you’re unlucky, well you should be optimistic and Make It Happen. If you just can’t work a 40 hour week, then you should stop being a lazy scrounger and join the rest of the Soylent Green masses. But to pull oneself up by the bootstraps, one has to have boots. 
Bailey was used this week to attempt to counter another Estate born-and-bred person, Zadie Smith and here’s his thoughtful philosophy on loneliness: 
“Say Hi. It transforms people’s worlds.”
Forget Maslow and his ridiculous hierarchy of needs. Forget the well-researched and documented causes of isolation, alienation and disenfranchisement, Just Say Hi.  
I’m deeply disheartened at how quickly our societies degrade into Social Darwinism. Advertisements for rented housing already include a long list of “No DSS” which is the equivalent of ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’ and which hasn’t been objected to by anyone in anything like power, ever. Never mind that the DSS was renamed in 2001, we all know what it means. It means a great many landlords won’t touch poor people, despite the fact that they’ll be paid regular as clockwork. The majority of those that still offer people on housing benefit a roof object to having their rental income cut to £250 a week for a single bedroom and shared toilet and kitchen.
Shaun Bailey and his mum would today risk being moved anywhere where house prices, standards of living and wages are low where they’d be as welcome as any other refugee. And so could you, if you get ill or unlucky. Caring for the poor is, as well as a moral and ethical concern, ultimately a matter of watching our own back. There but for the grace of God and meaningful Housing Benefit go we.

1 comment:

  1. From a poster who would rather remain anonymous . . .

    'Very insightful. Of course Mr Bailey's thinking is as twisted as that of the millionaire playboys he wishes to emulate. While banging on about decent working people blabla, he lives in a housing association flat and he does not get an income from his campaign base, My Generation. No one knows where he gets his income from - the best bet is wealthy Tory sponsors.'