Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year - let the social cleansing begin...

The Chartered Institute of Housing has published a report showing that, as new housing benefits rules come into effect from this month, there will be a short fall in the availability of rented housing set against the permissible housing benefit levels to be paid of some 800,000 properties, many of them family properties. In effect, millions of adults and children are to be left with stark choices - eat or have a roof over your head; or, perhaps even more tellingly about this government's real intentions, walk the streets where you are now, or move...preferably far away.

The problem is at its worst, unsurprisingly, in the better off boroughs of London, where at a stroke, tens of thousands of people in need will no longer have their housing costs met in full. The result will be a huge increase in demand in poorer areas, which are already struggling to cope, and so the anticipation is that these social outcasts will move away altogether to inhabit the dead zones of many of our decaying seaside resorts, far away from their social superiors, and also from any prospect of living in areas where there might be some reasonable chance of decent employment.

It is unsurprising that this is happening - the Government has trailed it long enough, with the Lib Dems contented support, as part of its combined strategy of deficit reduction and breaking so-called welfare dependency. The Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, has even suggested people should move onto boats - perhaps hoping these new Boat People might be conveniently washed away, out of sight of Tory voters.

Yet how is it that driving people away from areas they have lived in and may have some work, however limited or low paid, is going to break welfare dependency if they end up in some poky bed and breakfast in Southend? Or is it just another way of creating a large pool of even cheaper seasonal staff to service the well-heeled on their summer jaunts down to the coast? Someone to do retired Aunt Agatha's shopping for a few beads and nuts when she heads off to her retirement flat in Eastbourne?

Driving people out of their homes and communities - somehow, this perhaps more than anything else we have seen from the Con Dems, is the epitome of the drive back to a society that would make Victorian times look like a paean to egalitarianism. It is moving beyond gated communities to entire boroughs and counties with gates which might be invisible, but no less firm and unyielding than the iron ones that close off the cowering middle class revanchists keen to cling onto their material wealth.

It is a social cleansing that will lead only to more division, more tension and isolation between different groups in our battered society - at a cost far, far greater than any pounds or pennies saved through this most bitter turn of the screw on some of the most vulnerable people in our town and cities.


  1. So what’s the answer? At the strategic level, it’s just not sustainable we can’t keep spending (currently HB costs more than the Army and Navy combined) the money doesn’t go to the poor, it benefits the Buy-to-Let brigade, fuelling greater inequality and skewing the housing market. At the local level it means a low-wage family I invested a lot of time and effort in getting properly housed are going to struggle (though interestingly a few landlords locally are going to reduce rents rather than have the hassle of evection and finding new tenants).

  2. I agree the current arrangements often benefit unscrupulous landlords. There a few things that could be done that would be less painful on low income families.

    For example, a fair rent policy that bars rent above certain levels rather than barring rent support. Given the preponderance of rented properties and their importance in the housing and development strategies of the country, the private rented market needs heavy regulation.

    And return the mortgage market to the early 1990s rules - Buy to let mortgages were not legal then; the dergulation of the mortgage market to create the buy-to-let industry, which peaked mid-decade at one in three of all property purchases, has had a devastating impact on the social and economic fabric of the country.