Tuesday, February 05, 2008

You are invited to the funeral of the Labour dream - flowers not required...

I am unexpectedly angry this morning. This Labour government, with its attacks on civil liberties, its compulsive centralism and slavish desire to placate the Daily Mail, has long irritated me for the sole reason that it could do so much better. But now it finally dawns on me that not only can't they, they don't want to try.

Caroline Flint, the new housing minister, purports to be surprised that more than half of those of working age living in social housing are without paid work - twice the national average. If this is true, she is either a fool or a knave. Either way, she is not fit to be a minister of the Crown.

Social housing used to be fairly mainstream in the post-war era. "Homes fit for heroes" was the cry, and governments heeded the call, building houses and flats in sufficient numbers to ensure that everyone who wanted one had a roof over their head. They may not have been perfect, but they did a job. We've always had a culture of home ownership in this country and, as the opportunity arose, council tenants crossed over into the private sector, freeing up social housing for the next generation.

The Thatcher government glorified the cult of home ownership and personal ambition to an extent that made socially conscious liberals somewhat uncomfortable but even this might not have been fatal had they not been so contemptuous of both local government or the social market. By forbidding councils from spending the proceeds of 'Right to Buy' sales to invest in new social housing, they sparked the first property boom, priced the aspirational blue collar workers out of the market and generated the crash of 1991. Having bought my first home in July of that year, I wasn't complaining, let me assure you...

It was one of the things that toppled the Major government, and you would have thought, wouldn't you, that an incoming Labour government, with young Prudence Brown at the economic tiller, would have addressed the issue of a rampant property market. But they didn't...

So, here's a precis for the benefit of Caroline Flint;

1. Because social housing is allocated on the basis of need, it tends to go the poor, the disabled, and to families with larger numbers of children. The latter two categories tend to have lower rates of employment anyway - the disabled because of access and discrimination, large families due to the cost of childcare.

2. Social housing tenants tend to disproportionately come from ethnic minority backgrounds, particularly the Afro-Caribbean community, who - again - tend to suffer from discrimination in the job market.

3. The education services in areas with significant levels of social housing tend to struggle to attract and retain good teachers, leading to lower educational achievement.

In short, I take the view that Caroline Flint is a knave. By definition, she can't be an idiot.

The Conservatives aren't going to attack this policy. I suspect that they can't believe their luck. So it's up to us, and I pray to God that we have the courage and nous to do the job.



What's wrong with encouraging people to go out and work. I am on a normal income and I have two children. I manage to pay a mortgage, childcare and me and my wife both work, her part time, so we're hardly the Rockerfellers.

The essence of the minister's message is not wrong and I'd hate to see us becoming the friend of every group the Labour government attacks just because they are being targeted. There's nothing wrong with getting people to work to support themselves.

I speak as a long standing benefits officer who despaired at the people who would come to my office secure in the knowledge that they didn't have to lift a finger as the state would always provide. It is these people she is targeting and that's good. A lot of other people had genuine needs and those needs were provided. That is not in question.

It doesn't mean that all the people with more serious problems will be thrown out on their ear.

If liberalism is about anything it is about self-suffiency where possible - equality of opportunity. Work tends to lead to higher self-esteem. Are we to oppose that as well in the interests of criticising this failing government?

Anonymous said...

So, wit and wisdom, kicking them out into a situation that they can never get a job, have to spend any remaining meagre benefits they have on accomodation rather than food and clothing, and ultimately are then abandoned by the state...this is conducive to giving incentives to them? What happens when someone falls through the net, when data gets lost on a person, or when someone simply is in that unfortunate position that they fit the criteria and get evicted? The only recourse for them, if not European court of human rights, is crime. You'd prefer that I suppose, more homeless criminals than lazy benefit claimants (of which the proportions are staggeringly meagre in the system).

Mark, you're spot on, today has been a really bad day for Labour as far as I'm concerned, I'm not really anti-labour but the policy suggestions today and that have culminated today after the last week have been shocking. You might like to read some of my thoughts