Monday, 22 November 2010

Daft laddie and the magic porridge pot

Most people in social housing (two thirds according to this note) claim housing benefit. It’s kinda confusing then to read the lovely new government proposal to allow social housing rents to be raised to 80% of the local private sector market average. So is housing benefit going to be increased to cover any (and all) increases then? That seems a tad unlikely given the emphasis is on cutting or at least capping housing benefit spending, which leaves me thinking tenants will be expected to pay the difference. Except, as already noted, most social housing tenants receive benefits to pay their rents i.e. they are by definition poor, so where exactly are they going to find the cash to pay any increased rents, the magic porridge pot?

The other thing that gets me is the notion of introducing regular means testing of social housing tenants. The rationale for doing so is so obvious enough if somewhat disgusting – if you can afford to rent from the private sector, in other words you’ve got a job, you shouldn’t be in social housing. But, given the proposal to allow social housing rents to rise only so far as 80% of the local private sector average, it’s very clear that even at its worst social housing will still cost less than the private sector alternative i.e. a policy that forces people out of social housing into private accommodation actually creates a clear incentive to not find work (or to only find very low paid work) because if you do (a) you lose your benefits, (b) you’ll have to move house, with all the uprooting that entails, and (c) you’ll have to pay more in rent so could well be no better or even worse off financially.

This perverse disincentives argument also applies to the waffle being spraffed about making it easier for social housing tenants to move between housing associations in search of work; if you do so successfully, then again by definition you render yourself ineligible for social housing. There again capping the housing benefit individual’s receive is likely to make moving in search of work less of an option anyway given high employment areas tend to have higher private sector rents.

Picking through those obvious contradictions (and the punitive approach to being a benefit claimant they embody) is quite an interesting thing I think. There’s a rhetoric of get on your bike and various other moralising shite being used to legitimise them at the same time as the market signals they actually send out are hopelessly contradictory to the point of being arguably counter-productive. Given that I’d categorise them as being more ideological gestures than anything else, in fact I’d categorise them as being expressions of dogma especially given unlike say the bankers’ bonus tax they are permanent rather than temporary measures. Following on from this is the extent they appear to exemplify a reworking of the relationship between the state and the individual and associated expectations as to what the limits of the welfare state should be i.e. this is some pretty heavy shit.

Looking to the left though, well Labour, I’ve no sense of there being any especially meaningful response let alone critique. Partly, this represents a Labour elite’s focus on power politics and tactics – lets have a 2 year policy review so we can come up with a strategy for the next election and in the meantime avoid any meaningful engagement with what’s actually happening give or take the odd huff and puff. Partly part II itts because of a depressing failure of imagination on the part of Labour’s grassroots where the universal response to pretty much anything is to (a) identify a problem and (b) recommend throwing more state at it to solve it in an environment where because the rules of the game have been accepted (by the Labour elite), this simply won’t happen.

The end result of all this is rather straightforward – just in time for Crimbo it looks like single mother’s the length and breadth of the country will be looking forward to living without something else to make sure their kid(s) have a roof over their heads. But, that’s all good cos its not as if they’d ever take to the streets in protest (government nursery arrangements being what they are), so fuck them I guess. Now, Kate Middleton aside, whose next on the list for getting royally fucked?

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