Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Out of sight, out of mind

For some reason, the government's plan to cap housing benefit to a low percentage of the average rental price is really bugging me. Every time it crosses my mind, it seems more and more evil.

The idea, say the government, is that the welfare bill is way too high. They won't examine the reasons for this - successive governments building an economy on low wages while encouraging house price speculation, permanently excluding the poor from home ownership while banning council house building - but they may have a point.

The solution is (as Tory mayor of London Boris Johnson said) a form of ethnic or social 'cleansing'. Poor people - most of whom have jobs - are to be thrown out of their homes if they happen to be Londoners or living in other affluent cities, and sent to cheaper areas.

Morally, I think this is appalling. Before we even consider the economics and practicalities, what we're proposing to do is to smash up entire communities. Imagine being, say, a descendant of London's working class. Your grandparents refused to be evacuated during the Blitz. You've worked in the family's inherited trade and clung on to your little patch for generations. But your business - a market stall, say - has been hit by supermarkets and your ancestral bit of London has been gentrified, with rocketing house prices.

Suddenly, a letter arrives telling you that you're being evicted, and sent to some tough estate 40, 50, 60 miles away. Goodbye to your market stall. Goodbye to your extended family. No more visiting the graves of your parents and grandparents, from your social network: sports clubs, friendly baby-sitters, drinking mates, your clubs and societies. Your kids start over at another school which isn't keen on a bunch of poor strangers. You don't know any of your new neighbours, who aren't impressed by a load of refugees being dumped on their estates, especially as there's a shortage of housing for the locals. You're now jobless too. So you have to claim more benefits, which doesn't endear you to your new council or neighbours.

It's worse if you're displacing ethnic minorities, who live together for self-protection, economic reasons and cultural reasons. Dispersing them without regard for these matters will cause ethnic tensions, will stoke racism, and crudely smashes apart a major plank in most people's cultural lives. Imagine being the first black family in some derelict Essex seaside town, with a paper like my own Express and Star screaming about benefit claimants… What if you're a Welsh-speaker, suddenly uprooted from a rural village and sent to an English-speaking city, perhaps a long way off? Your language is rapidly lost once it becomes one spoken only in the home.

There are massive advantages for the council that's got rid of you. They can sell all their council housing to the middle classes, and the private rented accommodation can be sold or rented to richer people too. Your kids won't be costing them money in free school meals, health checks, after-school clubs, ASBO wardens, lollipop ladies, social workers etc. etc. Of course people dumped in distant places without the benefit of extended families and established community links (no social cohesion, in other words) drift more easily towards crime, disorder, poverty, drugs and deprivation. But why should the Tory councils give a shit? They're somebody else's problem now.

Politically, it's a stroke of evil genius too - reminiscent of Shirley Porter, the Westminster Council leader who illegally shifted all the poor voters into one or two electoral wards to make sure the Tories would never be thrown out of power. Poor people largely vote Labour. If you send them to poor areas, you'll win a few more seats where they used to live and the refugees won't make any difference electorally to where they're going.

So: economically, morally and politically, this is evil: gerrymandering and social cleansing with no regard for community or consequences.

This is why I call them Tory Scum, by the way.

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