23 Sep 2010

Welfare: an extra terrestrial view

Were I a Martian hack visiting earth, what would I detect to be the lead story? Internationally, undoubtedly Earth’s inability to feed itself. Domestically, the lead story in Britain would almost certainly have to be the reality that well into the 21 Century, Britain is unable to house its people. Some five million are currently “under-housed” – homeless, squatting with relatives, crammed into overcrowded or substandard housing.

The National Housing Federation reckons that this year fewer than 100,000 new homes will be built. A figure even worse than Labour’s outgoing record of 120,000 homes built – the worst figure since 1922.

In my spare time, as regular Snowbloggers will know, I chair the New Horizon Youth Centre – a drop-in day centre for homeless and vulnerable teenagers in Central London, where I worked for three years as director before becoming a hack.
We are feeling the pressure. We are finding more and more students, and working youngsters who simply cannot find accommodation.

The old resources are taking in people further up the food chain, pushing still more of the very neediest out from the bottom. For those at the very bottom, depressed, often penniless, and in need, there is virtually nothing.

We are seeing some 3,000 young people a year at the centre, our outreach teams reach many more.  Fifty to 60 a day come to the centre who need the rudimentary human resource of a place to lay their heads.

This morning I listened to the Coalition Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith talking about welfare reforms. Seeing him one senses he is already in a coalition with himself. A man who has made the journey from the right of the right, to the political mainstream and life with the Liberal Democrats.

We live in troubled times. There is no money and great need.

There is a month to go to the Spending Review on 20 October. Until the deed is done, there is great anxiety that the baby will be thrown out with the welfare bathwater.

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30 reader comments

  1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Since losing my marital home 25 years ago , being thrown out with fraudulent debts which I acquired and 2 very young children the thought of homelessness has sickened me. I cried and walked the streets with Diana looking at folks in cardboard houses, i shuddered at the thought that these poor souls were left in the ice and snow in doorways with nowhere to go. Luckily I had a profession which enabled me to get a mortgage and although struggle, live with my 2 children in safety but ..WHAT IF?

    I cannot find it anywhere in my heart forgiveness for persons who allow others to roam about the streets without shelter.But who is going to take the reponsibility for these folks, some of who have been decent, previously well off people who have worked hard to keep rooves over others heads, some abused children and teenagers, prostitutes finding that this is the only way they can actually find a living.

    We cannot ignore them. We cannot cope with them!

    I remember chatting about a film I saw where aliens loked down on earth and all they could make of our language was sound bites, adverts , glitz and recorded songs.. is this all we are?

  2. adrian clarke says:

    IN some ways i agree Jon,but Welfare with all its various levels and entitlements is a nightmare.I was an executive officer in Social Security as it then was , in Birmingham,in 1970.In those days a single young claimant got,8 weeks benefits and by then was expected to be back in work.I had to do 3 evening visits within 13 weeks on single mums , to see if they were cohabiting.If they were assumed to be their benefit stopped.The two things that were paramount , hardship had to be avoided in the young and old.I heard few complaints.
    Now I am afraid claimants, particularly the young see benefits as a long term excuse not to work
    There appears particularly in the South not to be sufficient affordable housing to buy or more appropriately to rent.Surely it is not beyond the state to build single room , hostel type accomodation for the unemployed and student population .Far cheaper than building houses.
    I find it appalling though that the Coaltion is telling the UN that Britain will ring fence the aid budget.
    I am afraid that money except for emergency relief should remain in the UK until our own problems are sorted.

    1. Mudplugger says:

      You’re right, Adrian, particularly with the shortage of affordable accommodation in the south-east.

      But surely one key responsibility of any strategic government is to balance the needs of all its citizenry, something which would be easily achieved if they would only get out of being so London-centric. Yet this (and the previous) group of short-sighted metropolitans are now planning to waste vast sums building a slightly-faster train, just so they can get back to their comfort zones after their occasional token forays to the ugly provinces.

      We need a government for all the country, one which sets out to distribute both wealth and problems equally throughout the land. With modern technology, that’s now far easier to do, so why won’t they do it ? Because they are all heavily invested personally in that south-east corner, creating comfort for the wealthy few and abject misery for the rest.

      Make a key start my moving 95% of central government employees and operations outside the M25 – then sit back and watch the rest of the economy follow. It’s as simple as that.

    2. adrian clarke says:

      mud, you are so right .The perfect location would be Birmingham .Central in the whole country

    3. Paul Begley says:

      I agree that welfare is a nightmare, but my nightmare is slightly different:
      – whenever we discuss benefit claimants, we’re told about those who don’t want to work. Well, do you really think one and half million previously hard-working people have suddenly become workshy since 2008?
      – sources like the Daily Mail love to tell us about claimants getting £20,000 or £25,000 per year. They fail to point out that the housing benefit bill dominates that, because the cost of renting a very ordinary family home in the overheated southeast can easily be £18000 per year. These funds pass to the landlord.
      – the majority (60%, according to Barnardos) of the children growing up in poverty in the UK are being raised by working parents. In an interlocking system of low wage rates and means-tested in-work benefits, pay bargaining has no relevance at all – it’s a discussion of the relative cost to employer and taxpayer, of a constant subsistence income for the worker.

      During the election campaign, I posted that most people want to live in a country where they can earn a living. Instead, where we live, a few are allowed to make a killing.

    4. PallMall says:

      I support overseas aid in principle, but it is kinda ironic that the UK is donating billions to nuclear armed Pakistan and India, AND debating the affordability of its own updated nuclear deterrent. .

  3. Paul Begley says:

    Unable, or unwilling, to house its people? Creating an artificial housing shortage would be a pretty effective way to ensure that property values were maximised. At that, of course, was the source of our perception that we were getting richer over the past three decades. Essentially we’ve been redistributing wealth from those without property, to those with.

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Unable/unwilling?? No government whatever its colour has tackled the problem.There is plenty of housing , or should be.Part of the problem is that Governments are trying to get(or Labour did) councils to offload their housing stock to housing associations or ALMO’S.My council set up an ALMO completely against the wishes of its tenants.All that has done in my eyes is to restrict further new housing stock being built ,but supposedly reducing council costs or in the case of ALMO,s able to access more government money.
      Undoubtably the lack of housing was exacerbated , by Labours lax and dangerous multi culturism and free immigration policy

    2. anniexf says:

      Hear, hear Paul, on both of your comments. It seems obscene to me that, even here on an unremarkable former council estate on the outskirts of north-east Birmingham, a nondescript, mid-terrace, 2.5 bedroom “box” we bought for just over £40K 15 years ago is now “worth” £120K, when all we have done is replaced the kitchen (DIY) and double-glazed the windows. Of course, we now have “amenities”, like a park, playgrounds, Sainsbury’s, Comet et al – but the actual structure of our house is unchanged, so its intrinsic value is no more. It’s the market value which makes us “better off” (huh!) – on paper. In practical, everyday reality we’re worse off, both being well into retirement.

    3. Paul Begley says:

      I’ve never seen your house Annie, but I think it’s a good and valuable thing. Why? – because it’s something you now own, as a result of the work you did. But if your street is anything like mine, there will be quite a few of the current generation working harder than we did, paying “market rents” to a private landlord, and with little hope of ever owning their own home.

  4. Gerry says:

    The Martian hack would see a civilisation which, having passed its peak, is now going downhill with increasing speed, unable to cope with the problem that overrides all others – overpopulation – and seemingly largely unaware that it is even a problem, being too busy firefighting. The hack will wonder why we are unable to see the end-of-the-line rapidly hoving into view and still continue on our course to self-destruction, but then he/she would have the benefit of hindsight, having seen what happened to his/her own planet, and having escaped on a starship with Bill Shatner just in time. (Unfortunately, the Martian Primary Directive will prevent him/her from assisting us to change our course).

  5. anniexf says:

    I doubt whether the rate of housebuilding has ever kept up with the demand for homes; but usable properties are out there, unoccupied. It’s a national disgrace that some people can profit from the housing market by building up lucrative little empires, while others don’t even have a roof. Until there’s a truly socialist government prepared to tackle the root cause of homelessness nothing will change. Duncan Smith’s “Reforms” will doubtless victimise the victims; and Shelter will continue to plead for more donations.

    1. Paul Begley says:

      IDS’s plan can be found on the DWP website – it’s called “21st Century Welfare”.

      In principle, it doesn’t look bad and identifies most of the poverty trap. In practice it won’t be achievable fairly, as it is required to ignore the idea that a real job pays a worker enough to live on.

      So it will have to incentivise unemployed and casualised workers by driving the benefits floor down, rather than increasing the minimum/living wage. It’s not clear to me that there’s much scope to drive the benefits floor down, unless we’re willing to see malnourished children living on the streets. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

      I’m very uncomfortable with one idea it floats – that people in receipt of in-work benefits should be encouraged (ie bullied) by DWP to “maximise the work that they do”. This seems to be heading towards something like a conscript workforce, which the state delivers to the private sector.

    2. adrian clarke says:

      Annie , your suggestion that all must wait until there is a true Socialist goverment, appears to say that you do not believe that the Labour party we just endured was a Socialist party.Now, they as all Labour parties in the past were incapable of running the economy.I dread to think what a Socialist party would do .What state then the public finances? Would it run like the current left wing unions , like Soviet Russia.One law of lowest equality for the masses , whilst the leaders sit in todays bankers mansions?
      I trust you have read Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell a true left wing Socialist journalist,highlighting just how a Socialist state would progress.
      For all those who try to say Labour were not Socialist enough , i despair.Only now we have a new government are we beginning to see the control and red tape that was enveloping every aspect of our life here.The random and rapid immigration , that is doing much to undermine our culture and security.
      Do not the Socialists see that places like Russia and China that are such states that should appeal to them , are opening up to Capitalism. I wonder why.

    3. anniexf says:

      Adrian, of course the Labour government wasn’t Socialist! Neither Blair nor Brown ever pretended it was. And of course I’ve read Orwell! But I don’t have to agree with his conclusions, for we are English, not Soviet Russian or Chinese, and I suspect that as an Eton-educated convert to Socialism, and a visionary of sorts, he (Blair, in real life – how deliciously ironic!) might just have over-egged the pudding somewhat. Soviet Russia really scared him.
      What I expect from this government is a return to the laissez-faire capitalism of Thatcher & co. There was no bigger con than Thatcher’s “trickle-down effect” comment. It was harsh and cruel. We all know what that means – having to get essentials from jumble sales , as I did when my child was a baby, before I managed to find affordable childcare so I could work. There is absolutely no valid reason why this country can’t, or shouldn’t, provide decent affordable housing for its citizens. It’s a basic requirement for calling ourselves civilised, surely? THAT’S what I mean by Socialism.
      It’s appalling that in the C21st., organisations like Shelter and the one Jon’s with even have to exist in the UK.

    4. margaret brandreth- jones says:

      Do you know Adrian , Eric Blair did not actually state that is phrophecies were built on socialist ideals.Some prefer to think that they ar political statement for others to put their own interpretation on..e.g. 1984 totalitarianism

    5. adrian clarke says:

      Annie and Margaret,you can not adjust Socialism to the bits you like,or say that because this is Britain our Socialism would be different.As for Blair he was a true socialist writer , he fought in the Spanish civil war.You can not say his books were not showing Socialism , just because it does not suit your argument.Just as you say Brown was not a Socialist.Annie you can not pick housing socialism and say that is your Socialist philosophy just because it suits .You either want true Socialism with its belief that everyone is lowered to the lowest standard so all are equal , or you want a new kind of society altogether.
      I personally believe in equality of opportunity where those that would fall by the wayside are assisted and that the welfare that this blog started with is a safety net , not a “ticket to ride”
      You let Socialism back or into this country and we will be in an even worse state than we are.I am not saying i believe in the excesses of capitalism .I have often derided the bankers and their like,but somehow someone has to make money to pay for the state.If you can show me a socialist way to do that i might be converted

    6. Paul Begley says:

      Conventional Interpretations of Orwell:
      Animal Farm: By the end, the pigs (new regime) look identical to the humans (old regime) – implies the exercise of power and privilege lead to the same outcome, regardless of who has them.
      1984: Three power blocks, different flags, all controlling their serfs through hate (for the other two blocks) and fear – implies the label doesn’t matter, just the power and how it’s used.
      Or did I miss something?

  6. adz says:

    As i’m sure you were well aware before me Jon, politians are just front men and puppets for the real world dominators who are multi multi trillionaires.
    These beings have far higher interests. Housing is quite far down the profit list for them.

    Your work at New Horizon is highly comendable.

    adzmundo TVP

    1. adz says:

      “Queen tried to use State Poverty Fund to heat Palace…”
      As proud as I am of my british blood, the royals are not part of that.
      What they are part of, is the multi trillionaire club who pull the Strings on world affairs from behind the curtains and they want to go into the State Poverty Fund?
      Say no more..for now.
      adzmundo TVP

  7. Peter Stewert says:

    One issue feeding the house problem is the uneven distribution & quality of public services.

    The post code lottery of the best schools & best healthcare has meant that families are very sensitive house price drops & market lulls, since these have negative impacts on their ability to quickly/frequently move to place themselves into the best catchment areas. By becoming a popular area the local housing prices rise, and little-by-little the housing booms built as home owners had to not only pay for a home but also make it worthwhile for existing owners to leave. Building new homes would only have burdened the attractive services. Building new homes would also have brought down prices or at least cooled the local market, making it harder for existing families to move on if the new housing dilutes the quality of local services.

    If only we had a government that was able/willing to ensure we all have fair access to the universally good services… ah well, no sense grumbling now when in a few decades current homes will be navigational hazards for the must have house-boat were moving home is a grand nautical adventure.

    1. Paul Begley says:

      Spot on, Peter – the rarer “nice areas” are, the higher their market value.

      Also, I think we need to look at the uneven distribution of private investment. National companies tend to have corporate HQ’s in London, so that’s where the choices are made. Their operations in Belfast, Barnsley and Bangor become part of a huge Cash Cow, sucking wealth out of the regions.

    2. adrian clarke says:

      Peter where i do not disagree with you , i believe you also miss the point.A lack of housing will always drive up the price in a market economy,but surely governments are not responsible for that, it is the Capitalist building firms seeking to maximise their profits.
      Where governments fail is the lack of social housing being provided or built.
      One way forward would be to allow councils to use all housing revenue included that from house sales to be used towards new build

  8. Neil Craig says:

    I put this on Channel 4’s “Snowblog”. The intro is a reply to Mr Snow’s contention that Earth’s “inability to feed itself” is the big piece of world news & Britain’s inability to build houses is Britain’s. It was posted here. Perhaps it will be answered or perhaps mot:

    Earth is perfectly able to feed itself & indeed is doing so. Britain is perfectly capable of providing a virtually unlimited amount of inexpensive modular housing, if the government were not preventing it. Neither is a real problem.

    Another fake problem caused purely by government regulation is rising power costs. In that regard I was pleased to see you last night say that “we are going to have a discussion on wind power”. Unfortunately the alleged discussion was no such thing but instead a three headed sales pitch. The discussers were a representative from the wind farm industry who, understandably, is enthusiastic about being given £240 billion from the taxpayer (£4,000 from every man woman & child) & one from the Renewable Energy Foundation whose enthusiasm was only faintly marred by his wish that other uneconomic sources of power not miss out on the bung.

    A real discussion would have involved people of differing views. In particular the exclusion of anybody willing to point out that all this power & much more could be supplied at 1/4 of our current electricity costs without us having to fork over a single bung, with infinitely greater reliability & indeed far less carbon.

    1. Paul Begley says:

      Interesting assertions Neil. It does look as if there are sufficient reserves of grain in the USA to allow the world to ride out the crises in Russia and Pakistan, if speculators don’t drive the price up.
      Sadly, the speculation has already begun – the donations we make to Oxfam, CAFOD and the rest are going to buy less grain, and people will be left without food while commodity brokers make larger profits and grain remains uneaten. So while the Earth is “able to feed itself”, it seems unlikely it will choose to do so.

  9. Neil Craig says:

    ctd. … There must be some reason why C4 continuously censors any genuine discussion on this, & so many other issues. Perhaps there is another reason other than the obvious option of C4 News not being a genuine news organisation but simply a wholly corrupt, fascist, government controlled propaganda organisation employing nobody even attempting real journalism. Mr Snow if you feel there is another explanation please let me know because, for the life of me, I cannot imagine what it might be.

  10. Vivien says:

    Most private rents are far too high and there seems to be no regulation about it. Admittedly, tenants are paying for repairs (hopefully) and don’t have to worry about, for instance, roof repairs and subsidence, but mostly tenants pay, for years, far more than the cost of repairs and usually fund the high life of the house owner: a tenant, without any assets coming from the property, might as well stuff half the rent money down a drain. I don’t know what the answer is! Socialist housing in Communist countries was worse.

  11. a says:

    Mr Snow got 60000 for his memeorirs; Can’t he make a personal contribution;

    I bet ypu wotking only 4 daysd he earns more than national mimum;

    How much does he spend on hius boxers?.

  12. margaret brandreth- jones says:

    Adrian ,I am saying that his comments were social perspectives and warnings without categorisation. All politics are social perspectives. No people , no money.
    As you say he wrote his novel ‘Homage to Catalonia’ with his own experiences in mind as he did ‘Down and Out in Paris and London.’

    His incisive prediction, I reiterate, was his fear of totalitarianism, a three way divided globe, ? cyber controllers and ficticiously reasoned wars.

  13. Neil Craig says:

    Vivien I think iof you are interested you will find that your question about high rents has already been answered on my previous comment.

    As is obvious neither Mr Snow nor anybody on C4 is able to dispute censoring any reporting of the answer to that question, or so many others, to support big gobvernment fascism. No surprise there then.

Comments are closed.