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Archive for May, 2012

The Unbearable Shiteness of Shapps

Earlier tonight I watched a local (London) news item on the number of people being moved out of the area they live in due to the changes in HB (housing benefit). Of the 26 London boroughs that responded to the BBC’s request for information 65% said that they had moved people out of their area – this could be either to other, less ‘well off’ boroughs, often in the outer areas of the city, or even outside of London. It’s not only the case that people will be moved from affluent areas, but inner London boroughs where demand far outstrips supply (Haringey, Newham etc.) will also try and move households in order to cut costs and alleviate waiting lists.

The councils were also asked to provide figures but only two did and the BBC focused on Kensington & Chelsea which said it had moved 769 households out of the area. One of these households is a single parent family, mother and teenage son, who landed up in Becontree on the fringes on of East London. The mother works, we know that because she now has to commute from one side of London back across to the other for her job, but with the prohibitive cost of housing she also has to claim HB. She was born in Kensington & Chelsea and lived there all her life but had been offered a ‘choice’ of Becontree, Reading or Wales and so had chosen the other side of London rather than the other side of the UK. I say ‘chosen’, she had no choice, as she made clear.

We were then treated to a few seconds of Tory housing minister Grant Shapps who attempted to justify his government’s social re-engineering. Is it fair, he said, that people should be able to live on a street paid for by taxpayers who couldn’t afford to live on that street themselves. And that was that.


An inept omnishambles speaks, yesterday (or any time in the last 2 years

This is the reductive, soundbite rhetoric that has replaced coherent explanation and justification of policy from politicians. Talk of ‘hard working families’ that are ‘doing the right thing’ and so must be fed up as ‘taxpayers’ with bearing the ‘burden’ of those claiming benefits. It’s nothing new, of course, and Labour have been and still are guilty of this perceived populist approach, but the current regime has taken it to new extremes. In reality this rhetoric offers no justification for the actions being taken and lives being ruined and often does not reflect the realities faced by millions.

Let us take the venerated taxpayer, for example – we (for I am one) are represented as a lumpen mass furiously reacting against spongers and layabouts. The reality is very different as many of us understand that in order to live in a semblance of an ordered and cohesive society we must collectively contribute to that end. I don’t have children and I don’t intend to – should I then take up arms against the billions spent on schools, child welfare and child benefit? Of course I shouldn’t as, to the best of my self knowledge, I’m not reactionary, selfish and insular. The fact that many of those who find themselves needing (not wanting) state assistance are themselves taxpayers, such as the woman in the BBC news report.

In the case of housing other realities are conveniently/willfully/ineptly glazed over by our current panjandrum minster for housing. Instead of criticizing people for trying to live in areas where housing costs are high he should perhaps try addressing the reasons why costs have risen so much: the artificial housing bubble created in order to ‘boost’ our economy; the million plus council properties that have been lost to Right to Buy; the severely under-regulated private rental sector. But no – the fetishization of property ownership continues unabated; Right to Buy has recently been relaunched with bigger ‘discounts’; and the under-regulation continues, currently allowing private landlords in London’s ‘Olympic boroughs’ to hoist up already unreasonable rents in order to profit from the running and jumping jamboree taking place this year. One East London man spoke of the contract on his £100 a week room coming to an end only for his landlord to say the rent would now be £250 a week. Landlords can do this knowing that due to the housing crisis they will be able to claw back the lower paying tenants once the Olympics are over.

The ultimate reality is that these policies are not about reducing the deficit but are a thinly veiled ideological attack on public services, part of the ‘small state’ war waged by neoliberal governments for the last 30 years. With regard to housing there is another insidious motive, that of social engineering and gerrymandering in order to shape voting areas. This government is trying to mold society to suit its own needs, now and for the future, and is willingly discarding those people, those millions of people, who do not fit in with the project.

Previous rants on Shapps/housing:

A plague on all your houses

Living in Westminster: for the privileged on the Right

The ghost of Dame Shirley

The dangers of promotion above ability

Unrealpolitik

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Spider Jerusalem on voting

“You want to know about voting? I’m here to tell you about voting. Imagine you’re locked in a huge underground nightclub filled with sinners, whores, freaks and unnameable things that rape pit bulls for fun. And you ain’t allowed out until you all vote on what you’re going to do tonight. You like to put your feet up and watch ‘Republican Party Reservation’. They like to have sex with normal people using knives, guns and brand new sexual organs that you did not know existed. So you vote for television and everyone else, as far as the eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That’s voting. You’re welcome.”

If you haven’t read Warren Ellis’ miraculous ‘Transmetropolitan’, you really should.