As promised in my last post I was going to look poverty in the context of the UK and based on my own experiences dealing with it and it's attendant problems in work. The first area I'd like to look at is housing.
'Asquith' in the comments below raises the financial havoc wrought in a household of benefit claimants if an adult child commits the sin of getting a job. Depending on the child's earnings an amount will be deducted from the parents housing and council tax benefit to make up for what the state decides the child should be contributing. The benefits system is riddled with this sort of disincentive to work. There is nothing like an angry mother to get a workshy teenager out of bed of a morning the least we could do is back her up.
I have no doubt the majority of people in this situation just get on and cut their cloth accordingly but a rummage through my case files indicates that there is a significant minority that don't. Often taking a job prompts the parent to ask the child to leave home -adding to the pressure on an already oversubscribed housing system and saddling the low waged child with a tenancy they can ill afford.
Given the low wages generally involved in these cases and the mountains of paperwork generated I wonder if it's worth it, does it lead to any significant savings? Not only the new housing benefit forms that need to be completed but if the application is delayed and arrears build up to the point where court action is taken then legal aid can be added to the cost.
I'm not convinced that non dependant deductions should be done away with altogether but they could be a little more generous to the low paid, perhaps only kicking in once net earnings pass £250 per week. In any case penalising people for keeping their adult children at home when house prices and private rents are so high and social housing is so scarce doesn't make much sense.
Part of the problem with the majority of social housing lies with planning. The planners of the schemes couldn't foreseen that one day the homes they were building would one day be the empty, depressed areas they are today. Nevertheless whilst it might once have been convenient to to house the poor in the one place, it has been disastrous. I'm always struck by the contrast between the state of social housing in purpose built schemes and the small pockets of it in more affluent areas. The large council schemes of Glasgow were devastated by the closure of heavy industry and subsequent high unemployment. Had these areas been more mixed they would at least have been able to maintain some local amenities and avoided the downward spiral that brings us to where we are today.
In Glasgow following the demolition of some of tower blocks plans are underway to rebuild the areas affected. I have no idea what is planned but I hope there will be a mix of social and private housing suited to a range of incomes, rather than another bleak lets hide the poor monstrosity. A good social mix in an area would go someway to removing the stigma mainly unfairly attached to living in some of the more notorious schemes as well as making it worthwhile for businesses like shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, markets and the like to come to the area.
I am not advocating breaking up existing communities, one of the most impressive things about schemes is the strong sense of community. If you doubt anyone would be willing to build in these areas then might I draw your attention to the catchily named Greater Easterhouse Housing Partnership Area Housing Plan which describes demand for home ownership in the area as healthy and points to the level of recent sales as evidence of this. I would also note the current level of new private housing currently being built as evidence that demand is there. Easterhouse and it's problems are by no means unique, there is no reason why this couldn't be duplicated elsewhere.
There is I believe another benefit to having areas of mixed housing. It gives people from the area who've done well financially the option of remaining in the area should they wish. Not only does this help families and communities stay together but provides something other than the local drug dealer as an example of local success. It would also go some way to addressing the pessimism and hopelessness felt by many people in the schemes. It's easy to believe you've no hope in life when you are surrounded by at best people struggling on low wages and at worst people who've never worked at all.