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.



Jim said...

Excellent post Clairwil. It's not just a mix of private and social housing we need though, we also need to look at a broader range of tenures that can make a home affordable.

Home ownership will simply not be attainable for some people for a variety of reasons, and even sustaining a tenancy can prove difficult for many.

The cost of land, and indeed sourcing suitable land for housing is a stumbling block for housing associations and local authorities.

My own view, for what its worth, is that we should also take a more holistic view of housing and introduce tougher legislation for the kind of anti social behaviour that blights communities, and that would include making it easier to evict people that make the lives of neighbours a constant misery.

asquith said...

An excellent post which addresses all of my concerns. But I'm back, burdening you again with my relentless questions, just as I do in real life...

Do you have any views on a Citizens' Basic Income? Do you envisage it replacing other benefits? I tried raising this one with my supervisors, and they were against because they said a system which didn't take into account individual circumstances would be inequitable.

I am attracted to a system in which having children one cannot pay for is no longer rewarded, in which there is an incentive for parents to stay together.

It seems many of our problems have been brought about by socialist policies which were well-intentioned but ulitmately detrimental. The CBI may seem harsh when its full implications are considered, but the real harsh thing imho is to let things go on as they are.

Clairwil said...

Thanks. You raise some good points. I'd like to see as many options as possible available for example shared ownership, supported tenancies etc.

Anti-social behaviour is a terrible problem. It doesn't take many anti-social tenants to cause mayhem. I've dealt with a number of cases through work and really all you can do is write letters, call the police and ask your councillor to do likewise. We need to get tougher and more imaginative in how we deal with this. A good start would be tackling the 'what do you expect this is Easterhouse/ Drumpchapel/ Craigmillar' attitude that seems to pervade housing offices and police stations.

I've got very mixed views on a Citizens Basic Income. Really I'd need to see any proposed legislation before giving a firm answer. I do like the idea but I have some concerns.

Firstly whilst I can see that it would remove the disincentive to work from those who want to but feel they can't afford to, those that don't want to work will carry on regardless. This would be fine if they spent their days writing poetry and flower arranging but let's face it they'll carry on pretty much as they have on state benefits without the inconvenience of signing on or attending medicals. Depending on what rate the CBI is set it we may just be making the lives of junkies, criminals and neds a little better paid than it is at present.

My second concern is that carers and the disabled would lose out. The fact that some people are genuinely disabled seems to be overlooked in the current debate on disability benefits. Carers Allowance is currently a joke and barely worth claiming but non-means tested Disability Living Allowance/ Attendance Allowance currently do a fairly good job of helping the disabled live decently. It's by no means a perfect benefit and could perhaps do with being reformed but I'd be sorry to see it go.

The whole children thing is a tricky one. Ideally every pregnancy should be planned and every child wanted but we're only human. I don't for a second believe that a significant number of people have children for the benefits they can claim afterwards. In my experience the much demonised single mother is astonishingly ignorant of the benefits system. I'm not really keen on penalising children for being born to idiots either. As a childless woman of a rather selfish disposition I'm rather keen on other people doing the breeding to allow me to looked after in my old age. We do, in my view, need to change this notion that a child is a right. It is perhaps just as well
that I'm not in charge because I'd withdraw NHS funding for fertility treatment. That'd sort the mothers and fathers from the I want brigade. Maybe then we wouldn't have such a shortage of foster carers and fewer children would be condemned to growing up in houses full of junkies -a social problem we're only beginning to see the terrible effects of.

I'd also like to see men take more responsibility for their own fertility. I'm rather tired of men rolling up in my office demanding that they be exempted from CSA payments because she said she was on the pill/ she's a cow / she's a bad mother/ I didn't want to have children/ the children who's names are tattooed down my arm are not mine.

P.S I'm slightly confused by your opening comment

'.... I'm back, burdening you again with my relentless questions, just as I do in real life...'

Do I know you in the real world?

asquith said...

No, you don't. I'm talking about the people I know in real life, whom I interrogate on a regular basis (they are generally more experienced than me, but I like to think I've got the intelligence to figure it all out, and am doing so). My online behaviour is pretty much the same as my offline behaviour, some like it and others don't...

I have read your views with interest, & it seems your position is like mine, "inconclusive". The idea of a CBI does seem a bit one size fits all. And you're right to suggest that this image of a cunning single mother, planning a career on benefits, isn't remotely accurate.

I believe most people on disability are genuinely disabled, and whether this is the case or not should be decided by medical professionals without the state breathing down their neck trying to cut the figures (which happens now). Too many people, especially on the right, are ignorant about disability.

But I do think disabled people should be encouraged into work if possible, if only because dependency is always hateful, and almost anything that helps people get out of the DWP's clutches is good. I'll never forget my time on Jobseekers' Allowance, how bureaucratic and inhuman it all was.

There is also the problem that what seems like a kind, generous policy may actually cause unseen damage, having unintended consequences.

It looks like I'll have to go back to observing cases and steadily battering my views into shape. Blogs like yours are helping, so are the experiences I'm constantly having. Brilliant stuff!

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