‘Ship the poor out’: at least it’s honest

It’s always a mistake to buy a Murdoch newspaper.  But yesterday I couldn’t get an Observer so I bought the Sunday Times.  My defence is that it was an impulse buy.  Given that I normally read newspapers online I am now really pleased his papers are behind a
paywall that I will never breach.

My ire was stirred by an article by columnist Minette Marrin called ‘Crisis solved: ship the poor out of their costly homes and sell them’.  Seriously. It must be a cosy number writing a column like that, you take a report from a right wing think tank (in this case Policy Exchange’s ‘Making Housing Affordable’ ), add a couple of anecdotes and a bit of prejudice, and off you go.  It’s a bit like writing a blog but you get paid for it.

Anyway, her central thesis rests on 2 facts.  First that some social tenants live in valuable houses that could be sold and other housing provided ‘elsewhere’ with the money.  And secondly that old canard that social housing somehow causes poverty and unemployment. So, the thesis emerges: “to put it crudely, if people in social housing are not working and not thriving in one place, they might as well do the same thing somewhere much less expensive.”  At least it’s honest. 

Now, we’ve spent a lot of time on this blog trying to tackle the myths in housing, and in particular in social housing, so I don’t intend to repeat all the points.  Suffice to say that the fact that there is an association between 2 factors (in this case social housing and worklessness) tells us nothing about the causal relationship (ie social housing tends to house people who do not work, because they are in housing need,  rather than causing them to be workless).  And most of the tenants who do not work are not unemployed but economically inactive – the biggest group are retired (how shocking is that) and many others do not work because of disability, ill health or vulnerability and are unable to compete in the housing market.  In other words, social housing is doing its job.

What adds unpleasantness to inaccuracy is the line that ‘mixed communities do not work’ therefore it is a better use of money to ‘ship people out’ (the London example is used but all cities have social housing in their more valuable areas, and the arguments apply equally to unaffordable small towns and villages).  So the ground is prepared for social segregation, the concentration of poorer people in some areas and richer people in others, and the forced removal of people from communities where they might have spent their whole lives.

The concept of ‘elsewhere’ is central to the NIMBY’s cry – we need housing but somewhere else, not here.  But ‘elsewhere’ is already a poorer part of town with a higher proportion of social housing.  No doubt next week Marrin will condemning social housing ghettoes for breeding criminality and calling for more home ownership as the solution not more social housing.

The poor should not live here next to the rich, they can live elsewhere, this attitude was the
driving force behind Shirley Porter’s gerrymandering in the 1980s.  She may be disgraced, but she might also be quietly satisfied that her approach is now mainstream on the Tory right and increasingly central to government housing policy.

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