It was striking to watch Question Time last night and see how the debate about unemployment turned round when one of the participants mentioned that Job Seekers Allowance is £67.50 per week. Constance Briscoe, a rather unpleasant right wing judge, who had been making extraordinary generalisations about subsidising those who don’t want to work and the ‘something for nothing attitude’, was close to being silenced by this one little fact. Her well-known book, Ugly, tells her story of a hard childhood, but seems to me to also be an accurate description of her opinions.
Harsher attitudes towards the poor and unemployed were a theme of the week, and seem to be growing in strength according to the latest British Social Attitudes Survey. Views such as the poor are lazy, benefits are too high, child poverty is the fault of the parents, seem to be on the rise. It showed that 54% of the public believe jobless benefits are too high and thereby discourage the unemployed from finding work, up from 35 per cent in 1983, the first year of the survey (coincidentally just after a recession and with Tories in power).
I suspect the outcome would be different if for every appearance in the media by a Constance Briscoe there was a Mehdi Hassan (of the New Statesman) who put up a stout defence of the poor on the programme. But the constant drip feed of Mail/Telegraph/Sun etc stories about benefit scroungers and the dependency culture, duly repeated on TV by leading broadcasters, means that the conventional wisdom is that it must be true.
The Social Attitudes Survey asked some questions about housing, but there were only one or two surprises. Opposition to new homes ‘in your local area’ is greatest where the shortages are most severe, rising to over 50% in the south and outer London. But, interestingly, only 20% maintain that no new housing is needed in their area.
Whilst the preference for home ownership (if affordable) remains as high as ever, when asked about the tenure of the homes that should be built, the results are unexpected:
Tenure of new homes needed %
No new homes needed 20
Homes to buy 27
Homes to rent from private landlords 8
Homes to rent from local authorities or housing associations 39
Homes to part-own and part-rent 25
So, despite all the propaganda against social housing, the public are in a surprising place, recognising the need for social rented housing above other options.
The tenure the Government is trying to destroy, social renting, is wanted most by the public. And the fastest growing sector, private renting, is the least loved. That’s food for thought for Jack Dromey as he gets to grips with Labour’s housing brief.