The Tories’ Wretched Housing Bill is Passed; Another Step Towards the Death of Social Housing

Campaigners on a Kill the Housing Bill march in London on March 13, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Sadly, I never seem to run out of opportunities to berate the Tories for their cruelty and stupidity, and the latest example came on Wednesday evening, when Parliament passed the Housing and Planning Bill, which will do nothing to ease Britain’s chronic housing crisis, and, in fact, contains several developments that will continue the Tories’ malignant obsession with destroying the provision of social housing. This can have only one end result — contributing further to the scale of the housing crisis, which is already unprecedented in my adult life.

During debates on the bill in the House of Lords, Baroness Hollis of Heigham described the “skeleton Bill” as the worst she had seen in 25 years. “This is a half-baked, half-scrutinised, quarter digested Bill that is not fit for purpose,” she said.

The housing crisis is particularly severe in London and the south east, where house prices have reached stratospheric levels that would be blackly hilarious were they not so chronically unfair and divisive. This insane housing bubble has been fuelled by banks and politicians keeping interest rates close to zero, so that house price inflation has become the main focus of the economy, by the relentless wooing of foreign investors by estate agents, banks and politicians acting as pimps (and whose actions, moreover, betray the British people), and by a persistent under-investment in housing. Read the rest of this entry »

Call for an End to Housing Greed: Come to the National Demonstration Against the Housing Bill in London, Sun. Mar. 13

Kill the Housing Bill: a poster for th e national demonstration on Sunday March 13, 2016.Where to begin in discussing Britain’s housing crisis? Since the Labour victory in 1997 we have been disastrously misled by governments prioritising an endless housing bubble as an alternative to anything resembling an actual functioning economy. The only break in this divisive and unfair policy came after the global banking crash of 2008, but since the Tories got back into power in 2010, via a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the bubble has been back with a vengeance.

The latest phase of the revived bubble is, as is now taken for granted, promoted via interest rates that are permanently near zero, making savings appear pointless, and housing the only attractive investment — and also, of course, via the permanent wooing of foreign investors from every part of the world, who are somehow persuaded that the overpriced towers rising up everywhere in London are good value for money. With the addition of a shortage of supply, dating back to the enforced decline of social housing under Margaret Thatcher, who sold council homes but refused to allow councils to build new properties, and chronic under-investment for 30 years, it becomes possible to understand how housing is now out of reach for more and more of London’s workers — even professional couples with generous financial support from their parents.

As the Guardian reported in an article last September, “Revealed: the widening gulf between salaries and house prices”:

In 1995, the median income in London was £19,000 and the median house price was £83,000, meaning that people were spending 4.4 times their income on buying a property. But by 2012-13, the median income in London had increased to £24,600 and the median house price in the capital had increased to £300,000, meaning people were forced to spend 12.2 times their income on a house.

Read the rest of this entry »

Appeals Court Rules That Tories’ Hated, Useless Bedroom Tax Involves “Unlawful Discrimination”; But Will It Ever Be Scrapped?

A campaigner holding up an "Axe the Bedroom Tax" sign at a protest in 2013.It’s been a while since I found the time to write about the depressing realities of life in the UK under the particularly cruel and inept government of David Cameron and George Osborne, as I’ve been so busy lately with my work trying to get the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed. However, not a day goes by that I’m not enraged by their persistent efforts to destroy the state provision of almost all services in the UK, to punish the poor for being poor, and to enrich the rich for being rich.

So I’m pleased to note that there was a small victory yesterday, regarding the bedroom tax, when the appeals court ruled that it was discriminatory in two particular cases. The bedroom tax — technically, the “under-occupancy penalty” — is an abomination, and when I last wrote about it, I described it as a policy “whereby a cabinet of millionaires, with more rooms than they can count, passed legislation forcing people on benefits living in social housing who are deemed to have a ‘spare room’ to downsize, even though there are few smaller properties to move to, and many people, treated as worthless ‘units’ by the government and kicked out of their homes, have had to be rehoused in the private sector, thereby increasing the overall housing benefit bill.”

Of course, the only people who really have “spare rooms” are those like the Tories who live in mansions. Most of those subjected to the bedroom tax may have a room that, technically, is not a bedroom or a living room, but I find it unthinkable that a decent human being would begrudge another the luxury of a spare room. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Election: Tory Victory A Disaster for the People of Britain and the Democratic Process

Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron at the Cenotaph on May 8 for a VE Day memorial, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. To my mind, it actually looks like they're commemorating the death of the UK - apppropriately, given the Tories' plans for the next five years (Photo: AFP). Some of the worst nights of my life have taken place in early May — Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory on May 3, 1979 (when I was too young to even vote), and the 2010 election, on May 6, 2010, which brought a Tory-led coalition government, led by David Cameron, to power.

There were other dreadful nights, on or around May — the Tory victories on June 9, 1983, June 11, 1987 and April 9, 1992 — and after the anti-Tory euphoria of Tony Blair’s victory wore off, following New Labour’s landslide victory on May 1, 1997, the reality of a New Labour Britain was of course a huge disappointment, as the party embarked on its own neo-liberal trajectory, and the country became host to a housing price casino that was a poor substitute for an actual functioning economy — and, in 2003, also became the home of an illegal warmonger.

As a result, the rest of New Labour’s victories — on June 7, 2001 and May 5, 2005 — were also disappointing, as the party failed to remember what it was supposed to be, and continued, instead, as a general betrayer of its founding values. On those occasions, however, the disappointment in a Labour victory was, pragmatically, offset by slim gratitude that at least the Tories weren’t back in. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: March for the Homeless Opposite 10 Downing Street, London, April 15, 2015

A photo from the "March for the Homeless" in London on April 15, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photo set on Flickr here!

On March 15, 2015, 22 events took place in the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada to raise awareness of homelessness, under the umbrella heading, “March for the Homeless.” I attended the protest in London, opposite 10 Downing Street, where campaigners had arranged for homeless voters to register for the General Election on May 7, and there was a free food kitchen.

Homelessness has increased by 55% since the Tory-led coalition government came to power, and, of course, has increased specifically because of the introduction of certain disgraceful policies — the benefit cap, which attempted to portray those receiving benefits as the problem, when the real problem is greedy landlords; and the bedroom tax, whereby a cabinet of millionaires, with more rooms than they can count, passed legislation forcing people on benefits living in social housing who are deemed to have a “spare room” to downsize, even though there are few smaller properties to move to, and many people, treated as worthless “units” by the government and kicked out of their homes, have had to be rehoused in the private sector, thereby increasing the overall housing benefit bill.

An article in the Guardian last June stated that, in 2013, “112,070 people declared themselves homeless in England — a 26% increase in four years. At the same time, the number of people sleeping rough in London grew by 75% to a staggering 6,437.” In addition, as the Streets of London website notes, there are also “around 400,000 ‘hidden homeless’ in the UK, living out of sight in hostels, B&Bs, ‘sofa-surfing’ or squatting.” Read the rest of this entry »

Humiliating Tory Defeat in Parliament Over the Reviled and Unjust Bedroom Tax

On Friday, there was some rare good news regarding the British government’s assault on the unemployed, as a Private Member’s Bill aimed at mitigating the worst effects of the hated “bedroom tax” passed a crucial vote in the House of Commons.

Ever since the wretched Tory-led coalition government seized power in May 2010, the very foundations of the modern British state have been under attack. The brain-dead grandchildren of Margaret Thatcher, the modern-day Tories — and their Lib Dem facilitators — have launched a comprehensive assault on the welfare state, under the guise of an artificial “age of austerity,” lying and playing on people’s least savoury instincts to paint the unemployed as shirkers and scroungers, despite the fact that there is only one job available for every five unemployed people, and also to portray the disabled as being fit for work, when that is not the case, as well as imposing caps on and cuts to benefits, driving people out of their homes.

For my articles covering these policies, see here, here and here.

This shameful sleight of hand, which has failed to deliver any savings, also ignores how much of the benefits bill goes not to the unemployed but to the working poor, and, most disgracefully, how by far the biggest part of the welfare bill is for pensions — an area that governments, and particularly Tories, don’t want to touch, as old people vote, in significant numbers, and everyone in politics seems happy that the general movement of money is from the young to the old. Read the rest of this entry »

Is the Tide Turning Against the Tories, as Labour Pledges to Scrap the Bedroom Tax and Sack Atos?

Ever since the Tory-led coalition government got into power and ministers made it clear that they were seeking to do as much damage as possible to the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled, and to dismantle, if possible, every state-owned enterprise, and anything that expresses some notion of communality and doesn’t involve naked profiteering, misery and uncertainty have been on the rise, and with good reason.

As I have stated in numerous articles over the last few years, the assault on the unemployed and disabled has been particularly heart-wrenching, as the Tories, their spin doctors, their Lib Dem accomplices and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media have portrayed the unemployed as skivers, despite there being only one job available for every five of the country’s 2.5 million unemployed, and have portrayed disabled people with similar flint-hearted distortions.

As a result, wave after wave of vile policies have been introduced with very little outrage from people who probably don’t regard themselves as particularly cruel or heartless — the reviews for the disabled, run by Atos Healthcare, which are designed to find people with severe mental and physical disabilities fit for work, so that their benefits can be cut; the workfare programs for the unemployed that are akin to slavery and allow well-off companies to fundamentally undermine the minimum wage; and the overall benefit cap, the most popular policy in this new Cruel Britannia, according to a YouGov poll in April, in which 79 per cent of people, including 71 per cent of Labour voters, supported it. This is forcing tens of thousands of families to uproot themselves — with all the attendant social costs, particularly for their children — and move to cheaper places, which tend to be those with high unemployment, creating ghettoes, as part of a disgraceful process of social cleansing. Read the rest of this entry »

Disgusting Tory Britain: UN Housing Expert Attacked After Telling Government to Axe the Bedroom Tax

Well, what a lovely place Britain is these days. For the last two weeks, Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on housing, has been visiting the UK to “monitor and promote the realisation of the right to adequate housing,” visiting London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester, where, as a UN press release explained, “she met with government officials working on housing issues, various human rights commissions, academics and civil society.” She “also carried out site visits, where she heard first-hand testimonies and discussed with individuals, campaigners and local community organisations.”

However, when she dared to criticise the deteriorating state of Britain’s social housing provision, and to call for the “bedroom tax” to be scrapped, she was laid into by senior Tories, and by the right-wing media, in a series of vile and hysterical outbursts that ought to be a disgrace to any country that claims to be civilised.

The “bedroom tax” is a widely reviled policy dreamed up by the millionaires in the Tories’ cabinet, which provides financial penalties for people living in social housing and in receipt of benefits who are deemed to have a spare room. It is forcing many people to move from homes they have lived in for decades, even though there are very few smaller properties to which they can move. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tories’ Cruelty Is Laid Bare as Multiple Welfare Cuts Bite

Ever since the Tories came to power in May 2010, aided by the Liberal Democrats, who, sadly, demonstrated that everything they professed to believe in could be discarded if it meant being in government, the very fabric of civil society in the UK has been faced with extinction. This is a country that has developed a welfare safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society and those who have fallen on hard times, and one that has guaranteed healthcare for its entire population, through the NHS, paid for through general taxation, but the Tories are determined to destroy it, and far too many people have been fooled by their poisonous persecution of the poor and disabled, and their ideologically motivated “age of austerity,” which continues to ruin any chance of economic recovery, while plunging millions of people further into serious poverty.

On Monday, April 1, multiple welfare cuts hit hundreds of thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, and although two newspapers led with the news on their front pages — the Guardian (“The day Britain changed”) and the Daily Mirror (“D-Day for Savage Con-Dem Cuts”) — there is no sign that the British people, in general, have woken up to the full ramifications of what is being done in their name.

From the beginning of the Tories’ attack on the state, the government and large parts of the media have successfully lied about the unemployed and the disabled being scroungers and shirkers, creating a climate of mean-spiritedness and hatred amongst my fellow citizens that I have found to be both shocking and disgraceful, because the blunt truth, which anyone could find out if they could be bothered, is that there are around 2,500,000 people unemployed but only 500,000 job vacancies. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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