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.

As well as being despicable because it treats people in social housing as sub-humans who don’t deserve the right to regard their homes as homes, the policy also attempts to shift the blame for a lack of social housing onto the poor, rather than admitting that it is the fault of successive governments since Margaret Thatcher, who savagely cut the supply of social housing through her “right to buy” policy, and, more importantly, by her refusal to allow councils to use the money earned to build new social housing, a policy largely maintained by every subsequent government, whether Conservative or Labour.

Ms. Rolnik, who is an academic and a former urban planning minister in Brazil, was described as a “loopy Brazilian leftie with no evidence masquerading as a serious UN official” by the Tory MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson (who, in May, was being “sued by parliament’s expenses watchdog after refusing to pay £54,000 he is alleged to have made in capital gains on his publicly funded home”), and was also criticised by housing minister Grant Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who claimed that she had failed to meet with ministers. As the Guardian put it, Shapps said “he had written a formal complaint to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon demanding and investigation and claiming Rolnik had not met relevant ministers or officials to discuss the policy. He demanded that she withdraw her report.”

In response, Rolnik told Inside Housing that, although she had visited 11 countries in her role, this was “the first time a government has been so aggressive.” She added, “When I was in the USA, I had a constructive conversation with them accepting some things and arguing with others. They did not react like this.”

She also refuted Shapps’ claims, stating, “I have met officials from many departments, and the details of these meetings are all listed within my report.” Inside Housing reported that it was “understood that as well as meetings with Eric Pickles, secretary of state at the department of communities and local government and under secretary Don Foster,” she “also met with several other officials including the head of housing policy at the department for work and pensions.”

Raquel Rolnik’s analysis

So what had Rolnik done to earn such appalling treatment from the Tory bully-boys? In a statement on September 11, preceding a full report to the UN Human Rights Council next March, she “expressed serious concern about a deterioration in the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing in the United Kingdom,” and “warned against the combined impact of various official measures, recent and past, that ‘have eroded and continue to erode one of the world’s finest systems of affordable housing.'”

She added, “The UK has had a long history of providing affordable and good quality housing, and it should take pride in having placed this human right at the centre of its policy priorities.” She also stated, “For generations, being poor in the UK didn’t necessarily equate to being homeless, or to living badly housed and in permanent threat of eviction.”

“Unfortunately,” she remarked, “the system has been weakened by a series of measures over the years, notably by having privileged homeownership over other forms of tenure.” She added that, “Most recently several reforms to the welfare system topped with cuts in grants for housing provision ‘appear to compromise the realisation of the right to adequate housing and other related human rights.'”

Turning to the bedroom tax, she stated, “The so-called bedroom tax has already had impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of society. During these days of my visit, the dramatic testimonies of people with disabilities, grandmothers who are carers for their families, and others affected by this policy, clearly point to a measure that appears to have been taken without the human component in mind.”

As the UN press release noted, she “acknowledged that times of economic crisis allow for difficult policy decisions to be made,” but warned that “international human rights standards on the right to adequate housing clearly call on governments to avoid jeopardizing the protection of the most vulnerable in the face of fiscal pressures.”

Rolnik also stated, “I am also concerned about the conditions of private renters, as the reduction in the social housing stock and the credit downturn has forced a higher percentage of the population, notably young people, to the private sector, with substantial impact on affordability, location and tenure security.”

Ordinary decent human beings would find nothing to complain about in Ms. Rolnik’s analysis. The “bedroom tax” is a unforgivably vile policy, for its dehumanisation of people in social housing, its pointlessness, as people who are forced to downsize to properties that don’t exist will end up costing more to rehouse, and — to me — the almost unbearable cruelty of rich ministers obsessing and delighting in obsessing about how to further impoverish the poor. It deserves to be scrapped, as does the government’s blanket benefit cap; the cruel and inept Iain Duncan Smith’s universal credit fiasco; the whole workfare scandal, part of a malignant policy of treating the unemployed as shirkers, when there is still only one job for every five people without jobs; and, of course, the government’s systematic and persistent assault on the disabled.

I hope to find time to write more about these issues over the coming months, as I am aware that I have not covered them as thoroughly as I would have liked for the last six months or so, as Guantánamo once more took up centre stage in my life, even though my anger and disgust at this government’s cruelty is undiminished.

Below I’m cross-posting the latest article from the Guardian by Amelia Gentleman, the 2012 George Orwell Prize winner, whose coverage of social issues since the Tories began their war on the state in 2010 is unparalleled in the mainstream media.

Her article follows Raquel Rolnik on part of her visit, and includes the rapporteur’s powerful observation that “[s]ocial housing is almost a lottery today.” The article is also largely self-explanatory, although I should stress that when a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions tries to claim that the bedroom tax “will help us get to grips with the housing benefit bill which has grown to £24bn this year,” he or she is either profoundly deluded or lying through his or her teeth. It will not save any money, as those made homeless will have to be rehoused, at greater expense, but, more importantly, the great lie is that tenants in social housing have more than the most meagre of roles in that colossal housing benefit bill.

The reason that the housing benefit bill has grown to £24bn is because of the historic lack of investment in social housing that I mentioned above, which has now been ongoing for over 30 years, and the greed of the housing market in general, in which an ever-increasing house price bubble, fostered by banks and the government (and especially by George Osborne’s idiotic “Help to Buy” loans), as well as by countless clamouring greedy British citizens and foreign investors, has made getting a mortgage beyond the reach of more and more people, who are forced into private rented housing, where greed is also driving rents ever upward, and there are no checks whatsoever on what landlords can charge — or for that matter, whether what people are getting for being throughly ripped off is actually habitable.

As always, the government and most of the media ignore the fact that much of the welfare bill is not used by the unemployed, but is to help support working people who are simply not paid enough to live by their employers. However, it is the greed of private landlords that is the main key to understanding the idiocy of the government, and how nothing will bring the bills down until the whole rotten housing bubble is lanced like a boil, and we think about having an economy that is not based increasingly on property, and on the endless and ever-increasing exploitation of those with less money by those with more.

To me, genuinely affordable housing is a right, and the country I currently find myself living in — with its monstrous swaggering greed and its seeming acceptance that more and more people will be forced to work longer and longer hours just to pay the over-inflated rent, or the over-inflated mortgage if they can get on the property ladder — is harsh, callous and immoral, and, in the long run, counter-productive for the health of society as a whole.

A society addicted to a second supposedly endless housing bubble (after the last one, which was so rudely interrupted by a total global meltdown caused by the criminals in the financial sector who have not been held accountable for their crimes) is, it seems to me, technically deranged. We are seeing an insanely selfish policy shift cultivated by callous and desperate people who have ceased to believe in a present or a future for society as a whole, and who care only — and I mean only — about themselves and the narrow group of similarly minded people with whom they identify.

As I mentioned, I hope to be writing more about these topics soon, but in the meantime please find Amelia Gentleman’s latest article below.

UK’s bedroom tax and housing crisis threaten human rights, says UN expert
By Amelia Gentleman, The Guardian, September 11, 2013

Housing in the UK, from a human rights perspective, is deteriorating, argues Raquel Rolnik. ‘Social housing is almost a lottery today’

Carol Robertson has already made plans for how to cope with losing £13 a week because of the new spare room subsidy, and she set them out in detail for the UN housing investigator when they met at an Edinburgh food bank last week. Mostly she thinks she will have to cut the amount she spends on electricity as the nights draw in. “It sounds preposterous, but I think people will save on the electricity and use candles. I won’t put my lights on; I will just buy candles,” she told the UN rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, pointing out that she did not feel this was a very safe alternative. “There will be fires …”

In the warehouse, where volunteers were sorting crates of potatoes and pots of lemon and coconut yoghurt, abandoned by the food industry, for distribution to the city’s poor, Rolnik listened as Robertson explained how the introduction of the bedroom tax was already causing substantial hardship to her and to her neighbours.

Because she wanted to remain in the two-bedroom flat where she has lived for 37 years, and where she brought up her two children, Robertson has decided to pay the £13.02 spare room supplement, introduced by the government in April to push people out of council and housing association properties that are deemed too large for them.

As a result, she is left with £26 a week to live on, after her rent, including the bedroom tax, is paid. Her next-door neighbour, who is also paying the supplement, is left with £4. “Lots of people [in the block] are suffering, but we are helping each other out,” she said.

She chose not to have central heating connected to her home when it was installed in the council block recently. “I knew I couldn’t afford it. If I get cold, I just put on my jumper.” She started volunteering at the Cyrenians Good Food programme, a local food bank, not least because she receives enough food for one meal to take back with her for each shift she works, which helps with her reduced budget. She does not want to leave the home where she brought up her son and her daughter. “If I moved to somewhere smaller I wouldn’t know anyone there. Anyway, there aren’t any smaller properties for us to move to in Edinburgh, so we have to pay the difference,” she said.

This interview with Robertson was one of several that helped crystallise the UN rapporteur’s concern about the spare-room subsidy, pushing it to the top of her agenda on what was meant to be a wide-ranging study of Britain’s housing crisis over the past two weeks. She will declare that the government should abolish the policy on Wednesday morning, as she makes her findings public.

Appointed to report on human rights problems globally, the UN’s special rapporteurs are more frequently found investigating allegations of human rights violations in crisis zones. But during her tenure, Rolnik, a Brazilian architect and urban planner, has been particularly interested in studying how the global financial crisis has affected housing, and has visited both developed and developing countries on fact-finding trips.

She was vocal in her criticisms of the US government for “ignoring” a surge in homelessness after the economic crisis in 2009. She is likely to be equally tough in her criticisms of the British government when she publishes her preliminary conclusions from her tour on Wednesday, given her conviction that the UK’s previously good record on social housing is rapidly worsening. The causes of the decline stretch back decades, and predate the current administration’s austerity policy, but she argues that welfare reform is making an already difficult situation worse. “You had already problems with affordability, with waiting lists, with security of tenure, and then on top of that you have welfare reform,” she said.

She met government ministers, council officials, housing developers and charity workers, but much of her report is based on interviews with individuals asked to recount in detail how housing policy has affected their lives. She heard from many other council property tenants encountering similar difficulties during her visit to Manchester, where she attended a rally organised on Saturday in protest at the bedroom tax. “I saw the human face of it,” she said.

She was concerned by how individuals who were already on a low income would be able to make the extra payments that would allow them to stay in their homes. “You struggle already to pay for your fuel, your food, with the low payments; but then on top of that if you stay in your home you are going to have a deduction in your housing benefit,” she said.

A case such as Robertson’s, where a person was forced to cut down on heating and electricity in order to pay for accommodation, represented a violation of the right to adequate housing, she said. She was uncertain about whether her report on UK housing and the bedroom tax would have an impact on legal challenges to the bedroom tax. “In many countries, despite the fact that the country has signed and ratified [the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the judicial authorities do not necessarily take that into account. But judges should take that into account.”

Orla Doyle, part of the Cyrenians’ homelessness prevention service, said staff were only just beginning to appreciate the consequences of the introduction of the policy, as tenants who had chosen to stay in their home realised how difficult it was going to be to find the extra money. “People thought they would be able to afford it, but it turns out they can’t,” she told Rolnik.

“It is outrageous the choices that people have to make between heating and feeding themselves. The mental health impact of these situations is under-reported,” another volunteer at the food bank said.The Department for Work and Pensions was both defensive and dismissive in its statement on Rolnik’s findings, reiterating that the bedroom tax was a “useful and important” policy and rejecting the report as insubstantial, “drawn from anecdotal evidence and conversations after a handful of meetings”.

“These changes will help us get to grips with the housing benefit bill which has grown to £24bn this year, and make better use of our housing stock. We’ve given councils £190m to support vulnerable residents who may need extra help,” a DWP spokesman said. The Department for Communities and Local Government also appeared to downplay the significance of her trip, commenting that Eric Pickles had “briefly” met Rolnik for a 15-minute conversation.

The rapporteur’s visit has already triggered hostility from some Conservative MPs, who questioned whether the UN had a role in commenting on British housing and highlighting Rolnik’s previously stated philosophical scepticism about Britain’s “obsessive” approach to home ownership and the right to buy policy. The Tory MP for Dover, Charlie Elphicke, said in a statement distributed by Conservative party headquarters: “Hard-working taxpayers have to make tough choices of their own about what sort of property they can afford to live in, and they should not be paying for what is effectively a benefit subsidy for empty rooms.”

But Rolnik said the government had been helpful when she first requested to make the inspection last year and had been happy to extend a formal invitation to her to carry out her work.

The rapporteur was struck by the impact the policy has on people with disabilities whose homes had been converted to suit their needs. “I saw a lot of cases of people with disabilities, who have their whole world around them adapted to help them have an independent life, having to move,” she said. “People are asking: ‘How can I pay to move? I don’t have a penny to pay for the move.'”

Rolnik believes the UK is in the grips of a housing crisis. “What are the indicators of that crisis? Problems of affordability, not just for low-income people; middle-income people are also complaining a lot about the price of their mortgages and rent. There is the very high, and rising, cost of renting. There is overcrowding, and the impact of short-term tenancies being offered,” she said. Her report will compare standards in the UK against the country’s own previous record, rather than looking at the relative merits of housing here and in Sierra Leone, for example.

“The UK has set up very high standards for social housing. A third of households in the 1960s were housed in social housing; there was a massive postwar production of social housing and a lot of it well located,” she said.

But housing in Britain, from a human rights perspective, is deteriorating, she argued. “Retrogression is what you talk about in human rights when you go backwards, and that is what we are seeing now. You were much more likely in the 1970s to be able to access social housing than today when it is very difficult, almost a lottery; today in England you have 17% in social housing,” she said.

She was also critical of a “change in status” of social housing “so that it is now seen as something only for the vulnerable, only for the ones that failed to be professionals, able to buy their homes, only for those who live on benefit. It is stigmatised.”

She was also critical of the government for its large investment in housing market stimulus schemes. “The real housing shortage is affordable housing, and the schemes that are being proposed, like the help to buy or the mortgage to rent scheme, they will not provide affordable housing. The bulk of it won’t be affordable,” she argued. She will recommend better regulation of the rental sector as part of the report.

Rolnik, a former minister for urban planning in Brazil’s centre-left Workers’ party, is politically astute and aware that the recommendations take her into highly charged political territory. Asked if she thought the government would adopt her proposals, she laughed and said, “of course”, before conceding that at the very least she would like her report to “raise public awareness of what’s going on”.

Note: Raquel Rolnik’s full end-of-mission statement after her UK visit is here. In it, she also noted severe problems with land speculation. She stated that “several documents and assessments acknowledge that land with permits has increasingly become the asset in itself, rather than an asset for the social well-being of the community. Similarly, it is also of concern that there is no property tax on land, including dormant or vacant land for years. Land value, including in the financial circuits, has escalated in the last decades, yet it is still mostly regarded as a private matter, hence for-profit. I would recommend that the government sets a regulatory framework to avoid this kind of speculation”.

“Similarly,” she added, “selling public land to private developers for the best price can mean that a valuable public resource is not being used as a means to increase the availability of housing for those who need it, in times of housing stress. A significant part of the existing social housing stock in UK was built on local council and other public land. In times of pressure on affordable housing, the mobilization of public land can be an important tool, so I recommend that the government releases public sector land only for social and affordable housing to be built”.

Rolnik also said that she had also received “multiple testimonies on the shortage of sufficient, adequate and safe sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities across the United Kingdom, many of whom feel this is part of the stigma and discrimination they regularly face from governments and society as a whole,” adding, “it is fair to say that leaving local authorities to make their own decisions with no accountability and national process to reconcile the Gypsy and Traveller communities with settled communities remains a source of concern.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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33 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted the link to this on Facebook, I wrote:

    It’s been a while since I’ve found the time to write a new article about the disgusting persecution of the poor and vulnerable by the Tory-led government here in the UK, but an opportunity arose when UN rapporteur Raquel Rolnik called for the bedroom tax to be scrapped, and was met with a tirade of abuse from Tory MPs. I am profoundly ashamed that any of these Tory bigots are allowed to represent my country.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraint Thomas wrote:

    Leeds Town council have reclassified the second bedrooms. All councils in UK should do this, the Government will threaten with withdrawal of housing benefit cash to the council. Did ask my local council but they will not even look into this.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for mentioning Leeds Council’s redesignation of properties, Geraint. I too wish it had happened everywhere. Here’s a recent Guardian article about how the tax is disproportionately affecting the north: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/the-northerner/2013/aug/25/bedroom-tax-council-tenants-north

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    I also meant to highlight the recent legal victory in Scotland, where two campaigners “won a landmark legal battle that offers hope to thousands of victims of the bedroom tax,” as the Daily Record put it. The article stated, “A tribunal agreed Louise [McLeary], 35, who is blind, needed a spare bedroom in her specially-adapted Kirkcaldy home to house braille and specialist computer equipment and to give her guide dog Milly a place to sleep.” The other woman, Annie Harrower-Gray, convinced the tribunal that rooms in her home “that were designated bedrooms weren’t suitable for sleeping in.” Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly said the verdicts “mean anybody using rooms designated as a bedroom for other purposes could have grounds for an appeal,” and “said Annie’s case will by very significant for many people,” as the newspaper described it. He said, “It shows that the use of the room is what is important, not how it is categorised by the landlord.”

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And another victory from Fife, just this week, involving David Nelson from Glenrothes, and a ruling by tribunal judge Simon Collins, about the size of the so-called spare rooms. As reported in the Courier, in Fife, “The Government has always refused to define a minimum bedroom size, but following a number of test cases in Fife Mr Collins — who was appointed by the UK Government to judge bedroom tax tribunals — has ruled a room measuring less than 50 square feet is not a bedroom. The QC also said a room measuring between 50 and 70 square feet could only be used as a bedroom by a child aged under 10.”

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Pnac Attack wrote:

    ” I am profoundly ashamed that any of these Tory bigots are allowed to represent my country.” We all know it’s not none of your good britts, no your fault (…only Zulu…Boer Wars are your fault :D) No you Andy – you are fuckin HERO of our times!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Pnac Attack. Much appreciated. A pity, however, that too many people are fooled into believing the patriotic tripe that governments and corrupt media pump out relentlessly.

  8. damo says...

    round up all tories and exicute them,lol

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Short and sweet, Damo! Good to hear from you. I’m still planning a visit out your way, in case you thought I’d forgotten about it!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I am sharing this, Andy. Several friends here are amazed and dismayed at the Bedroom Tax. Although not by a “tax,” the social housing sector in the Netherlands has been under attack for more than 20 years. The long interval was needed to transform the subsidised “housing associations,” of residents into state-regulated “foundations” and finally into private “home corporations.” This met with little resistance. Something like the Tax is being discussed: requiring these corporations and small landlords to ask residents about their income and setting upper limits for residence, supposedly to encourage high-earners to move. But I suspect that poorer people will be forced to move, the apartments refurbished if necessary and then sold or re-rented at high rates. Similarly to the UK, few low-rent homes are available. This might result in ghetto-forming and gentrification.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. That’s, unfortunately, very informative about the Netherlands, as it reflects what’s happening in the UK. New social tenants now have no security of tenure and are paying “affordable rents,” defined as 80% of market rents, which, in London and the south east, is unaffordable for ordinary workers. It seems to me that, whether people are taking out mortgages or renting, they’re expected nowadays to pay at least £12-14,000 a year (per couple), and although the average income in the UK is around £27,000, the median income is only £14,000. The Tories have also explicitly proposed a maximum income for those in social housing – of £60,000 – playing on the false notion that social housing is only for the poor, and attempting to eradicate the basis for it being something that should be widely available not only for those who can’t afford to take out a mortgage, but also for those who don’t want to.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Pnac Attack wrote:

    2/4 Inquiry: The Great British Housing Disaster (1984) Producer Adam Curtis.
    3/4 Inquiry: The Great British Housing Disaster (1984) Producer Adam Curtis.
    4/4 Inquiry: The Great British Housing Disaster (1984) Producer Adam Curtis.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    And Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4XgysYujXo
    Thanks, Pnac Attack. I haven’t seen this before, although Adam Curtis’ more recent work is well known to me, as he makes uniquely probing and challenging documentaries about politics and philosophy.

  14. damo says...

    its becomeing more and more repugnant this fetishizing of property in this country

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I agree, Damo. We went through this under New Labour, up to the crash in 2008, and now all that’s happening is a concerted effort to return to the highest prices reached in that period of madness, and then crank prices up higher than ever. No one wants to hear that in May the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) stated that British house prices were 31% too high compared to rents and 21% over-priced against incomes. Since May, of course, prices in London have started going up like crazy, so those figures are almost certainly already out of date. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/houseprices/10088467/OECD-British-house-prices-are-31-too-high.html

  16. damo says...

    the thing that is so grotesqe is all the revolting property porn has started again on tv the usual suspect programs phil and kirsty ,the vile kevin mccloud ect ect…gloating and fetishizeing over property..its mine,mine,mine and here in london you see this repulsive behaviour at its most extream and running parralel is the other world of terrifiying homelessness and lets face it if your hb gets sanctioned …your gonna be homeless ..the fear..the constant anxiety..i cannot cannot imagine the terror of being homeless here…there are great people here in london but my god theres a hell of a lot of human …..monsters….i would flee,id just flee…..this is modern briton which has sunk so low now…the uk is finnished andy its been murderd by 34 years of corrupt vile incompetant mp,s and crocked bussiness..this is now a brutal cruel society..were money is the god of all and heaven help you if you havent got any…

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, Damo. Instead of realizing that the bubble under Labour was a bubble, people are so desperate for their houses to be overvalued, as everyone wants to be rich, or, perhaps more pertinently, wants insurance for their old age that Osborne’s insane “Help to Buy” is being welcomed rapturously because it’s driving prices up like crazy. Everywhere I go I hear people shouting into their phones about how prices are going up as though house price rises were a force of nature, rather than something artificially maintained by banks and the government. No one thinks about those suffering as a result of this – not just those being bled dry by greedy, unrestrained landlords in the private sector, but those desperately trying to get on the housing ladder. I found an article in the Spectator, from May, written by Merryn Somerset Webb, the editor in chief of MoneyWeek, which looks at this. Here’s the opening paragraph:

    Imagine, if you can bear it, that you are a first-time buyer in the UK. You go to look at a 500-square-foot box masquerading as a two-bedroom flat in an average sort of area masquerading as an up-and-coming part of London. It’s a new build — one you can just about imagine downgrading your lifestyle expectations enough to live in. The problem is that you can’t quite afford it. The good news is that your Chancellor is behind you on this one. With you all the way. George Osborne really wants you to be able to buy a house. So here’s the question. Would you like him to help you do that by interfering with the market to ensure that you are offered a long-term loan you wouldn’t normally have been able to get? Or would you prefer that he didn’t interfere with the market at all, but prices fell to a level, relative to your income, that you could actually afford, and you got yourself a mortgage you could also actually afford on your own merits? I’d go for the latter and I rather imagine most first-time buyers would too. Sadly it isn’t an offer Osborne is planning to make — for the next couple of years at least.

    And this is what he has to say about “Help to Buy”: “Help To Buy, Osborne’s latest market-distorting scheme that effectively forces the already overcommitted taxpayer to underwrite £12 billion of mortgage lending to people who haven’t got an adequate deposit of their own, or who lack the income to have a go at producing one and who therefore shouldn’t really qualify for a mortgage at all.”

  18. damo says...

    lol,lol,lol BUT ISNT GEORGE OSBOURNE DOING WHAT THEY DID IN THE STATES sub prime mortgages surely there setting things up to collapse? or is that what they want andy so we can be controlled ….or culled

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    They’re just trying to stay popular with voters, Damo, aren’t they? Osborne’s economically illiterate, obviously, but he’s just trying to make sure that the intelligent course of action – refusing to sustain an already overheated housing market by allowing bank rates to rise – doesn’t happen, because it would be unpopular with our fellow citizens whose lives, it seems, are only tolerable if they think that the value of their damned houses is increasing with every breath they take.

  20. damo says...

    its crazy he,s setting the house of cards up again setting people up for a fall as i said before andy houses are the economy in this country,lol

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, and it’s a stupid and dangeorous policy, however much the greedy lap it up, Damo. I just read today that prices are now higher than at their peak in 2007, and yet, as the Observer reported on Sunday, “the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), the estate agents’ industry body, actually argued last week that if the Bank of England set an across-the-board 5% ceiling on the rate of house-price inflation, it could help to rein in the boom-bust housing market and everyone – even surveyors and agents themselves – would benefit.”

  22. damo says...

    its all just repulsive blind greed and extream selfishness and self intrest i have spanish friends who are leaving for spain after 25 years they have had enough ..its a country of pigs..they find the british moralles and they think we have as a nation no honor or national or civic pride …and there right.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, sadly that’s the prevailing mentality, Damo. Just greed, greed, greed – and no one is allowed to point out that it’s a rigged system, with a bank rate so close to zero that it’s driving investment money into housing rather than anything actually productive.
    Add to that the demonisation of the poor, and it’s completely understandable why your friends are leaving.

  24. damo says...

    anyway andy on a differant note are you still one of those winkywektywalls becouse i know i am,lol,lol

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Excellent, Damo. I am indeed a “winkywektywall” – may have to get that on a T-shirt! The alternative to being conscious – and intellectual – is to be obsessed by money, which is a sign of a failure of the imagination, so I’ll keep on being awake and indignant!

  26. damo says...

    andy up to 70.000 people face potential eviction becouse of this bedroom tax and also sanctioning peoples benefits a friend has had her benifits sanctioned becouse she was 5 mins late for sighning on leaving her with nothing and a real thret of eviction….there are no jobs no real ones how and why we are letting a bunch of snivling chinnless wonders useless etonians fuck people up is amazing….there hopefully will be such a backlash against thease shits across the road from me h,f council [that vile torie flagshit council ]has sold of council houseing 2 flats ….and guess who the new tennants are ….a pair of braying young hooray henrys…vile,lol,lol

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Damo. It’s all so horribly true. I too have heard about sanctions being applied to people who were a few minutes late signing on – a tiny act of cruelty that, genuinely, could be the trigger for someone’s life unravelling.
    Nasty story about the yuppies moving into council flats, but it’s the way it’s going. Westminster Council (where the rot set in under Thatcher) was recently slammed for renting council flats at ‘intermediate rents’ to those earning over £50,000 a year:
    I can’t see anyone stopping them given what currently passes for logic. Kick out everyone poor, then help those with “proper” jobs to have the housing that the poor once occupied. Whatever you do, don’t suggest that there might be a problem with the housing market, with unfettered greed, with government policies, and with the Bank of England and its obsessive cap on interest rates so that the only return on savings is in property.
    What I wonder is where all the poor people of London are supposed to go? Are workhouses on the horizon?

  28. damo says...

    ITS FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION WORKHOUSES the foul G4S is putting a proposul forward for…wait for it…….RESIDETIAL WORKFARE…yes the workhouse is back

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s really rather worrying, Damo. I hadn’t heard about it, but I searched and found Johnny Void’s take on it, from July:

    An independent report, commissioned by the DWP, has called for greater use of Residential Training for disabled people and an extension of the scheme to include long term unemployed non-disabled people.

    The report also accepts that this kind of training, which can involve periods of workfare away from home, should be opened up to the market. This process may begin with a open tender exercise next year.

    Residential Training is a little known scheme available for disabled people who are long term unemployed and in the words of Jobcentre Disability Employment Advisors, are the ‘hardest to help’.

    The programme lasts a year and includes a mixture of residential and non-residential training, along with a period of up to three months workfare. Whilst the DWP’s guidance (PDF) states that this workfare should aim to take place in the participant’s local area, in some cases it can also be arranged on a residential basis.

    Good grief! The sentence, “[T]his kind of training, which can involve periods of workfare away from home, should be opened up to the market,” is truly alarming. Sadly, I can imagine various corporations embracing the opportunities, and doing an evil PR spin on it. Is there anything more revolting?

  30. Brazilian Who has Worked with Raquel Rolnik says...

    Actually, I’m a Brazilian architecture student and I can tell you that having to deal with Raquel Rolnik and her posse has been the most annoying, unfortunate part of my experience. I can tell you that Rolnik is a LIAR, who regularly makes up anecdotal stories (as the British Minister said) of “human rights” abuses in order to burn out governments where her leftist friends/colleagues have electoral interests. Her newest lies include saying that 100,000 ppl are being removed from slums in Rio for the World Cup. Reality: the Rio stadium has been built since 1950, there are exactly ZERO slum dwellers being relocated because of the WC. But, they repeat this over and over again to ppl from outside the city, along with a bunch of he-said-she-said stories of ppl who have had bad experiences with the housing authorities. Anyway, this woman is a wackjob who has worked in 2 government administrations, including a 4 year stint in the ministry of cities. She has connections with the people in power in the political establishment. In all these years, the only thing that can be said of her record is that she got a nice contract with the Ministry of Cities for her NGO ($$$) and she had a discussion with Alejandro Aravena (Chilean Architect famous for social housing) while she was there. Basically she told him that he was a sell-out because his work didn’t subvert the world capitalist economic order. Btw, Alejandro has built housing for thousands of ppl; Rolnik has done absolutely NOTHING. I don’t think she’s ever even built a lamp post. I understand that you can be against the bedroom subsidy/tax, but don’t be fooled by this woman. Your government is right on this one, she is a conniving lunatic. And she is a completely ideological marxist with no legal knowledge whatsoever, even though she’s always pretending like she understands the legislation, lol. So yea, plz don’t import the Brazilian left. I assure you Tory will seem like a dream come true once you meet these people.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, thanks for your comments. However, whatever shortcomings you find with Raquel Rolnik doesn’t detract from the fact that the bedroom tax is a monstrously cruel and ill-conceived project, involving, first of all, an unacceptable, ideologically-motivated intrusion into social housing needs, and, secondly, a complete failure to understand the realities of housing availability, so that numerous people have been required to downgrade and leave their homes because they are assessed as having a spare room, even though smaller properties are not available.

  32. Lisa Jones says...

    If you don’t think the welfare system in Britain needs reforming you are beyond naive – what is going on here would not be allowed anywhere else in the world.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    You provide no evidence for your claim that “what is going on here would not be allowed anywhere else in the world,” Lisa, so how am I to judge it? On the bedroom tax, however, I have heard no valid argument for a bunch of bloated millionaires ordering people who happen to be unemployed and living in social housing to give up any spare room they may have and downgrade to a smaller property, even though those smaller properties don’t exist, with the result that people are being turfed out of their homes and ending up in private properties that cost far more. That doesn’t even make economic sense, as well as being cruel.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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