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.

As a result, not only is the dream of ever owning a home receding from the aspirations of an ever-increasing number of hard-working people, but rents — completely unregulated by the government, of course — have also spiralled out of control, leaving an ever-increasing number of people paying far too much of their income in mortgages or rents, while those fortunate enough to have got lucky in the housing casino — those, essentially, who bought property in the 20th century — are rewarded with an increase in the value of their homes that bears no relation to any sense of proportion or fairness.

As the new online newspaper The Canary described it, “to buy a terraced house in London you now need to earn £142,000 a year; rental prices continue to increase at a rate one percent higher than wages do, and homelessness has more than doubled since 2010 – with rough sleeping rising by a third in the past year alone, while funding to prevent this has been cut by 45%.” The Canary also pointed out that “1.5m households (yes, households – not people) are on council waiting lists for accommodation” and that “the ‘bedroom tax’ [a charge on what the government considers an extra room for those in social housing who receive benefits] still continues unimpeded with three-quarters of people affected cutting back on food to pay for it.”

The most responsible answer to this crisis would be a massive social homebuilding programme, addressing the chronic shortfall in the building of homes in the last three decades — essentially, since Margaret Thatcher began the rot by selling off council houses while refusing to let councils build any new homes with the takings, a position that no subsequent government has reversed. A massive social housing programme would, in turn, puncture the housing bubble, allowing prices to settle to rates that would actually be affordable for ordinary hard-working people.

Instead, however, the government is trying to paper over the crisis by offering incentives to those who are already wealthy enough to contemplate buying a house, while simultaneously attacking social housing on a number of fronts as a result of the Tories’ ideological obsession with destroying social housing.

The bill, largely forced through the House of Commons despite persistent opposition in the House of Lords, introduces the concept of “starter homes,” whereby, as the Guardian described it in an editorial in January, “all new homes priced at £450,000 in London, or £250,000 in the rest of England, will be classed as affordable. Buyers under 40 will enjoy a 20% discount paid for by the taxpayer; after five years they will be able to sell on the properties at full price and pocket that 20%.”

The Guardian also stated:

These are not “affordable’”homes. They are worth up to 17 times the national average wage. For the government claiming “there is no money left” then to find billions to hand over to developers to knock up such expensive homes is an outrage. At a stroke, ministers have redefined affordable so that in the capital it now means nearly half a million quid. As the Highbury Group of housing specialists points out, that will enable big building firms to ride roughshod over the needs of local communities and the demands of local councils, and just throw up the most expensive flats they can get away with.

This is terrible policy and stupid politics.

The ill-conceived extension of the “right to buy” to housing association tenants

Another absurd policy in the housing bill involves extending the “right to buy” to housing association tenants, which will have the effect of reducing the stock of social housing when it is desperately needed. To pay for this, the government intends to force councils to sell-off high-value properties when they become vacant, further reducing available social housing. So ill-thought out is this policy that, in an unusual move, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee heard evidence on the policy prior to implementation and published a damning report on April 29.

The group of cross-party MPs stated:

The policy of extending Right to Buy discounts to tenants of housing associations, funded by the sale of high-value council housing, has potentially significant impacts for both local authorities and tenants of social housing, especially in areas where house prices are high.

Despite the implications and complexity of this policy, the Department has not published a detailed impact assessment to inform Parliament’s consideration of its legislative proposals.

Many key policy details have not been clarified, with the Department offering only vague assurances as to how this policy will be funded, without producing any figures to demonstrate that additional funding from central or local government will not be required.

Other concerns remain, including the extent to which the new homes funded by this policy will be genuine replacements for those sold, and whether there will be sufficient controls to prevent abuse of the scheme given the significant discounts proposed for housing association tenants wishing to buy.

Meg Hillier, the Labour and Co-operative MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, and the chair of the PAC, issued a statement that pulled no punches in condemning the policy. In a key passage, she stated, “there are no costings or workings out. We are not talking about a ‘back of an envelope’ calculation — there is no envelope at all.”

Her full statement was as follows:

The Government should be embarrassed by the findings of this Report.

Extending Right to Buy will affect many thousands of people yet the Department has failed to provide basic information to support its stated aims. Instead we have heard vague assertions about what it will accomplish and how.

The approach to paying for this policy seems to be entirely speculative. On the basis of evidence heard by our Committee, there are no costings or workings out. We are not talking about a ‘back of an envelope’ calculation—there is no envelope at all.

Similarly scant regard appears to have been paid to the practical impact on social housing tenants, the long-term knock-on costs of the loss of social housing and potentially of a change in the mix of housing types.

We can form our own views about the Government’s motives for this but Parliament and the public are being asked to take a leap of faith about how this will stack up financially, and that is completely unacceptable.

The Department has not made a diligent and credible case for this policy. The PAC follows the tax pound and so far all we have are assertions that it will be fiscally neutral.

We urge the Government to address the very serious concerns highlighted by our Committee as a priority.

As is typical, the government’s response, as usual when it is criticised, is to ignore the criticism. As I have always maintained since this particular branch of the Tory Party took power in 2010, elected by a minority of voters, every policy seems specifically to have been dreamt up only when those involved were certain that anyone with any intelligence was not in the room.

The end of lifetime council tenancies and the disgraceful introduction of “pay to stay”

At the same time, the bill ends lifetime council tenancies, and introduces “pay to stay,” both efforts to insist that social tenancies must be means-tested rather than being available to all. New council tenancies are only supposed to last for a maximum of five years (although concessions introduced by the House of Lords have extended this), while the appallingly named “pay to stay” will see council tenants who, as a couple, earn the median income — the amount that 50% of people earn less than, and 50% earn more than — forced to pay something close to market rents, doubling, telling or even quadrupling what they pay in rent.

Apart from the problem of how this will be implemented, as legislation will be required to compel the Inland Revenue to provide details to tenants’ income to councils — and, in both cases, the blatant and stupid disregard for how many people’s incomes fluctuate significantly — it is a major disincentive to hard-working social tenants, thoroughly undermining the government’s claims to support hard-working families.

The threshold for this unprecedentedly massive and unjustifiable rent hike is just £40,000 a year in London, and £31,000 elsewhere, and yet, when the idea was first floated, disgraceful media outlets like Sky News described it as  a “Crackdown On ‘Rich’ Council House Tenants,” despite the fact that it is patently untrue to describe a couple on the median income as “rich,” and completely ignoring the injustice of, essentially, being mugged at one’s front door by George Osborne.

When the housing proposals were first floated, “pay to stay” was supposed to apply to housing association tenants as well, but the housing associations refused to play ball, and secured the right to only implement rent hikes on a voluntary basis, with most if not all, unwilling to engage with it at all. In years of discussions, ignored by the government, those involved in social housing have only ever expressed an interest in a “pay to stay” policy that begins at £60,000 a year, not £40,000 or £31,000 , and have generally spoken about how its introduction would need to be tapered.

Writing in February about what “pay to stay” will mean for council tenants, the Observer stated, “Tens of thousands of hard-working families will be forced to leave their council homes and find themselves unable to afford a local alternative as a result of government plans to restrict social housing to the poorest, according to research obtained by the Observer. The devastating figures – in a report commissioned by the Local Government Association – show that almost 60,000 households in England will be unable to afford to remain in their council properties from April next year.”

The report also found that “214,000 households across England will be hit by the policy and that in London most of the 27,000 households affected will be unable to afford to rent privately or buy in the same area.”

The crossbench peer Bob Kerslake, the “former head of the civil service and until last year the most senior mandarin working on housing policy,” as the Observer described it, “called on ministers to put the plan on hold,” so that pilot schemes could be implemented.

Kerslake led resistance to the housing bill in the House of Lords, where 13 amendments were passed, but almost all were wiped out in the Commons this week as the government pushed the bill through before the end of this particular Parliamentary session. Back in February, he told the Observer that, on “pay to stay,” he “would table amendments to place the scheme at the discretion of local authorities and ‘provide adequate protection for tenants on the amount of rent they have to pay compared to their income.'”

“When this was originally discussed in the coalition government,” he said, “it was intended to deal with the very small number of high earners on over £60,000. The current proposals will affect a lot more households with earnings of half that.

He added, “Pay to stay needs to be seen alongside the forced sale of council housing to fund right to buy for housing associations, the ending of permanent tenancies and the almost total end of funding for new social housing after 2018. Together, they threaten the future of social housing as we have known it.”

Further criticising the proposals, Peter Box, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said, “A couple with three children earning £15,000 each a year cannot be defined as high income. Pay to stay needs to be voluntary for councils, as it will be for housing associations. This flexibility is essential to allow us to protect social housing tenants and avoid the unintended consequence of hard-working families being penalised, people being disincentivised to work and earn more and key workers, such as nurses, teachers or social workers, having to move out of their local area.”

In addition, the Resolution Foundation “found that a household with two earners in Oxford which took on one hour more of paid work a week, tipping joint earnings over £30,000, would see the rent increase by more than £4,000 a year.” Laura Gardiner, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said, “Enforcing near-market rents for council tenants earning over £30,000 risks creating strong disincentives to earn more. Families on the cusp of the £30,000 cliff edge could find that securing a pay rise or working a few extra hours leaves them thousands of pounds worse off as a result of far higher housing costs.”

Writing of the housing bill in the Guardian last week, Bob Kerslake described the House of Lords’ struggle with the House of Commons over the bill as “an unequal contest. The Lords can test, challenge and amend but in the end the government will prevail. This is particularly the case for proposals that were included in the Conservative party manifesto. Due to the introduction of English votes for English laws, for which this bill was the first test case, the government has a majority of more than 50 in the Commons.”

In his article, Bob Kerslake proceeded to explain what concessions had been secured, and to criticise the government for its dangerous and divisive ideology:

Nevertheless some important improvements have been made. Fixed-term council tenancies can now be up to 10 years rather than five, and longer if children are involved. Where higher value council houses are forced to be sold to fund housing association right-to-buy discounts, there will now be a commitment in the bill that these should be replaced one-for-one (and two-for-one in London). The starter homes offer has been modified to make it less of a quick windfall gain for those who are able to take advantage of it. Rent increases for those caught by the pay-to-stay plan – which would see higher earning council tenants charged higher rents – will be less steep.

But the fundamental concerns about the fairness of the bill still remain. One group of people, those with the wherewithal to buy, are being helped at the expense of those on lower incomes who are in greater need. Local authorities will now be required to include 20% of starter homes in all future planning applications, which will largely squeeze affordable rented housing out of planning agreements. The forced sale of higher value council houses, unless they can be replaced like-for-like, will reduce the stock of much needed family housing in areas of greatest demand. The homelessness charity Shelter has calculated that 23,500 local authority homes will need to be sold a year to fund right to buy, a third of all council houses that become vacant. We need to help those who want to buy, but this should not be instead of those whose only real option is social rent.

Perhaps the most worrying part of the bill is what it tells us about the government’s underlying view on the future of social housing. There has been much debate over the years about how social housing has changed from being a general source of housing for ordinary people on lower incomes, to being increasingly available only to those in most desperate need. Providing housing for a third of the population in the 1980s, it now houses less than half of that. With the changes in this bill, the numbers will fall further still and social housing will not just be residual, but temporary and contingent. Social housing tenants who progress in life will be expected to pay more rent and ultimately make way for others in greater need. Social houses will no longer be homes to settle down and plan a future in, but a temporary welfare benefit.

Previous Conservative governments boasted about the number of social rented houses they had built. Many Conservative controlled councils still feel the same way. Over the course of this bill though, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that for the leading figures in this government, publicly provided, social rented housing is now seen as toxic. This is something that I deeply regret.

In time, I believe the government will come to regret this also. It is simply not possible to deliver the new housing the country needs without building more houses of all types and tenures, including social housing.

I agree wholeheartedly with Bob Kerslake’s analysis, and hope to find ways — as a housing association tenant — to keep fighting for the provision of genuinely affordable social housing for all as one of the hallmarks of a civilised society, and as the only way out of a disgusting and disgraceful housing crisis brought about by years of greed and political short-sightedness. I hope you will join me.

For further information, see the analysis of the final bill by Architects for Social Housing, cross-posted below. A collective of “architects, urban designers, surveyors, engineers, planners, building industry consultants, academics, photographers, web designers, writers, housing campaigners and activists operating with developing ideas under set principles,” their primary conviction is that “infill, build-over and refurbishment are more sustainable solutions to London’s housing needs than the demolition of the city’s council estates, enabling, as it does, the continued existence of the communities they house.”

And Then There Were None
By Architects for Social Housing, May 11, 2016

On Tuesday 3 May, Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Housing and Planning responsible for driving the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill through Parliament, rejected 12 of the 13 amendments proposed by the House of Lords. Financial privilege, a convention that deters peers from voting against the Government’s Budget, was invoked in six of the amendments refused, relating to local authorities retaining a percentage of funds from the enforced sale of high-value council housing rather than it all going to central government, the income threshold at which a household will incur market rents, and the limits to the increase in that rate.

The Minister’s party backed him up, and the following day, Wednesday 4 May, after a warning from the Minister about the Government’s mandate, the House of Lords failed to insist on all but two of their amendments, 108, on carbon compliance for new homes, and 110, on sustainable drainage systems, and proposed five new amendments in lieu: 10B, on the provision of other forms of affordable housing besides Starter Homes; 47B, on local authorities retaining part of the proceeds from the sale of high value council homes to build replacement affordable housing, including, according to amendment 47C, homes for social rent; as well as 97B, on neighbourhood right of appeal against planning permission, and 109B, on affordable housing contributions to small scale developments.

These amendments were sent back to the Commons the following week, and on Monday 9 May they rejected them again, while conceding new amendments to energy performance and drainage. Tuesday they were back with the Lords, who withdrew new amendments 10B on Starter Homes, 97D on neighbourhood planning, 108 on carbon compliance and 110D on sustainable drainage, but narrowly insisted on proposed new amendment 47E on the proceeds of high value council housing. Today the Commons again, and for the last time, rejected amendment 47E, and later this afternoon, after a further warning from the Prime Minister, the Lords finally withdrew the last of their 13 amendments.

This week-long stalemate between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is known in Parliamentary parlance as ‘Ping Pong’; but rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic would be a more accurate description of its bearing on the outcome. If the two Houses had not reached consensus over the final text of the Bill before the State Opening of Parliament on 18 May, the Government could have invoked the Parliament Act and forced the Bill through in its original form, without any of the Lords amendments.

The Minister had hinted at this threat with his repeated reminders to the Lords that the Bill was part of the Government’s election manifesto and therefore has a democratic mandate. So now, after 6 months of debate – first through its two readings in the House of Commons, then a month in the Public Bill Committee, then again in the report to and final reading in the Commons, then for two readings in the House of Lords, a further month in Committee, another report to and final reading in the Lords, back again to the Commons, and then back and forth between Lords and Commons – the Housing and Planning Bill has not changed in any significant way since it was first read in the House of Commons on 13 October, 2015.

Against hopes if not expectations, the Right to Buy will be extended to housing associations, adding to the 40 per cent of council homes lost to Right to Buy that are now being rented out by private landlords. On the pretence of paying for this, local authorities will be forced to sell council homes that become vacant if they are deemed high value according to a threshold that is still to be determined by secondary legislation, but is thought to be around £400,000 for a 2-bedroom home in London, and will apply to nearly 113,000 council homes in England.

A total of 214,000 households earning over £40,000 in Greater London and £31,000 in England, rather than the originally proposed £30,000, will be forced to pay market rates to stay in their council homes, but these thresholds will now be based on the incomes of the main two household earners, not include child or housing benefits, and be raised in line with inflation, with a taper of 15p in every pound over the threshold rather than the proposed 20p.

Secure tenancies will not be passed from parent to child and new council tenancies will be for 2-5 years.

The obligation to build state-subsidised Starter Homes for sale at 80 per cent of market rate on 20 per cent of new housing developments will be an enforceable duty that supersedes any requirement to build affordable housing, including homes for social rent, under Section 106 agreements, but their resale after 5 years at full market price will now be regulated by a taper to be determined, once again, by secondary legislation. And planning permission in principle will be granted to any housing development on sites entered on a statutory register of brownfield land that will include existing local authority housing estates.

All we’re waiting for now is Royal Assent and this legislation is the new law of the land, to be implemented by central and local government, and enforceable by the cops and the courts. So much for Parliamentary democracy.

Note: Also see Defend Social Housing’s briefing from January.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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 six-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, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

63 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, in which I examine the depressing news that the Tories’ wretched housing and planning bill has been passed, largely intact, despite months of opposition in the House of Lords. The bill can only make the housing crisis worse, with incentives for those who actually able to buy homes, while social housing takes a hammer blow – with an extension of the right to buy to housing associaiton tenants, the end of lifetime council tenancies, and the imposition of the terrible “pay to stay” policy, doubling, triping or quadrupling rents for council tenants who dare to earn the median income.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Hannah Johns wrote:

    Granted my knowledge of council housing is mostly from British cop shows, I do have one friend in council housing and this doesn’t sound good……

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    No, not good, Hannah – and you have another friend (if I may) in social housing – me. Social housing includes properties run by councils, and those run by housing associations (as in my case), which are private organisations with a commitment to not-for-profit housing. A smaller number of properties are run by co-ops. All are under threat from the Tory government, which is steaming head-first back to sometime before socialism existed – and before enlightened Victorian philanthropists began making life difficult for the arrogant rich.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    For another take on what’s happening in London now, do check out Johnny Void’s latest article about the housing crisis, “As Homelessness Soars Number Of Empty Homes In London Hits Seven Year High”:

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    After my friend George Kenneth Berger shared this, I wrote:

    Thanks for sharing my article, George. Difficult times in the UK. Everything that could possibly be made worse by the Tories is being made worse. They treat the House of Lords with disdain, and are intent on destroying social housing, even though failing to provide genuinely affordable housing for millions of people would be a disaster of colossal proportions, taking us back to the unenlightened early Victorian age, if not earlier. The ultimate aim, I think, is feudalism – but with mobile phones.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I think so too, re Feudalism. So many cuts in UK and elsewhere seem so irrational that they must be ideologically motivated.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the logic is supposed to be self-sufficiency for everyone, George, but the reality, of course, is that the various costs of living – housing in particular these days – are so expensive, to keep the rich rich, that, even if desirable (and that’s a big if), self-sufficiency is simply unthinkable for millions and millions of people. I do sometime think, though, that the Tories have so little knowledge of reality that they don’t even realise this.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I think they do realise and do not care. Here is an example. Do you know about In-work Conditionality in Universal Credit, Andy?

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I’m sure some ministers know some details about what they’re doing, George, but others don’t have the full picture, or aren’t really in touch. IDS is blinded by ideological hatred of the poor, and both Cameron and Osborne seem rather obtuse in general.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Here Andy Universal credit: tough love for low-paid workers

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. I had missed that. There is so much – too much – to keep up with everything.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I know. This just disgusts me. Slave labour for those in work.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    In a nutshell, neo-liberalism, George. Disdain for human beings, ruthlessly sacrificed for profit. And to try and get away with it, we get politicians who lie and cheat and spin like never before. They despise us.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Patricia Sheerin-Richman wrote:

    When I worked on the 2001 census I visited households in a large tower block in Putney. There were hardly any Council tenants left. Most flats had been bought and sold to lettings agents.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Patricia​. In an article in January, John Harris noted, “Just under 8% of us now live in council housing; in 1979, the figure was 42%.” It’s difficult, if not impossible, however, to get breakdowns by estates. A rough guideline would be that proposals to demolish estates involve those with a low number of leaseholders – not in Putney, presumably.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Awful. I heard about this two years ago and have kept my eyes open. DWP published their plan for this in 2010.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    I always say, George, that the Tories make sure no one with any intelligence is in the room when they come up with what passes for policy. Now it appears I had forgotten to mention that the ban also includes anyone with any trace of fundamenal human decency. It’s so disgusting it looks like the plot of a dystopian sci-fi novel.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Hannah Johns wrote:

    The woman I know is such a gentle soul and it makes me despair for her and her daughter and grandkids who are also there. She’s an incredible artist and activist……poet

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Many creative people have relied on social housing, Hannah, to be able to do what they do – like your friend, and like me. Increasingly, though, the thrust of society as a whole has become all about making money, and nothing else counts. In this terrible dystopian version of what life should really be about (a mix of business, creativity and raising kids), gentle artists are viewed as spongers, and social housing, if it is to exist at all, must only be for the very poor – although they, of course, will in turn be punished for being very poor. A political revolution is needed.
    What amazes me is that all this is happening after the global crash of 2008, which was caused by the bankers, unregulated by politicians, which should have descredited the notion that everything can be commodified and it’s all about money and profit. I despise these developments with every fibre of my being.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    That said, Hannah, most people currently living in social housing in England are safe for now. It is not yet clear how increasing rents for those who are paid the median wage or above can be implemented in practice, as legislation is required to compel people to hand over details of their wages to their landlords. The most vulnerable people currently are those without paid work, and those in housing that politicians and developers want to write off as sub-standard so they can knock it down and make new apartments for wealthier people. No real thought is being given as to where the poor people end up. Hitler had some thoughts on that, and the Victorians too — in their poorhouses and workhouses.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Hannah Johns wrote:

    Andy, this is why, though it mystified many of my old friends, we moved to rural Kansas nearly 2 decades ago, cheap digs and the ability to scrape by, impossible without much travail, where I was living in nw Washington.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    As for your move to rural Kansas, Hannah, who can blame you?

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote, in response to 17, above:

    It is that. A rotating army of low paid workers, kept that way by threat of sanctions. Bosses get cheap labour, government gets more tax revenue.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    I recently watched a British TV programme recreating family life in the 70s, George. The family involved loved it. They got to spend much more time together than now, and had significant leisure time. The programme posited the reason: thousands of trade unions actively working to make their members’ lives better. And let’s remember who changed all that – Reagan and Thatcher. They won the PR battle about the “evils” of trade unions, so that even now it is widely regarded as an unmitigated good thing to have taken on the unions, but look where we are with their power dimmed – back to Victorian-type working practices. So now the Tories are out to cut all benefits for deliberately low-paid workers, who won’t actually be able to survive without state support, as well as making young people work for nothing through workfare schemes, while industry as a whole – which mainly comprises a bloated “services” sector – colludes willingly with the notion that pay is a luxury, having established endless unpaid internships as the norm for young people. No rich parents? Then you’re pretty much screwed …

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Alan Pritchard wrote:

    I’m waiting for the Labour Party to start organising something, say something.
    So far its the House of Lords who have been fighting this chaotic legislation.
    The Bill is utterly confusing. But isn’t it about time we had an oppostion ?
    The Labour Party is far too busy throwing bricks at each other.
    Most of the country is in the grip of a very serious housing crisis. This Goverment is rotten at the core. It simply doesn’t understand the values of civic society.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, well said, Alan. I too am waiting for something from Labour. In London, as I’ll be writing about soon, the obvious focus is Sadiq Khan, who, of course, has promised to address the housing crisis, but he’s not opposed to the status quo (banks and big business and the unfettered right of individuals to exploit others as much as they can get away with), so I don’t see how he’s going to do anything meaningful.
    I am, at least, assured that, if we can get organised, we’ll be able to exert pressure on Sadiq Khan much more than we could with the lazy, unassailable, corrupt and aloof Boris Johnson, who only engaged with the plebs by putting on his sickening but successful “crikey, aren’t I funny?” show.
    However, I agree that the Labour Party in general is weak on this, and I blame the opponents of Jeremy Corbyn. I think Jeremy and John McDonnell, who are deliberately underfunded by the PLP and essentially involved in a siege situation, would be doing much more if they could. I know how much fair housing, social housing genuinely means to both of them.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    One of the main reasons I finally left England. Pure madness, making people intentionally homeless. Then with a big family, such as mine, there’s a high chance they remove the children from a parents care, once they are homeless and the hostel doesn’t have space.
    Think of the stress! You’re living in your lifelong home and someone comes along and says — pay more! Or time’s up — get out! What are these people meant to do? With the benefit cap (and bedroom tax) — they just expected people to fork over money they didn’t have or downsize. To where? Move with what resources? Who will rent to these ‘poor’ folks? Slumlords?
    It’s really sad for me personally because I miss living in England. It became my home.
    But I wasn’t able to face that stress. Nor should anyone else. God Help them.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tashi. Yes, very well said. We have a government of sadistic bullies, and a population of people encouraged to be mean and small-minded, and to hate or distrust their neighbours, while countless vulnerable people are abused by a cruel and broken system.

  29. damo says...

    The thing is we are governed by dim,weak ,clueless public school upperclass ….fops….who have no concept of how people other than themselves live ….cameron,osborne,johnson and there ilk….could not concieve that anybody could not have a spare million in the bank you know for emergancys ….were do they think people will live this isnt america …nimbys wont allow trailer parks or tent citys…..tent citys are starting to appear …..the hard truth is …..we…..are…all being proces and driven out of london and the south werever the rich fox there greedy eyes on …..they will get and that includes your home

  30. damo says...

    Never in my lifetime has this country been in such a mess ,incompetant leadership from both torie and labour jeremy corbyn is surrounded by undermineing blaireite sharks and toadys on all sides …..the labour party are an unfunny joke …we need oldschool labour bulldogs to back corbyn up to make labour credible again ….we wait to see if khan delivers …the tories hold the whip hand ….and they will do Exactly as they please

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Damo. Yes, the Tories have absolutely no concept of how difficult life is for ordinary people, who don’t have a million in the bank. Unfortunately, our fellow citizens still don’t understand that we need to actually do something about it rather than turning our back on politics or thinking that a lizard like Nigel Farage or a self-obsessed clown like Boris Johnson are the answer.
    I do think we need to find a way to oust the Blairites to give Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell a chance. Unfortunately, Sadiq Khan is already undermining Jeremy. That was a short honeymoon period!

  32. damo says...

    People are being dumbed down,bamboozled and brain washed

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    The corporate brainwashing is intense, Damo – the requirement to shop incessantly, the triumph of “branding.” Plus, it seems to me, a lot of people’s internet use is as shallow as possible – celebrity selfies and tittle-tattle, and little else besides. Have you seen the numbers of subscribers people get for YouTube channels that are nothing more than airheads promoting corporate sh*t they’ve been sent to promote? Unbelievable. And the dull pop stars with hundreds of millions of followers … Scary!

  34. damo says...

    Lol lol social meja seems to be cretin land the moment full of vain narssisitic bores and simpletons its changed its people or corperations……disguised… people espesh …alternative types…..trying to flog ….tat…..or credit cards…..its seems to be cynical manipulation of everything and everyone……theres nothing organic….the idols are dying ….bowie,prince,lemmy…….the musics dying that innocence its gone

  35. damo says...

    Watching the news this must be one of the most corrupt countrys on earth there not even hideing it now

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    I think it’s certainly true, Damo, that there are too many idiots on social media – really vile bullies, who wouldn’t dare to say what they do in real life – and also that the corporations have found more and more ways to try and sell us cr*p we don;t need.
    As for music, I despair at the reach of pop superstars who are just really rather dull, but what gets me the most s how the counter-culture seems to be dead. Perhaps underground, where it’s all hippest, there’s something stirring, but I imagine that too has already been co-opted by the corporate world. People need to stop buying the trainers, the clothes, the gadgets, the cars, the booze and focus on the individual. There are some ideas here that I’m currently trying to develop further …

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    What’s been happening in particular, Damo? I didn’t watch any news this evening …

  38. damo says...

    Ooh just the useual and dodgy dave doing deals with the corrupt human rights abuseing malasyian primeinnister while allowing crocked Malaysian tax avoiding corperates to buy up huge swathes of london real estate you know andy bussiness as usual …but they dont try and hide it now…..why….becouse the public are so bamboozeled ,so dim witted ,so distracted…..i think your right the real counterculture is dead or its gone into hideing its like a unicorn…we now have a fake counterculture thats best summed up by glastonbury at £250 a ticket the best part of £1000 for the weekend were you can see all those money grabbing dreary old bands ….corperate sellouts like the stones and be surrounded by middleclass student knobheads for 3 days …..nightmare,lol ….someone start something please…somekind of anything….something and somewere we can escape the dummys …….and the greedys

  39. damo says...

    Are you going to see the new ken loach film i daniel blake its gonna be depressing but hopefully it will open peoples eyes as to whats going on

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    Well said, Damo. While the rich get richer, and the state is starved, like a prisoner held by a psychopath in a basement, people don’t seem to be aware. Too much bling bling and self-obsession. I think the shallowest people – and there are many of them – have lost empathy and an ability to understand political realities, and I think the media and politicians constantly try to exploit this.
    As for the conter-culture, I went to Glastonbury in the mid-80s, and again in 1999, and 2004 and 2005 to launch my first two books, when I was in the Green Fields. That was still a great part of the festival, and although the corporatisation was building at that time, it’s a far, far cry from what I see in the culture now, just 10, 15 years later.
    I cant quite put my finger on it, but it’s tied up with materialism and an entirely unjustified self-obsession and sense of self-worth. And it’s very conservative too – and involves obedience. The culture is constantly trying to make people shop, all the time, and they’re constantly buying corporate, mass-produced cr*p that fits the images of successful men and women that they’re sold in their every waking moment. So we have the stupid haircuts for men, the tiny tight suits and tiny tight shirts, the smart-casual everything, and the identical women, underweight, mostly blonde, also dressed for the office even when they’re not at work, or in more feminine outfits that emphasise their starring role in the ongoing film-like reality of their own lives.
    We need dirt and honesty, and we need to cut off the corporate blood-suckers as much as possible.
    I’m still thinking this over …

  41. Andy Worthington says...

  42. damo says...

    Mass narcissisum has swept the land andy people are being programed and bamboozeled into believeing that if they havent got the latest phone that there a loser and will be rejected and people are litteraly terrified of being seen as …..other……of not being normal …as if normal is judged by what phone you have …glastonburry …used… be cool go alonge take some acid drift around all weekend enjoying……its now corperate and naff…..full of uncool people trying to be cool…we both must sound like a couple of moaning old men,lol ….but i miss thoughs old free days ….free in every scence of the word

  43. damo says...

    People are obbsessed with being a…….winner……off winning…..yeah,yeah,…im an alpha …..male….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……..yeah sure you are….lol

  44. damo says...

    And as for the tiny skin tight outfits on both girls and boys…….the pornification of western society ….everyone must be……hot…….espesh the young.everyones beautifull when there young …they dont need to be made into sex objects …leave them alone…..but if were not seen as a hot stud,babe,sexy daddy or milf…than were….other …..and people are terrified of…..that

  45. Andy Worthington says...

    I have a frequent feeling, Damo, that I must somehow have slept for a decade, because so many changes have taken place, and it’s as if I didn’t see them coming. I don’t think that’s quite true, though. I did see things as they began happening – what, I suppose, were the first signs of gentrification, aspiration, self-obsession, self-entitlement and a very modern sense of greed – but I just didn’t anticipate that they would end up like a tsunami.
    The counter-culture is, however, something I demonstrably miss that just isn’t around anymore. Money has taken over almost everything, and that freedom you mention has been almost entirely wiped out, and has certainly been wiped out as a counter-cultural phenomenon.
    That said, scientists have recently been discovering the power of mushrooms (to combat long-term depression), which would have surprised no one when we were young. Do people really not realise that the most horrible drug of all – always destructive – is cocaine, the drug of choice of thrusting sociopaths?

  46. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, you make good points there, Damo: “everyones beautiful when there young”, and the fear of the “other.” I suppose the straitjacketing of difference has had that effect – the fashion world telling people how they have to look, the mobile phone culture that encourages people to remain locked into their friendship groups.
    Another reminder of Glastonbury: in 1986 there was a message tree, where you could try and hook up with friends if you got lost, but actually getting lost was part of the experience. You met new people. In 1999 I went with friends and we lost one of our party and never saw him again until the end, but by 2004-05 everyone had mobile phones, so no one got lost, and that’s how the world is now. You can meet people via apps, but it seems to be getting hard to meet people randomly in real life.

  47. damo says...

    I recently watched a documentary on ken kesey and the merry pranksters driveing across america giveing out acid …can you imagine anything like that being alowed to happen now they would be shot or the communes in sanfran being allowed to happen or even the peace convoy ….it just wouldnt be allowed to happen …i remember years ago meeting this old dutch hippie and him saying….they wont let you live….they wont leave you alone…they wont money from you all the time……..he is right …..they wont leave us alone ….just to live……..????

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s completely impossible to imagine anything like that happening again, Damo – that potent mixture of iconoclasm, optimism and anger – although something similar is exactly what’s needed, as Kesey and the Pranksters were rebelling against the conservatism of the 50s, which is the era that I think our current society most resembles – with its conservatism, the whole jingoistic, flag-waving b*llocks of the so-called hipsters, the resurgence of support for the Royal Family, and the desire to leave the EU and reclaim “our” sovereignty. I also find that the dull conservatism of what people are supposed to look like harks back to those times, as does the trend for marking one’s territory with grey doors, frosted windows and numbers spelled out in words – although some of that also harks back to the Victorian and Edwardian periods (but obviously not from the point of view of the oppressed and exploited working class).
    I think the magic and mystery has gone, along with the psychedelic hedonism and the endless nagging desire to take on the system, and it’s sad how unimaginable the events and movements you cited are nowadays.
    The old Dutch hippie you mentioned reminds me of a Freak Brothers comic in which Fat Freddy ends up being washed ashore in Holland, where his enthusiasm for being in the land of decriminalised dope rapidly soured as he was escorted to the border by the police for having no money. “We are tolerant people here,” the police say, adding, “We can put up with anyone except tourists with no money.”
    That was a sharp analysis of the real situation in Holland at the time, where the much-vaunted liberalism was more an opportunistic form of capitalism, but in the UK, although we never decriminalised marijuana, we definitely had a strong counter-culture in which money hadn’t infected everything, unlike now.

  49. damo says...

    Screaming,shrieking,jibbering,gurning head bobbing,eye rolling dribbling ,jibber jabber…..this is modern life in the 21 century …..what happened andy ….what happened to people ….ive just been watching that magnificant series….peoples century..all that struggle all that war ,all that libberation,…all of it the greatness of the 20th century… end up with what we have today …how people are now …like morlocks…subhumans….it make me wanna vomit ….were is our greatness gone

  50. damo says...

    Andy people may think this message extream but unless things change ..the change that differant peoples have shown us for decades from the beatnics to the reclaim the streets….we are as good as dead ,this planet is as good as dead……unless we change

  51. damo says...

    I think modern society has become deranged

  52. Andy Worthington says...

    I never saw the People’s Century, Damo, but it looks interesting. On YouTube here:
    One of the terrible side-effects of the depoliticisation tat plagues so many of our fellow citizens is amnesia, so as well as not understanding what’s happening now, far too many people also have no understanding of history, and it turns out that, if we don’t know where we came from, we don’t know who we are.
    I love that opening salvo of yours, btw. Very powerful!

  53. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, we are sleepwalking into total disaster, Damo, that much is obvious. We think we have become so clever that we’ve forgotten the bigger picture – first and foremost, the environment, I’d say, but existentially, I think our so-called cleverness – ransacking every corner of the world for stuff to sell or to use as material in yet another profit-seeking venture – means that we have lost touch with the magic and mystery of life. It’s like the ultimate version of the “dominion over the earth” aspiration, taken from the Bible, that has particularly driven Christian capitalists for centuries, and its domination, and the commodification of everything, threatens to render existence itself fundamentally meaningless.

  54. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, as I was trying to say in my last replies, Damo. We have become self-consuming cannibals.

  55. damo says...

    The latest torie attack is they are going to sanction people with in work benefits ie the working poor……you couldnt make this up al this is completely ideoligy driven ….the tories hate the poor…they realy,realy do the thing thats so strange is there ideoligy of survival of the fittest as the worthless cretin boris put it about cornflakes,lol,lol ……look at them ….look at the windsors……just look at boris,cameron,osborne….pathetic excuses for men ….well there not men males maybe but defo not men ….look at them andy,look at there wives,there children…..pathetic………pathetic

  56. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, a friend of mine alerted me some time ago to the disgrace that is “in-work conditionality”, Damo, although I haven’t had the opportunity to write about it. It’s so typical of this government, isn’t it, to be punishing poorly-paid workers for their low pay, when the fault clearly lies with the employers.
    Here’s the latest from the Guardian:

  57. damo says...

    This as ive said before is ideoligy driven and class driven ….theas tories this vermin we now have destroying the country are deliberately targeting anyone who they think wont vote torie…they think that low paid part time workers are stupid peasants who are too stupid to be able to find a full time job ….there arent any full time jobs ….industry has been destroyed in this country over the past 40 years :……thease pathetic weak chinless public school boys ….hate anyone who is not posh or rich….it amazess me that someone hasnt gone and burned eton to the ground

  58. Andy Worthington says...

    Manufacturing is the bottom line for me, Damo. We used to make everything; now people who aren’t in the UK make everything instead, and there clearly aren’t enough jobs here. And everyone who doesn’t think things through properly says the problem is immigrants, when it’s not. It’s all the cr*p we buy – phones, huge TVs, all those million of clothes – that are made elsewhere.

  59. damo says...

    Last night i watched a very moveing doc …bbc timeshift ….on the last days of saigon…the mess of vietnam ..but it was strange watching you saw the worst of people but also the best of people in a way the us military us polititions were responsible for the whole mess but it was the actual millitary men on the ground who broke rank dissobeying orders along with the chopper pilots to rescue as many vietnamies as possible and when they were ordered by the presidant to stóp carried on until it was impossable to do so the monsterous situation brought out the best in people a common hummanity not just in those men there but around the world …….from the antiwar protests to civil rights to gay rights to green peace…..weres that all gone if ever there was a time ….we need all of that more than ever now

  60. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting, Damo. I saw it was on, and tried to watch it, but I wasn’t in the right headspace.
    Of course, it’s a period that absolutely fascinates me, however – the resistance to the Vietnam War, which was such a key part of the counter-culture and the revolutionary impulses of the time, the disillusion of the 70s, in which the withdrawal from Vietnam was a big part, and, crucially, I think, the way in which the right-wing rallied, and we got Thatcher and Reagan, telling us to feel better about ourselves because we would be great again, through old-fashioned values and the liberation of capital.
    The greatest disappointment of my life is how people lapped up their poisonous messages about Conservatism and entitlement, and the need to wipe out dissent.

  61. daz says...

    im a housing association tenant and have been for the past twenty years ,im a rent paying tenant not a housing benefit paid one ,i have bought my house 3 times over in the amount of rent i have paid ,why should i not be given a chance to own my home now i am finally in a position to do so monetarily ,i work hard and pay my taxes and have no plans of moving so my house that you say will be taken from other social housing tenants will not becoming available anyway ,you can blame the tories all you want but what did the party of the working classes [laughable ] do when in power for 13 years ,i will tell you they flooded the country with new people also needing houses that according to you is not there but they still went ahead with there plan anyway ,the eu debacle of anyone from a member state can also come here and use up all services and be able to jump a housing queue list is also to blame ,but hey the truth hurts and by the way yes i will vote tory next election if they get this bill through as guess what i have a vested interest in them being in power whereas labour or the lib dumbs are only out for there chums from overseas

  62. Andy Worthington says...

    Daz, I’m a housing association tenant too, and frankly I couldn’t afford to buy where I live if I lived to be 150, even with a hefty discount, but I don’t agree with the principle.
    I also object to anyone describing how any government “flooded” the country with immigrants who then proceeded to take all the social housing, because that’s not actually true. Check out this Guardian article:
    Here’s a key passage:

    One Daily Mail headline from 2012, which has now been amended, once read: “Revealed: How HALF of all social housing in England goes to people born abroad”. The actual figure at the time was 8.6%: it now stands at 9%. Around 91% [pdf] of all new social tenancies are taken up by UK-born citizens.

    Good luck with carrying on voting Tory. I’m not a member of any political party, by the way, and I despised most of what the Labour Party did when in government, but the Tories are worse – interested only in enriching the rich, and punishing the poor for being poor, and destroying the state provision of all services. However, I don’t think you’ll be so cheerful when the economy goes down the pan as we leave the EU.

  63. blogs says...

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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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