Saturday, October 30, 2010

Londoners affected by the Coalition's new housing benefit policy?

Ravish London would be intersted in first and second hand accounts of the stresses and strains that these new policies are putting families under. Please add links and stories.

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Londoners it would seem love an independently minded mayor.

First Ken Livingstone who left his own party to defeat its candidate. And now Boris Johnson, who has always had a reputation for not seeing eye to eye with David Cameron, but who a few days ago blew the relationship out of the water with his comments on the effects of Conservative policy on London's poor.

The context to this is the decision made by David Cameron's coalition government to make housing benefit an absolute payment (i.e. limited to below a particular figure, 250 pounds a week for a one bedroom flat has been quoted) rather than a relative one (i.e. as a proportion of the rent being charged by the landlord).

The point is that people whose new housing benefit allowance will not cover their old rent will have no option but to move out of home.

Of course, if you are one of those who lives in such a home, moving out will tear you from your home, your sense of belonging, your people and your community - it is beyond that humiliating - the emotional and health impacts are likely to be dire for anyone who has to deal with such an experience.

For economists and hard nosed politicians, who have nice houses subsidised by the tax payer, the emotional, social and health consequences of such a move are by the by - the important thing is cutting the budget, saving money and repaying the debt.

For those that despise those that claim benefits - and there are many of these - some of whom themselves will receive some kind of benefit as we all, one way or another, do - they will take a particularly vindictive delight in contemplating the misfortunate of those who they feel need to be working harder, and enduring more pain to make a living.

For those who are ideologically opposed to the Conservatives and the capitalistic classes they generally stand for, such a move deserves and is perfectly set up for them to air their revulsion.

It would seem that Boris Johnson, momentarily succumbed to the feelings and emotions felt by the latter group, just this last week, when he was quoted as saying, "We will not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London. On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots"

The use of the Kosovo metaphor is likely to effect different feelings in different audiences.

Anyone who experienced the attempts of Serbs and Kosovans to ethnically cleanse Kosovo are unlikely to be impressed with such a comparison. Whilst having to leave one's house is the common factor; the push factors and the consequences of not doing so were considerably more serious and fear inducing in Kosovo than they will be in London. Others have compared the effects of the policy to the Highland clearances, in Scotland, where hundreds and thousands of poor people were savagely beaten and murdered off their land, by the ruling aristocractices, whose ancestors continue to reap the benefits today.

Those who are prepared to put aside the insensitivities of the statement, and who feel sickened by the lack of compassion shown by Tories both historically, and by the likes of Cameron and Osbourne, whose private and unjust levels of privilege helped elevate them to the positions in life they now occupy, will no doubt be piqued with excitement and glee at the imagined discomfort of Cameron, who has worked so hard to portray his cuts as being faily applied across all sectors of society.

Despite the furore caused by the statement Boris Johnson quickly back tracked, pointing out that, "My consistent position has been that the Government is absolutely right to reform the housing benefit system which has become completely unsustainable...  I do not agree with the wild accusations from defenders of the current system that reform will lead to social cleansin... [and]...but the point I was making this morning is that London has specific needs due to the exceptional way in which the housing market works in the capital and it is my job as Mayor to make the Government aware of these."

The statement is likely to have done Boris Johnson little harm amongst London voters, who tend to favour offbeat politicians with an air of anti-establishment about them; although it may have offended those who prefer their politicians to keep a cool and reasonable demeanour.

But aside from Boris Johnson's political ambitions, his comments has drawn attention to the thousands of people, who are likely going to have to vacate their accomodation over the coming year. The problem of finding new cheaper housing will not be easy for them. There are few first time buyers at the moment; meaning that more people are looking to rent. Competition for rented accomodation is likely to become more and more fierce.

Ravish London would be intersted in first and second hand accounts of the stresses and strains that these new policies are putting families under. Please add links and stories.


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