More homes, more jobs

There is a story – probably untrue – that a famous Nazi speaker was invited to address Italian peasants in a pro-Mussolini village shortly after Mussolini and Hitler became allies. He made a speech culminating in the rhetorical demand “Which will you have – guns or butter?” and was startled when the Italian peasants bellowed back in unison “Butter!”

During most of the BNP demo yesterday, there were just three of us and three of them. One of them didn’t talk to us: he stood handing out anti-halal leaflets, or trying to, to everyone who entered KFC.

The other two talked to us. In between saying things like they weren’t racist, but Britain is a white Christian country and ought to stay that way, got nothing against black people but British people ought to get first crack at the jobs that are going, they said: There aren’t enough jobs. There aren’t enough houses. People are unemployed, people are homeless.

These are facts. We all three tried to argue with them that the fault lay not with “the immigrants” nor with “the Jewish bankers” but with governments that consistently won’t spend money on job creation or building new homes, but they were absolutely sure that the problem was “too many immigrants” and “too much money spent in Europe”.

But the plain fact is: when the economy is in recession, the government needs to spend more, not less, to save jobs, not to make people unemployed. Austerity doesn’t work.

The scheme of letting people buy their council houses has had its tragedies, but the proportion of households owning with a mortgage peaked at 43% in the early 90s, letting people who would never have got their feet on the property ladder own their own home. This needn’t have been a bad thing… except that the Tory government which instituted the Right to Buy did not allow local authorities use the money generated from selling their council houses to build more council houses. And Tony Blair wasn’t interested in that either.

A report commissioned by Shelter England from the Resolution Foundation (h/t EPTAG) finds that if the UK economy remains weak the proportion of households owning with a mortgage will continue to decrease, probably sinking to one in four (27%) by 2025.

Meanwhile, the proportion of people renting their homes privately will continue to expand, rising from just 7% in 1994 to 22% by 2025. In London more than a third (36%) of households will be renting by 2025.
The report also projects that more families with children will be renting than ever before. The past five years have seen a massive 86% increase in families with children renting their homes, growth which looks set to continue – particularly in London where renting will overtake mortgaged homeownership by 2020.

Despite this, Shelter notes, the current government takes no interest in the private rented sector. Shelter’s chief executive Campbell Robb says:

“This report shows what is fast becoming the new reality of our housing market in the current economic climate: home ownership continuing to fall while renting becomes a way of life for British families.
“Yet despite the growing pressure on the rental market, the government’s recent Housing Strategy virtually ignored the sector and did little to address the issues of affordability, stability and quality that so many renters face.
“It’s time government woke up to the fact that Rental Britain is here to stay. With more and more families renting than ever before, we need to make renting fit for purpose for the growing cohort who want a stable and secure home to raise their children in.”

David Cameron and Nick Clegg and their cabinet of millionaires aren’t going to care about tenants in the private rented sector: their sympathies politically lie with their landlords, the people who could afford to buy more than one home and from then on have a comfortable income from it. Indeed, Chris Grayling, the Minister for Employment, and perhaps other Cabinet ministers are buy-to-let landlords in London, and have no personal motivation at all for supporting any legislation that might drive down their income.

In a story that Newsnight didn’t want to cover, more and more people are in full-time work but aren’t getting paid enough to cover their rent: they have to claim housing benefit, effectively a government subsidy to property owners. The Tory/LibDem coalition response to the rising cost of housing benefit was to cap it (and argue for banning it for under-25s), thus punishing the tenants without much affecting the landlords, who can take full market advantage of the demand for housing in the private sector by raising the rent without any check or hindrance.

EPTAG propose rent control as the answer:

It is not just those on benefits who are suffering from these high rents – people who receive no benefits are also paying very large proportions of their income on rent, with one study showing that rent is costing nearly half of the average British family’s monthly earnings.

Huge numbers of people in the UK are suffering from ‘rent poverty’ – and it is clear that what is needed is a fairer way of controlling rents, that does not punish tenants.

True. Given a government that believes in austerity – as apparently all three UK-national parties now do, meaning it doesn’t matter which of them wins in 2015, the country’s economy will continue to die the death of a thousand cuts – we are bound to end up with more and more people in desperate need of somewhere to stay, and private landlords in that case badly need regulation. (And I say this, as a private landlord myself: I rent a room in my flat to a tenant. The law is on her side, for the most part, but the power is on mine.)

Ed Miliband will not stand up against austerity and argue for investment in social housing and public spending to boost the economy, because he is afraid of what the tabloids will say about him if he does.

Yesterday, all of the BNP supporters had heard (presumably via Nick Griffen) that Ed Miliband had made a speech on Friday that supported their views on immigration. I doubt if they had themselves read or listened to the full version, but while Miliband tries to give “immigration fear” a Labour spin, he fails because he has decided to pretend that the fear is of something real:

But when I talk about immigration I know I must be true not just to my mum and dad but to other parents across the country, like those in my constituency, Doncaster North.

They are worried about the future. They want there to be good jobs. They want their communities to grow strong.

They worry about immigration. They worry it might make things harder rather than easier for them and their kids. Worrying about immigration, talking about immigration, thinking about immigration, does not make them bigots. Not in any way. They’re anxious about the future.

And since this conversation is going on in the houses, streets and neighbourhoods of Britain, it must be a conversation that the Labour Party joins too. Our party seeks to be more rooted in peoples’ lives than any other party. And therefore we must listen to those anxieties and speak directly and candidly to them in return.

Unemployment is at 15.9% in Doncaster North. Average weekly earnings for women are 13.5% below the national average: 4.56% below for men. Unemployment rates for women are lower than for men, suggesting that – unmentioned by Ed Miliband – women are doing more lower-paid work than men. Can you imagine Ed Miliband making the pay gap between women and men the central focus of his speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research?

As Owen Jones noted in the Independent on Ed Miliband and Britain’s anti-immigrant backlash:

New Labour failed to replace the hundreds of thousands of council houses that were sold off, and as a result up to 5 million people are now languishing on social housing waiting lists. In areas like Barking and Dagenham, that is exactly why the BNP made inroads: a sense of grievance that ‘there’s not enough housing to go around, so why is it going to them?’ was exploited. But having a proper council house building programme (which would stimulate the economy, create jobs and bring down the housing benefit bill) is the real solution to these shortages, not risking adding fuel to myths about immigrants.

Over the past months, the Leveson inquiry has been uncovering the uncomfortable secrets of the powerful and speaking truth to power (and forcing power to speak truth) in a way literally unheard of before in the British establishment. While it doesn’t lend itself to suffix as the Watergate Hotel did, the broad equivalent is the Watergate scandal. Avedon Carol at the Sideshow linked me to Charles Pierce writing a fortieth anniversary reminder that the lesson of Watergate for the American right-wing wasn’t that in future they must obey the law: it was a discovery of what they could get away with.

Immigration is not the cause of high unemployment, low wages, and high rents. Ed Miliband is pandering to tabloid-fuelled anxieties when he claims that it is. Miliband does not believe that the Leveson inquiry has changed public perception of the lies the media tells: he thinks that to be heard he has to use their story.

Nearly sixty-five years ago Aneurin Bevan had more sense and more integrity:

“After a while the newspapers in the hands of our enemies will give the impression that everything is going wrong. Don’t be deceived, it is then that they will start going right. We are the people to whom the people can complain. I shall be unmoved by the newspapers, but moved by the distress.”

Nick Clegg plans to go on tour this summer, in England, Scotland, and Wales, to allow “hundreds of members of the public tell him what they really think“.

Battle-hardened strategists hope the sight of the deputy PM taking on his opponents will act as “resilience training” for party members when they go campaigning on the doorstep.

The team behind the summer-long blitz, taking in 13 dates across every region in England, Wales and Scotland, say they are drawing inspiration from Franklin D Roosevelt who took on his rich and powerful opponents when campaigning for re-election as US president in 1936 with the dramatic declaration: “They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.”

The problem with that strategy is that Roosevelt’s enemies were the rich and powerful: those are Clegg’s friends, or at least the people whom he’s benefited by his consistent supporting of Tory policies. The people who are unanimous in their hate for Clegg are those who really believed in the LibDems as a left-of-centre party: they are neither rich nor powerful, only betrayed.

(Plus, given three minutes uninterrupted chance to lecture Clegg on what an asshole he was to get LibDems in Parliament and conference to vote for NHS privatisation, I’d probably take it, but without any hope of changing Clegg’s self-gratulatory view of himself – and the idea that Clegg could convince me that he really wanted something other than to prop up Tory policies is by leading the LibDems as an opposition to the Tories, instead of leading them into the voting lobby with the Tories.)

Without a clear UK-national opposition to the strategies of austerity, homelessness, and unemployment that Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats are all claiming “work” – for the rich kids at the top of all three parties, sure: not for those of us on the ground – is there any real alternative but to vote yes to independence in 2014?

I wish there was, I truly do. I’m no more “decided” about independence than I ever was. I had rather Labour and the LibDems were both in opposition to the Conservatives in Westminster.

But they’re not.

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Filed under Benefits, Housing, Scottish Politics

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