Why is Joe important to me? Maybe because he’s one of the legions of people who live alone, who are not easily employable, and who, for one reason or another, rely upon the State to support them.
Joe is not ‘lazy’. With his history of mental illness, I doubt he has a real concept of what the word means; nor is he a ‘scrounger’ in any comfortable sense. Like almost all those the middle class try to cram into the freeloader mold, Joe doesn’t quite fit. For a large part of his life he was institutionalized until the State in its wisdom decided he should be cared for ‘in the community’. At some stage the same State decided he was well. So the care bit stopped. ‘Support’ took its place.
There are a small number of jobs for people like Joe. Unfortunately, there are a very large number of Joes.
Joe is a council tenant. He has a two-bedroomed house which the State now says is too large. In the latter half of this year his housing allowance will be cut by fifty percent. He has few other allowances – no child allowance, for example – so when the cut comes he will not have enough to live on.
The State has two answers: either take on a paying tenant for the room to make up the difference, or move to smaller accommodation.
Health and Safety now pieces itself into the argument: before he accepts a tenant, Joe must satisfy fire regulations and install fire doors to his council let. No, the council won’t do it; they’ll only prosecute if it is not done. Joe does not have the four-figure sum this installation will cost; and everyone else involved is happy to ignore the speculative nature of such an investment. After all, who can guarantee a tenancy? Even then, incidentally, the council must approve his tenant – a process that, to go by most council procedures, could take months: Joe’s budget just about gets him from week to week.
So, Joe must move into a single-bedroom unit. Problem? The councils and housing associations have no single bedroom units. There is a massive waiting list for those that are already in place.
For years both legislative bodies and private house builders have concentrated upon the more versatile two- and three-bed units. There are hundreds and thousands of those. Even landlords in the private sector have predominantly larger units: they attract more rent – they make economic sense.
Economic sense is the quality it seems our rulers conspicuously lack. In a move that is intended to save money and drive those who for generations have lived off the State into work they are in danger of causing a housing crisis of epic proportions – a situation likely to cost five times as much as they save. Not that this is unusual for British Government – they have enviable expertise in the area of profligacy and waste. I just hope Joe does not have to count himself among the victims of this latest splurge.
Increasingly, the vox populi can be heard referring to ‘New Victorian Britain’. If only it were so. Yes, deprivation was extant in layers of Victorian society, and no, there was no welfare state; but in that dog-eat-dog world at least there was precious little regulation either. You might install a tenant in your attic and another in your coal-house, and no-one would know or care. Today we are regulated up to our eyeballs, pressured by commerce to the point where we no longer have control of our own minds and watched relentlessly by cameras on stalks, statistical monitoring and – shall we say – ‘zealous’ policing? Poverty has a different complexion in the 21st Century, but it is no less real.
No, I am not a Socialist or a Communist or any other ‘ist’. I hold no high expectations, whatever their political colour, of the loathsome gnomes who rule us but I wish – oh, yes, I wish. I wish we might forfeit our pretensions on ‘The World Stage’ and accept we have no place in Middle-Eastern wars. I wish we might cease supplying ‘foreign aid’ to plutocrats in the hope they will let us drill their oil, and I wish we might, just for once, begin to treat our own people with respect.