It’s hard to know where to turn at the moment. Which policy or societal move to look at first. I’ve written on the bedroom tax before, but this week it’s hit the mainstream media and people are shocked to discover it’s not working to free up social housing, it’s just causing misery.
Really? We couldn’t see that coming?
The people in social housing of this type don’t tend to be rolling in cash. Not the ones who are relying on housing benefit to pay their rents anyway. So if you take away a slice of their housing benefit, you make them struggle. So why don’t they just move is the question?
Well, some of them actually need all the bedrooms designated as spare. Some of them are in adapted properties to suit disabled members of the family. Some of them are in the properties assigned to them when they moved away from victimisation or harassment. And the ones who would like to move? There’s nowhere to move to. There are hardly any small social housing properties, and there are now lots of people on waiting lists. They can’t move into private rented accommodation – they don’t fit the criteria, they don’t have guarantors, they can’t build up a deposit while they are building up rent arrears. And there aren’t actually lots of very small private rented properties either. Oh, and if they did, the odds are the private properties would cost more, so it would hardly be saving on the housing benefit bill.
Excellent policy. Really working well for everyone involved then.
Zero hours has hit the news too. There was the particularly wonderful headline that Turning Point, a charity Princess Diana supported sacked all its staff and rehired some of them on zero hours contracts. I’m intrigued as to how zero hours works with the variety of top up benefits such as tax credits (or, as I like to refer to them, employer subsidies) because for most of those you have to be working a minimum number of hours. I’m told by twitter contacts that they estimate hours/wages and then have to submit all the details at the end of the year. And presumably hope that the tax credit people get it right, and don’t require them to pay vast amounts back. It doesn’t sound like a good way to live, wondering from week to week whether you’re going to get any hours. And in fact it’s not even week to week – sometimes people are sent home in the middle of shifts.
I’m sure there are some people who find zero hours useful – maybe students who want to be on the books somewhere, and can fill in from time to time? But for families, trying to raise children, it’s a hand to mouth way of living, and all the power is in the employers’ hands. These contracts are common in care, hospitality and seem to be spreading out into retail. And the govt is wondering whether it ought to do anything about it, because after all, it’s good for business to have flexible workers.
No, it’s not good for business. Because business needs customers, and as increasing numbers of people struggle, customers will be more and more difficult to come by. Why is it so difficult for govt to realise that all of these things are interconnected? That if you make people feel unsafe, poor, stressed they won’t want to go out and spend their money?
You can’t build an economic recovery on fear.
Another thing I read today was that govt spent £5bn on workfare schemes, which have pretty much uniformly failed to get people into work. I wonder how much social housing could be built with £5bn. If you pumped that much into construction, instead of coming up with schemes to artificially inflate the housing market you’d have sustained development, give people meaningful work, cut the housing benefit bill and possibly start to turn the economy around.
But no, instead you’ve got to come up with schemes to give couples earning up to £300k between them tax free childcare. Because that will make all the difference.
I don’t even know where to start with that one.