Monday, July 05, 2010

Coalition Budget - "It's not FAIR!" Part ONE

During the many and lengthy debates about the manifesto on FPC I found myself disagreeing with the notion that the theme should be fairness alone. Not because I don't believe in fairness, but because the concept only has any meaning when more clearly defined. After all, can you imagine any party campaigning on a platform of unfairness? The reality is that what I may regard as fair is more than likely to be totally at odds with what a right wing head banging Tory regards as fair. So, I unsuccessfully argued that we should be talking about fairness, freedom and equality - interesting that one of those was picked up in the Coalition Agreement!

Fairness is hardwired into our thinking, from early childhood we meet every parental decision we don't agree with bleating "it's not fair", "It's not fair that I should have to share my sweets - you gave them to ME", "How come (older sister) can go to bed at 9 and I have to go to bed at 8? It's not fair!" No wonder it is such a popular concept for politicians. Everyone wants things to be fair, from their perspective. Therefore the banker with his 6 figure salary, supplemented by a 6 figure bonus, may well think fairness is not having to shell out so much in tax to keep the feckless poor on benefits - Georgie boy will be a hero not a villain to him.

So, I have to confess that from my perspective I find the coalition budget anything but fair. And I say that as someone who personally, will be nowhere near as badly hit as others, so this view is not based on self interest.

To start with I want to consider the proposed cuts to housing benefit. This for me is probably the most insidious of all the proposals. There is nothing as fundamental as the need for a home, in particular a stable, safe and secure home. To me one of the most disastrous policies of Thatcher was the right to buy, based not on a belief that people should have the right to own their own home, but rather that homeowners were more likely to vote Tory. Far better to have sponsored shared ownership or affordable home building, rather than to sow the seeds of the situation we now have. Not only did this policy reduce the housing stock, it also stopped councils spending the receipts on building new homes - and thus we find ourselves in 2010 with a horrendous housing shortage.

So, the coalition government were bleating about the horrendous cost of housing benefit - too right - but the irony is that this ill judged, ideologically driven Tory policy was what lead to these ridiculous costs! Local councils, selling off stock to private landlords who then charge 3 or 4 times more rent which then has to be met through housing benefit! This is the real reason housing benefit costs have soared. Not only that, but those who would have had the security of renting from the council or a housing association, now find themselves subject to the vagaries of private landlords, who despite the legislation, always have the upper hand. Security is a thing of the past. As someone who has privately rented for the last 6 years I have moved 7 times, twice having had an eviction notice because the landlord wanted to sell, or do something different with the property. I now have a year's tenancy, but no guarantee that this won't mean having to move again if the landlord changes his mind about renting at the end of that year. And its not just the monetary cost (deposits, removal vans etc) it is also the emotional cost of moving.

I recently attended a Barnardos seminar where they were stressing the importance for the development of children of a safe, secure and adequate home and yet so many have anything but. This is one of the reasons I cannot see the pupil premium in isolation. Great that we will be able to implement that policy through the coalition, but frankly meaningless if we are going to throw many of the children we seek to help out of their homes. What good additional resources in your school if you don't have a decent secure home?

So, of all the dreadful measures in this budget, this for me is the worst. To threaten someone's home, particularly those with children, is to undermine one of the most fundamental human needs. At first I was incensed at the decision to cut housing benefit by 10% if someone had been out of work for a year, particularly in the current climate when we are anticipating over a million additional folk in the dole queue, but now I am even more incensed by the decision to cap rents at the 30 percentile rather than 50. In many areas this will mean the poorest in our society having to find outrageous amounts of money to make up the shortfall. I would find it difficult to find an extra £3,000 a year to spend on rent, how much more difficult for those living for example in Bedford where this is the estimated cost for them? And where are all these low rent properties they will be expected to live in? Ah yes, what we used to call social housing - a rapidly diminishing resource.

I understand there will be an opportunity in the autumn for this legislation to be amended, I trust that those MPs who call themselves Liberal Democrats will be prepared to put the needs of those most vulnerable in our society before the need to protect their career - after all, I thought that was why most of them got involved in politics in the first place?

1 comment:

Daniel Carelli said...

Linda, I have become a follower of your blog recently, and I can't understand why people in Mid-Bedfordshire decided to vote for their MP on the back of her being a Tory, instead of voting for somebody who had their head screwed on. No offence to Nadine Dorries, of course. I personallty think she did well on Tower Block of Commons, and she seems like a nice woman. But you make some really valid points and as a 21 year old care-leaver under the London Borough of Camden, all my friends who lived in care under my local authority (apart from two, who were girls and had babies) got dumped into hostels full of crackhead and were denied our right to a council flat. I've lived in over 20 placements in the care system and then to be put into hostals is like repeating the whole process all over again to the point where my education got affected and where as I once was labeled "gifted and talented," I was now labeled as "challenging behaviour." I left school with 2 poor gcse's, and 5 years later, not much has changed. Having a stable home is absolutly essential to ones upbringing. Unfortunatly, I don't know when I'm going to have a stable home, and as I'm currently unemployed, I don't know how I'm going to surive the 10% housing benefit cut as my hostal rent is pretty steep as it is. But I don't want to move out as it's my only hope if I wan't to eventually get a council flat. With no family around for support, things are only going to get harder... the tories have NO idea! I'm going back to college to do a 1 year access course in social work so hopefully I can go university next year. I am going to have to find a part time day job and a part time night job asap to make ends meet! Anyway, Linda, you write an excellent blog. Keep it up, I'll definatly continue to follow you :)