“Social cleansing”

by Chris Bertram on October 28, 2010

Thanks to some FB comments by Marc Mulholland, I see that there’s an interesting bit of rhetorical back-and-forth going on in British politics today. Labour claims that ConDem plans to cap housing (and other) benefit payments will have the effect of forcing poor people out of London and therefore amount to “social cleansing”. Useful idiot Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg pretends to be outraged :

To refer to cleansing would be deeply offensive to people who have witnessed ethnic cleansing in other parts of the world.

Unfortunately, for him, in a flanking manoeuvre from the right, London mayor Boris Johnson (Tory) then repeats the charge , making it more explicit and destroying its metaphorical character:

What we will not see, and will not accept, is any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London.

None of this, including the faux-outrage from Clegg, would surprise anyone who has hung around the blogosphere since 2001, since charges of “moral relativism”, “moral equivalence” and “you are implicitly comparing X to Y how dare you!” are the common currency of wingnuts and “decents” alike. This one is mildly interesting, though, because it is a complaint about the adaptation of what was originally a piece of “unspeak”: a euphemism. The complaint depends for its force entirely on the euphemism being understood non-euphemistically, if you see what I mean. I see from some discussion at the Unspeak site, that Steven Pinker has a name for this: the “euphemism treadmill”.

People invent new words for emotionally charged referents, but soon the euphemism becomes tainted by association, and a new word must be found, which soon acquires its own connotations. ( Blank Slate p.212).

{ 143 comments }

1

sg 10.28.10 at 3:11 pm

Surely this has got to be the final proof that Clegg has lost all credibility (for those who still doubted).

Though the problem of course is that there are lots of people in London who would think nothing could be better than a bit of “social cleansing” of those in social housing, and correctly-toned denials will simply serve to reinforce the impression that that is what the policy is aimed at. Well done Boris for stepping up to the plate…

2

engels 10.28.10 at 3:25 pm

To refer to cleansing would be deeply offensive to people who have witnessed ethnic cleansing in other parts of the world.

Never mind that the policy itself is deeply offensive.

3

Lemuel Pitkin 10.28.10 at 3:41 pm

I hope I’m not violating the posting rules by pointing out that the Israeli army refers to those parts of Hebron which Palestinians are not permitted to enter as fully sterilized. So the euphemism treadmill still seems to be in process here.

4

Marc Mulholland 10.28.10 at 3:49 pm

And Clegg’s outrage was so contrived. How could one possibly complain that the phrase “being socially engineered and sociologically cleansed,” is wildly OTT and disrespectful. In less precious days, Macmillan sacking ministers could be described by headline writers as a “Night of the Long Knives,” or any kind of ruthlessly efficient political or electoral campaign a “blitzkrieg”. It’s the assumption of holier-than-thou moral grandstanding on behalf of passively defined foreign victims that is so Decent and infuriating.

5

ejh 10.28.10 at 4:07 pm

Holier-than-thou moral grandstanding isn’t Decent as such: it’s simply standard-issue LibDemmery. It’s what they do.

6

funnyman 10.28.10 at 4:11 pm

I can’t believe no one’s come up with this yet: Want to keep the population of poor people under control? Tell them to use a ConDem.

7

Jeff R. 10.28.10 at 4:58 pm

“ethnic cleansing” isn’t a euphemism; it’s the opposite. A dysphemism,I guess. A rhetorical trick that makes even the best-managed and least deadly imaginable policy of population transfer into exactly the same thing as genocide by mass murder.

8

Kaveh 10.28.10 at 5:00 pm

@3 But “sterilized” already sounds creepy and genocidey. I think this is less a case of a euphemism treadmill than of the IDF assuming that the only people who will hear them using this term will be either fully sympathetic or unlikely to oppose them (i.e. that the Israeli left is moribund). We might also think of it as a population traumatized by memories of the Holocaust both being less sensitive to the possibility that what they are doing resembles genocide in certain ways, and also trying to reclaim the language (and practice) of state coercion from association with the Holocaust–kind of like, “yes we’re forcing all of these people out of their homes, but we’re not mass-murdering them, we’re not that bad”.

Bottom line: “sterilization” is too similar to “cleansing” for it to really be a different euphemism–if anything, they’re conspicuously *not* trying to disguise how they think about exclusion/expulsion of Palestinians.

9

Kaveh 10.28.10 at 5:08 pm

@6 “the best-managed and least deadly imaginable policy of population transfer into exactly the same thing as genocide by mass murder.”

What’s an example of a well-managed policy of population transfer that didn’t employ the same methods of coercion (e.g. permitting the operation of paramilitary groups or mobs that terrorize the civilian populations they want to transfer) as population transfers that did involve mass-murder?

10

Charlie 10.28.10 at 6:19 pm

The coalition consistently puts their case like this: people on benefits shouldn’t be able to live in a nicer area than those who don’t receive benefits.

Note that they don’t say ‘nicer house’ or ‘nicer apartment’; they say ‘nice area’. If they stuck to talking about property the proposal would be a bit easier to swallow: we generally support the principle that people get to own only what they can afford. But an ‘area’ isn’t property and no one owns it: an ‘area’ is an aggregate of public spaces and private plots (in a wide range of size, shape and price, most likely). The only precedents for the intentional displacement of people from an area – on the grounds that they fail some test or other – are the unpleasant ones. I don’t think Boris Johnson gets it wrong when he says ‘Kosovo-style’: it’s accurate, not inflammatory.

11

Jeff R. 10.28.10 at 6:48 pm

@Kaveh: The Potsdam agreement is probably as close as we get historically. Possibly also the 1923 Greece-Turkey exchange.

12

Charlie 10.28.10 at 7:10 pm

I also quite like this from the Guardian’s comments pit:

The Coalition will also make sure that hospital beds are full of chilli peppers and razor blades, because it cannot be right that those who are poorly are made more comfortable than those in rude health.

13

Kaveh 10.28.10 at 7:24 pm

@10 But then how often are those described as “ethnic cleansing” by anyone who isn’t obviously a total jingoist? And the 1923 Greece-Turkey exchange took place amidst other population exchanges or transfers that involved a lot more violence, including the Armenian genocide. In other words it’s in some sense a matter of luck that it didn’t turn out a lot more deadly–lucky for said Greeks and Turks that the authorities at the time managed to formulate and enact a relatively benign policy; and I’m not a specialist on this period/region but I don’t think the situation would have been handled with as much urgency by the various governments involved if it hadn’t been for the horrors previous, genocidal population transfers. I think it’s a good justification for the blanket term “ethnic cleansing” that, once you get enough people saying that a certain population who live among us should no longer be allowed to live among us, mass murder becomes very likely, so any call for population transfer should be viewed with extreme suspicion, at best.

14

Phil Ruse 10.28.10 at 7:35 pm

@9 No it’s not! That’s not how ‘they’ put the case at all – but if it helps with the ridiculous ‘Kosovo’ style analogy go for it!

15

engels 10.28.10 at 8:12 pm

Thanks, Charlie.

People on benefits shouldn’t be able to look like they’re doing okay. It has to be impossible to mistake a family on benefits for a hard-working family. There should be a cap on the quality of clothes and shoes they are allowed to wear, to make sure they look appropriately worn out and dishevelled. They shouldn’t be allowed too look well-fed or happy, in case good hard-working well-adjusted Brits like us start to question what the point of it all is.

16

piglet 10.28.10 at 8:14 pm

The coalition consistently puts their case like this: people on benefits shouldn’t be able to live in a nicer area than those who don’t receive benefits.

Phil Ruse disputes that. Who is right?

17

Charlie 10.28.10 at 8:23 pm

Phil, here you go. It’s last night’s BBC’s Newsnight interview with Grant Shapps, coalition housing minister.

For those who can’t play the clip for some reason, here’s a brief transcript of the relevant part of the interview:

[Shapps] What we don’t want to do is say to people who work, you’re in a worse position than people who are not working, it’s not fair and it’s not right, to think that if you happen to be in an area, we’d all like to live in different areas …

[Esler] But most people on housing benefit do work, don’t they?

[Shapps] Some do and some don’t, but it’s right to have that same pressure, that same options, that everybody else has, and not to be excluded from that.

18

piglet 10.28.10 at 8:28 pm

I find this exchange very interesting from an urban geography perspective. So the UK pays housing benefits to low-income people so that they can afford to live in the city?

“Mr Bryant warned an estimated 200,000 people would be forced out of major metropolitan areas as a result of the government’s “niggardly” proposals on welfare reform. This would turn London into Paris, he said, “with the poor consigned to the outer ring”.

In the US there are some tiny efforts to help the inner city poor to move to the suburbs. (section 8 vouchers, MTO program). Does anybody know how much section 8 vouchers can pay?

19

Charlie 10.28.10 at 8:33 pm

And here’s Grant Shapps again, this time quoted in the Guardian.

Just because you are on housing benefit, that shouldn’t give you the ability to live somewhere, where if you are working and not on benefit you can’t. We’d all love to live in different areas, but I can’t afford to live on x street in y location. The housing benefit system has almost created an expectation that you could almost live anywhere, and that’s what has to stop.

Maybe it’s just Grant?

20

engels 10.28.10 at 8:59 pm

What we don’t want to do is say to people who work, you’re in a worse position than people who are not working, it’s not fair and it’s not right

But people who work are in a worse position than people who are not working. It’s called capitalism you moron. (I can see why Shapps might not want to say this though.)

21

ejh 10.28.10 at 9:15 pm

The housing benefit system has almost created an expectation that you could almost live anywhere, and that’s what has to stop.

I love that “almost”. It means “I am coming out with what I know very well to be a load of shite, but I’m going to do it anyway with the help of almost“.

I mean is he or anybody else really under the impression that you can just be unemployed, go and find yourself an expensive gaff somewhere nice and get Housing Benefit to pay for it? Because that’s clearly the impression the bastard is trying to give.

22

The New York City Math Teacher With New! Improved! Law School! 10.28.10 at 9:26 pm

So, now the British will go all in for banlieues?

23

Daragh McDowell 10.28.10 at 9:38 pm

I think there’s a massive amount of bad-faith over-interpretation of Shapps’ statements here.

And frankly Chris, I think most rational people would find comparing a modest cap to housing benefits during a significant budgetary crisis that precludes some people on said benefits from living in central London, to the systematic slaughter and forced evacuation of an ethnic minority to be quite OTT, and indeed outrageous.

But then, I just don’t have your burning hatred for Nick Clegg…

24

Daragh McDowell 10.28.10 at 9:42 pm

Additionally, your charge that BoJo was engaging in a ‘flanking manoeuvre from the right’ and essentially backing up Bryant makes little sense given that you’re linking to an article where the Mayor is folding like superman on laundry day. ‘It was taken out of context’ – i.e. I said a really stupid thing that I shouldn’t have.

25

ejh 10.28.10 at 9:51 pm

And frankly Chris, I think most rational people would find comparing a modest cap to housing benefits during a significant budgetary crisis that precludes some people on said benefits from living in central London, to the systematic slaughter and forced evacuation of an ethnic minority to be quite OTT, and indeed outrageous.

But then again, save the Mayor, nobody has done this.

By the way, it would be helpful if instead of “precludes some people from living in Central London” you made it clear that it will preclude many people who have lived there all their lives from doing so any longer. And that “modest cap” means people being forced out of their homes.

That’s the problem with those euphemisms, you see. Just as much as exaggerations, they’re used to hide the truth.

26

Daragh McDowell 10.28.10 at 9:59 pm

@ejh

Yes people will not be able to live in the same house as before and will have to move their homes. This is unfortunate, but not unheard of during periods of major economic downturn.

27

ejh 10.28.10 at 10:04 pm

Indeed. And it’s going to happen on a mass scale, as the deliberate result of government policy, and accompanied by a commentary that says that these people shouldn’t be able to live in the areas they lived in before. Which makes it deliberate, and unpleasantly so, rather than simply an unfortunate outcome of economic difficulty.

Doesn’t it?

28

Daragh McDowell 10.28.10 at 10:07 pm

@ejh

Unfortunate rhetorical choices aside, the current economic climate being what it is is not really the result of the coalition’s economic policies, but rather a (perceived) need to cut the budget. I don’t like it – but I don’t think its a result of them being eeevvvil!

29

ejh 10.28.10 at 10:13 pm

I have to say the difference between “the coalition’s economic policies” and “a (perceived) need to cut the budget” rather eludes me, since perceiving a need to cut the budge is their economic policy, and this particular cut is a major plank of that policy.

And if they don’t want to be morally criticised, they might not want to be driving people from their homes, and they might not want to imply (and my use of “imply” is a kindness here) that the reason for this happening is that previously, the people who have not been driven from their homes have been getting something which they did not merit.

And they might not want to accompany that with a great deal of whining about how everybody’s being so unfair to them.

30

belle le triste 10.28.10 at 10:30 pm

And when the coalition’s policies in fact exacerbate the downturn catastrophically, as they will, and the proposed social clearances escalate, as they will, and people start putting up a desperate fight to remain in their homes and neighborhoods, as they will (and should), there will certainly be no lack of apologists declaring that, because the violence used in expelling these ne’er-do-wells is less than [insert much-cited historical crime here], it’s outrageous and contemptible to object to it at all…

31

christian h. 10.28.10 at 10:33 pm

So the government is preparing to drive hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes in a deliberate attempt to make the lives of these people miserable in order to force them to stop being lazy (since according to the toffs, the poor are poor for being lazy). They could instead drive hundreds of people out of their third and fourth homes, but this would not occur to them in a million years. And people here actually have the temerity to defend this policy of crass class warfare.

32

Phil 10.28.10 at 10:33 pm

I think the question is, really, whether it’s acceptable for a government knowingly to introduce policies which will have the direct effect of evicting thousands of people from their homes and placing those people in hotel accommodation 50 miles away, with inevitable loss of jobs, disruption of schooling and healthcare, and so on. Not a few hundred people possibly, but several thousand definitely – the *low* estimate is that 17,000 people will be affected. It’s barbaric – it’s like slum clearance in reverse.

What I’m afraid of is that, whatever Ed Miliband or Boris Johnson says about it, it will happen, because the plans have not only already been made but are already being implemented. From the story linked above:

Representatives of London boroughs told a meeting of MPs last week [i.e. w/e 22/10/10] that councils have already block-booked bed and breakfasts and other private accommodation outside the capital – from Hastings, on the south coast, to Reading to the west and Luton to the north – to house those who will be priced out of the London market.

33

Jack Strocchi 10.28.10 at 10:34 pm

wld cll t “cnmc clnsng”, s ths s ncly hmnymc t thnc clnsng. Nc (fr my thrtcl mdl, t lst) t s lbrlsm cntn ts spctclr mrl dcln.

f y thnk “csmpltnsm” wll slv th Lft’s prblms thn y r kddng yrslf. Th Lndn-cntrc Cn-Lbs r th ssnc f csm-mtrs, wh lng nly t lck th bts f Cty fnncrs r SW1 rltrs, wsh wth blck csh frm rbn r rsn l lgrchs. Th lst tm styd n Lndn (2006) ddn’t ntc ny strtypclly nglsh ppl, prt frm mchn gn-ttng Bbbs.

rwll ws rght bt ptrtsm nd th Lft. Pltcl, lk prsnl, lylty rqrs lng prd f shrd scrfc. Th nly tm th Lft md ny srs gns ws whn t rd wv f ntnl sldrty, slly ftr th Wrs r Gnrl Strks.

cty tht srvs s trnst lng fr prfssnl jrnymn r lndrmt fr drty csh wll nt stck by ts hmblr ctzns thrgh thck r thn.

34

Chris Bertram 10.28.10 at 10:39 pm

Just turned off QT out of revulsion at Schama, Davey and some hedge-fund manager. (Davey even claimed that the offending terminology had upset Kosovans “in his constituency” – perhaps he and Megan McCardle travel on the same bus.) But Chris Bryant did a pretty good job, including pointing out the continuity between the policy under discussion and the earlier Tory policy in Westminster under Lady Porter, of “decanting” the poor to other areas. Of course, when Lady Porter was doing that, she wasn’t getting cover from LibDems like Clegg (and Daragh in this thread). How times change.

35

Daragh McDowell 10.28.10 at 11:04 pm

I dunno Chris – maybe I just don’t find arguments that the Tories are engaging in unpopular policy decisions that will in fact negatively effect the re-election chances of several of their MPs due to population shifts because they’re consumed by a hatred for the lower orders and a desire to shoo them away. Nor do I think taking every opportunity you can to vent bile at Nick Clegg on the CT homepage is particularly big, clever or even interesting.

36

Daragh McDowell 10.28.10 at 11:05 pm

Sorry the end of that first sentence should of course have a ‘particularly convincing’ written on the end of it.

37

steven 10.28.10 at 11:19 pm

Is there anyone talking about this issue who doesn’t just assume that the stratospheric rents charged by landlord scum um, “buy-to-let investors” are just God-given natural facts that couldn’t possibly be put into question themselves?

(This is an actual question; I haven’t really been following the “debate”.)

38

Salient 10.28.10 at 11:21 pm

comparing […] to the systematic slaughter and forced evacuation of an ethnic minority to be quite OTT, and indeed outrageous.

I tentatively disagree. In general, I’m willing to give a pass to comparisons which state “this thing is like this much worse thing” without pausing to emphasize that the much worse thing is/was much worse. When someone says “[this thing] is somewhat like [this other much worse thing]” I usually do not hold them responsible for showing equivalence of degree, though I need to feel convinced that there is a reasonable equivalence of category.

Calling automated traffic tickets a ‘rape of the driver’ [for example] is clearly a nonsensical and reprehensible category error, but calling forced displacement a ‘social cleansing’ seems at least a plausibly faithful accounting, even when the displacement is not accompanied by bodily violence. I never felt much offended by people who referred to Guantanamo Bay as a “gulag” — unjust imprisonment and subjection to torture, compared to unjust imprisonment and subjection to torture. There’s clearly a difference of degree, a difference which I don’t think was ever completely lost on those who heard or made the comparison. Likewise I’m ambivalent about people referring to forced displacement of longtime residents according to socioeconomic status as “social cleansing” — even though there’s clearly differences of degree, of severity, etc.

There’s a social benefit these provocations provide. Comparisons to injustices we recognize, even if different in severity, can help us acknowledge where our homegrown intuitions / conventional wisdoms are blind or deficient. “But we don’t intend to kill them, merely force them to live in areas where we feel they belong, so the comparison is unfair” is a weak defense, about as weak as the “but we feed them good meals, so the comparison is unfair” defense of Guantanamo Bay vs. gulags. Such a defense sounds weak in the face of the accusation, though not as weak as the “that’s so outrageous I won’t acknowledge it” defense.

As well, I think the positive effect this sort of rhetoric can have, in shaking us out of blinders when self-assessing, complements an anti-negative effect, simply reminding us and raising our awareness of injustices that have happened. “Are we doing our version of this awful thing those other people did?” is a question that ought to be asked more often, not less, and it’s a way to both remind us of those awful things those other people did and engage us with a reason to actively remember those tragedies. While perhaps every CT reader could recount the basic facts regarding atrocities in Kosovo, I somewhat doubt everyone who heard Boris Johnson’s comment could do so.

Being more attentively aware of precisely what atrocities people have committed, in the name of protecting themselves & their communities, lends us sensitivity to the [surely much more minor] consequences of those policies we are considering supporting, in the name of protecting ourselves or our communities.

39

Barry 10.28.10 at 11:34 pm

Daragh McDowell 10.28.10 at 9:59 pm
” Yes people will not be able to live in the same house as before and will have to move their homes. This is unfortunate, but not unheard of during periods of major economic downturn.”

And the major economic downturn was caused by the people whom the Conservatives won’t raise taxes on – heck, not only won’t raise taxes on, but will undoubtedly subsidize.

As has been pointed out, they aren’t losing their third or fourth homes.

40

john b 10.28.10 at 11:35 pm

Steven – I’ve seen some people mention this (assuming you’re specifically referring to the insanely high rates charged by landlord scum *to DSS claimants*, which are far higher than cash rents for inferior properties). And it is a real problem – the current system means that the government is paying vast amounts of money for poor people to live in houses that are actually still quite scummy, with slum landlords the only ones who benefit.

However, the fact that the Coalition has framed its announcements solely in terms of “screw the poor”, rather than “screw the landlord scum” is, erm, indicative.

41

Lemuel Pitkin 10.28.10 at 11:47 pm

So here we have Grant Shapps saying, “What we don’t want to do is say to people who work, you’re in a worse position than people who are not working, it’s not fair and it’s not right.” This is unambiguously saying that reducing the quality of the housing of unemployed people is a good in itself, not an unfortunate necessity given the budget situation.

Now, maybe there’s another interview where he talks about the value of diverse as opposed to income-segregated neighborhoods, notes that creating concentrated pockets of long-term unemployed people will make it much less likely that they’ll return to the labor market, and so on. But in the absence of that, Darryl McDonough seems to be telling us that we should not accept the Coalition’s own account of their motives, which is kind of like, “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

42

Lemuel Pitkin 10.28.10 at 11:49 pm

Daragh McDowell. Sorry.

43

dsquared 10.28.10 at 11:54 pm

I’ve been at the seaside for a couple of days and missed this. God how moronic. Quite apart from anything, unless we are going to live in a world in which rich people sweep streets and mop floors (among all sorts of other jobs which I personally would quite like to see earning a living wage, but nobody is proposing that), it’s not actually possible to have large and densely-populated areas in which only rich people live. I presume the intention is to find this one out the hard way.

44

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 12:15 am

Lemuel – Fair enough, and I think at this point I’ve been bested in this argument by a lot of well thought out posts, and probably shouldn’t have dug in so hard. I will admit that I’m a) a Lib Dem, b) not as outraged, outraged about the policies of the government as many Labourites seem to be and c) find Chris’ need to make constant vituperative attacks on Clegg personally rather annoying. This has probably coloured my judgement on this particular issue somewhat.

AND/BUT – I do understand Shapps argument, even if I don’t find it a particularly appealing one. And I also do happen to believe that, ceteris paribus, employment should always lead to greater material well-being than unemployment. Does this mean I think that the housing status of the unemployed should be downgraded? I don’t think so, but perhaps this is somewhat inconsistent. Its 1AM, I’m up working on my thesis already dead tired, and the housing benefit isn’t something I spend a lot of time worrying about. Which is all a roundabout way of saying, I’m going to stop talking about this now.

45

Lemuel Pitkin 10.29.10 at 12:23 am

the housing benefit isn’t something I spend a lot of time worrying about.

How nice for you.

46

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 12:31 am

Lemuel – c’mon man. I’m essentially conceding the argument to you. I make no bones about the fact that I am rather comfortably upper middle class. And I’m currently finishing a thesis in IR so the final points of welfare reform are not exactly top of my radar right now. So no, the issue is not one of crucial salience for me, but I’m relatively certain its not one for dsquared or Chris, or most of the posters on this thread either.

47

Jack Strocchi 10.29.10 at 12:34 am

[Nt t slf: whn cmmntng n CT, rsst th tmpttn t crck ffnsv jks. nc mr nt th fry.]

wld cll t “cnmc clnsng”, whch mks nt cmplmnt t “thnc clnsng”. Nc (fr my thrtcl mdl, t lst) t s pst-mdrn lbrlsm cntn ts spctclr mrl dcln.

f y thnk “csmpltnsm” wll slv th Lft’s prblms thn y r kddng yrslf. Mkng Lndn nd Nw Yrk glbl cts s jst smkscrn fr mkng thm nfrdbl fr ntnl ctzns.

Th Lndn-cntrc Cn-Lbs r th ssnc f csm-mtrs, wh r gr t d th bddng f Cty fnncrs nd SW1 rltrs, wsh wth blck csh frm sndry l lgrchs. Th Brdgt-Jns st r nly t hppy t hv nsghtly ppl swpt t f vw.

n prctcl qstn ccrs t m whn cnsdrng th mrrw f th glbl fnncl rvltn: wh wll pt t th grbg fr ths wh lv n th csy nnr snctm? spps thy xpct t wll b dn by rbts, wh wll flfll th fnctn f slvs f th hgh-cst mprm.

rwll ws rght bt th rgnc rltnshp btwn ptrtsm nd th Lft. Pltcl, lk prsnl, lylty rqrs lng prd f shrd scrfc. Th nly tm th Lft md ny srs prgrmmtc gns ws whn t rd wv f ntnl sldrty, slly ftr th Wrs r Gnrl Strks.

cty tht srvs s trnst lng fr prfssnl jrnymn r lndrmt fr drty csh wll nt stck by ts hmblr ctzns thrgh thck r thn.

48

christian h. 10.29.10 at 12:48 am

Daragh: And I also do happen to believe that, ceteris paribus, employment should always lead to greater material well-being than unemployment.

(a) Why? I ask as this kind of morality – and that’s what it is – is awfully convenient for capitalists.
(b) You might consider the solution of actually making work pay, as in, paying workers. Sadly, this solution has been undermined by the anti-trade union laws so universally popular with politicians.

49

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 1:52 am

@christian h

(a) Because I believe that work and economic activity is both beneficial to the individuals well-being and sense of dignity, and beneficial to the community that benefits from the fruits of the individual’s labour

(b) Agreed. I support a living wage. Now tell me how to implement one.

50

Stephen 10.29.10 at 2:28 am

I was all ready to correct Jeff R @ 6 by pointing out the the appropriate antonym of euphemism is cacophemism but I checked (I know) and it turns out dysphemism is a word too. I still think cacophemism more appropriate mind you.

51

Jack Kemp 10.29.10 at 2:54 am

Coming really late to this thread, but I noted piglet’s comment at #17 and thought I’d chip in. First of all, section 8 isn’t explicitly “to help inner city poor move to the suburbs.” Most anywhere (I think) that has a public housing authority has a section 8 (now officially “Housing Choice Voucher Program”) that subsidizes housing for participants. If you come onto the program in a major city, you can “port” to a suburb (or anywhere else), but lots of big city Housing Authorities (like the one I work at) have a restriction that you can’t do this in the first year of your tenure on the program. (Getting into programs in cities is a lot harder than getting on the suburbs; it’s probably more common, at least in the Chicago area, for people to apply to get into the program in a suburb and then wait out their restricted period, if any, and then port back into the city.)

Anyway, subsidy levels are determined by the federal government’s determination of Fair Market Rents for various bedroom sizes. In Chicago (and I imagine other major cities) there’s an authorization to go higher than the FMR. Current theoretical max subsidy (there are certain loopholes, generally driven towards trying to get participants to move to areas of the city with less concentrations of poverty) for a one bedroom in Chicago is $983, 2 bedroom is, I think, $1104, 3 bedroom is $1350. (That’s from memory, and might be off, but the chart hangs next to my computer screen at work, so it’s close.)

Another note re: subsidized housing in America vs. similar programs in Britain: I know someone who met some fellows from the British gov’t who came over to look at a new Hope VI development in Tampa (that’s more like straight public housing, but with mixed income developments). The younger British fellows were rather taken aback to learn that US gov’t minimum standards for acceptable square footage were significantly larger than the flats they were proud to afford back in London. (I don’t take that, personally, as a comment about American public housing, just about different expectations for household room in America vs., probably, anywhere else.)

52

nick s 10.29.10 at 4:13 am

So the UK pays housing benefits to low-income people so that they can afford to live in the city?

That perhaps fails to grasp London’s position in relation to the rest of the UK. And as has been mentioned in elections past, there remains a belief that London’s lower-paid jobs, particularly in the public sector (nurses, teachers, firefighters, binmen) should not entirely be filled by people commuting from Luton or holed up in dormitories like construction workers in Dubai.

This Graun comment goes into ample detail about what happens when people who can’t find housing at the £400 threshold end up in the 30% threshold.

This is “get on your bike” turned from abstract, condescending tosh into active social policy. (Which, I suppose, makes it bleakly ironic that Boris is speaking out.) The word that comes to mind for the policy is “wicked”, and the reference to Shirley Porter, a deeply wicked person, is very apt. (I wonder if it was drawn up with constituency maps on the wall?)

53

nick s 10.29.10 at 4:40 am

Is there anyone talking about this issue who doesn’t just assume that the stratospheric rents charged by landlord scum um, “buy-to-let investors” are just God-given natural facts that couldn’t possibly be put into question themselves?

In New York City, the answer has been rent control. In London, it was council houses, but wicked people like Shirley Porter had very clever ideas about what to do with them.

Note also that the Daily Mail, your source for all your “housing benefit scroungers living in luxury off taxpayers’ money” stories, has devoted large amounts of space to the potential windfall of buy-to-let property investing. From February of this year:

Rent should be the key return for buy-to-let. Most buy-to-let mortgages are done on an interest-only basis, so the amount borrowed will not be paid off over time. If you can get a rental return substantially over the mortgage payments, then once you have built up a good emergency fund, you can start saving or investing any extra cash.

54

dsquared 10.29.10 at 5:24 am

I don’t think actually that many people are getting rich out of being housing benefit landlords – the adverts say “no DSS”, not “DSS preferred” – my understanding is that you can only make the system pay as a landlord if you are prepared to do a real hands-on job, effectively replacing a big chunk of social services (in a really inefficient and self-serving way, of course). I’m not at all sure what ends up happening to this part of the rental sector.

But Daragh, mate, have a think about this:

And I also do happen to believe that, ceteris paribus, employment should always lead to greater material well-being than unemployment.

If your politics has got you to the point of talking about living in a nasty estate in a rough part of London on housing benefit as if it were a lifestyle issue, you need to have a look at who you’re in a coalition with.

55

dsquared 10.29.10 at 5:27 am

(I’d also note that housing benefit is housing benefit, not unemployment benefit, and anyone whose soundbites rely on the assumption that his audience won’t remember that housing benefit is paid to people who already have jobs, ought to be treated with a degree of suspicion as to whether he is doing so on purpose rather than out of culpable ignorance).

56

Chris Bertram 10.29.10 at 6:25 am

Admin note to Jack Strocchi: But you didn’t resist the temptation to crack “offensive jokes” did you? In fact, I didn’t even realise there was a joke involved, I though you really were claiming that the last time you visited London, the only people you saw who looked ethnically English were the police. You’ve been banned before, you’ve managed to get back in, and now you’ve demonstrated that you can’t stay within the boundaries. So please don’t comment on threads initiated by me again, ever.

57

Chris Bertram 10.29.10 at 6:30 am

Daragh above:

bq. [I] find Chris’ need to make constant vituperative attacks on Clegg personally rather annoying.

There’s a search box at CT Daragh. The last time I attacked Clegg in a post here was on May 19th, just after the election. Many people would consider that demontrates restraint on my part.

58

engels 10.29.10 at 6:55 am

‘And I’m currently working on a thesis in IR’

Russian politics, right? If so, you presumably know who enshrined the phrase ‘He who does not work shall not eat,’ as a basic principle of the 1936 constitution.

59

chris y 10.29.10 at 8:17 am

engels, St Paul? The author of the Book of Proverbs?

I think the Bolshevik version of this worn out old saw, as used by Lenin, was ‘He who will not work shall not eat’, which is also tiresome, but significantly different.

60

Chris Bertram 10.29.10 at 8:26 am

A search of marxists.org gives us St Paul (quoted inter alia by Max Weber), Lenin, Trotsky, Max Shachtman and whole bunch of others.

61

ajay 10.29.10 at 8:42 am

I think the Bolshevik version of this worn out old saw, as used by Lenin, was ‘He who will not work shall not eat’, which is also tiresome, but significantly different.

Chris: except that the Communist version was, of course, in Russian… the original is article 12 of the USSR 1936 Constitution: кто не работает, тот не ест.
“Who does not work, does not eat”. I think you’re trying to make a point about not wanting to work vs. not being able, but no such distinction exists in the text.

62

engels 10.29.10 at 8:43 am

Well I’m pretty sure St. Paul didn’t write the 1936 Soviet constitution. I think it’s fair to say that the historical record of states that made willingness to work a condition of citizenship hasn’t exactly been a shining one.

63

chris y 10.29.10 at 8:44 am

Yes, the old Pharisee writing to his mates in Thessalonike, who would have unquestionably read it as an warning against people trying to freeload off a “primitive communist” collective, rather than an attack on the beggars in the street. A rather more moderate line than taken by St Peter.

64

chris y 10.29.10 at 8:46 am

ajay, OK, I stand corrected. Of course the USSR could direct people into jobs rather more effectively than 21st century Britain. Don’t forget the other saying, “We pretend to work; they pretend to pay us.”

65

ajay 10.29.10 at 8:47 am

Steven: I am puzzled by this. If all these hundreds of thousands of people leave the cities, won’t that leave an awful lot of inner-city properties standing empty? What are the landlords going to do then?

66

steven 10.29.10 at 9:54 am

ajay: perhaps the real “thinking” is that the landlords will suddenly cut their rents and all the people will come back; or even that this will happen before the mass exodus.

dsquared @ 54: it is actually quite common to see what is the preferred form of words, “DSS welcome”.

67

engels 10.29.10 at 9:56 am

Also, this generalisation

I believe that work and economic activity is both beneficial to the individuals well-being and sense of dignity, and beneficial to the community that benefits from the fruits of the individual’s labour

may or may not be true. I’d say it depends a fair bit on the nature of the work and the nature of the person. But that really isn’t the issue. The issue is whether you support the state forcing people, against their own judgements in the matter, to direct their lives and energies in a way which it believes will be of benefit to their own ‘well-being and sense of dignity’: a proposal which I’ve always thought was fundamentally illiberal. But I’ve always preferred the John Stuart Mill kind of liberalism to the Nick Clegg/Daragh McDowell kind.

68

ajay 10.29.10 at 10:00 am

66: well, if you’re a current DSS landlord whose tenants won’t be able to meet the rent after these changes, you would seem to have three options:
1) leave the rent unchanged and have your property stand empty
2) cut your rent substantially (or upgrade the property substantially) in order to compete in the non-DSS market
3) cut your rent slightly in order to retain your current tenants

And I am sincerely puzzled why everyone assumes that 1) is going to happen when 2) or 3) seem like much better bets.

69

ejh 10.29.10 at 10:06 am

4) Do it up a bit and rent it at a higher price to the new people who will come in now that the poor people have been disposed of.

70

ajay 10.29.10 at 10:11 am

69: well, that would be a subsection of 2), really. And it would need a lot of doing up – IIRC it’s been explained above that DSS rents are above the rest of the market for property of the same quality.

But where will these new people come from? It’s not like a lot of well-paid new jobs are being created right now. (And we’re talking about new employed and relatively well-paid people here, remember; unemployed or low-paid people won’t be able to afford these places, by definition.)

71

Chris Bertram 10.29.10 at 10:18 am

Or 4. Get different tenants.

Presumably, a plausible scenario is this:

* Large numbers of the existing urban poor moved to sink estates on the periphery and unable to afford to commute in at the wages on offer, even if they could get in in time for work.

* Existing properties/areas vacated by urban poor redeveloped and colonized by wealthier people.

* The service needs of the inner-London wealthy met by workers in dormitories/rabbit hutches, working long hours and separated from their families and sending remittances back home (where “back home” now means either in the periphery or, in the case of migrant workers, overseas).

* If/when there are labour shortages in central London, cue Daily Mail articles about how even in times of unemployment the poor are workshy, won’t get on their bikes, etc.

* On the other side, expect documentaries about how Cathy (to conjure a name from thin air) is separated from her children who are brought up by relatives in Hastings and works long hours cleaning toilets/nannying/whatever for Gideons of this world on minimum wage. Cathy rents a single roach-infested room in Paddington. etc.

72

dsquared 10.29.10 at 10:29 am

1) leave the rent unchanged and have your property stand empty
2) cut your rent substantially (or upgrade the property substantially) in order to compete in the non-DSS market
3) cut your rent slightly in order to retain your current tenants

I see more likely

4) realise you are screwed because the property will not rent for anything like what the mortgage costs, so do a runner and leave it empty for an unspecified period of time, during which nothing good is going to happen to it as an unoccupied property in (ex hypothesi) a difficult neighbourhood.

5) 4), but like most private sector landlords you don’t actually have a mortgage, so you just fanny about between 1), 2) and 3), none of them really working, then try to sell it, fail and leave it empty for a long while.

A lot of the badness of this proposal comes from the shock treatment nature of its implementation. Tatonnement in the housing market is always a difficult and time-consuming process, and the potential to destroy value is massive. Added to that, there is quite a lot of central London low-end housing stock that has negative economic value added to the value of the land – ie, if there were no such thing as planning permission, the owners would knock it down and build something else. Such housing stock might not have a market-clearing unsubsidised rent at all – it’s entirely possible and IMO quite likely that what you end up getting is a situation where the “hard-working families” living in Hounslow decide that actually they do not fancy the idea of moving to a terrace in Stoke Newington just because it’s come up on the rental market, and you end up moving the poor out and replacing them with ghost towns, to the substantial benefit of absolutely nobody[1]

[1] “Absolutely nobody” is clearly wrong – I can think of quite a few people who would benefit from there being a lot of empty property in these neighbourhoods, but I don’t want them to. This is like a Marshall Plan for crack-houses.

73

Pete 10.29.10 at 10:33 am

Just so we’re clear on this: the government is morally obliged to pay large families the equivalent of the gross pay of two minimum wage jobs so that they don’t have to commute? And anything less than this is ethnic cleansing?

74

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 10:36 am

@Chris – given that every time you’ve ever mentioned Clegg on this blog you seem to be trying to convince everyone that he’s history’s greatest monster, I stand by my claims, even if ‘constant’ is perhaps somewhat overstated.

@DSquared – Strawman accomplished.

@Engels 67 –
“The issue is whether you support the state forcing people, against their own judgements in the matter, to direct their lives and energies in a way which it believes will be of benefit to their own ‘well-being and sense of dignity’: a proposal which I’ve always thought was fundamentally illiberal. But I’ve always preferred the John Stuart Mill kind of liberalism to the Nick Clegg/Daragh McDowell kind.”

Nobody is forcing anyone to do anything. The other side of this question is – why should the state subsidise a large number of people to do nothing if they find the employment available not appealing? Many people, among all social classes, spend large parts of their day/working lives, in labour that they would otherwise prefer not to do, but have to out of a certain degree of economic necessity. This is, I would argue, life. Not necessarily ideal in all aspects, but there you go.

As to my politics, though you may think you can divine my entire political belief system out of a few hastily written blog posts, I can assure you have not done so successfuly.

75

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 10:38 am

@Pete 73

Yes. And if you express outrage at being compared to Milosevic for endorsing such policies, it is invariably ‘faux-outrage’ and you are a ‘useful idiot.’

76

dsquared 10.29.10 at 10:48 am

@Chris – given that every time you’ve ever mentioned Clegg on this blog you seem to be trying to convince everyone that he’s history’s greatest monster, I stand by my claims, even if ‘constant’ is perhaps somewhat overstated.

@DSquared – Strawman accomplished. (emphasis added)

If I were you, I’d have tried to put a bit of space between those two, Daragh.

In actual fact, as you know, “useful idiot” (ie, one who allows himself to be used as a political support by someone with a more radical policy agenda than himself, in the mistaken belief that he can temper and moderate that agenda) is a perfectly commonplace criticism of the role of Nick Clegg in the coalition, and although it contains the word “idiot”, which is insulting, it’s not really what I’d call vituperation.

And similarly, you yourself are using “strawman” in its Internet sense (ie, to refer to a position that you actually hold, but which has been characterised in unflattering terms). You actually did say that it’s unjust for people in work (by which I presume you mean people who earn enough to be ineligible for housing benefit) to be unable to afford things that people out of work (by which I presume you mean people eligible for housing benefit) have provided for them by the benefit system. If this view is to be remotely relevant to the current debate, it must be meaning that housing benefit claimants in Central London are living in better conditions than non-claimants somewhere else.

77

ejh 10.29.10 at 10:48 am

The other side of this question is – why should the state subsidise a large number of people to do nothing if they find the employment available not appealing?

Jesus.

78

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 10:58 am

@dsquared

I would have if I thought there was any point in engaging intellectually with Chris at this point. And frankly there was more to his post than the ‘useful idiot’ comment – I think accusing Clegg of ‘faux-outrage’ because he was upset at being compared to a genocidaire is indeed, quite OTT.

Now, there’s a very interesting and valid argument that can be held as to whether Clegg is a ‘useful idiot’ in the sense you use here. I would argue not – everything thats come out of the Cameroonian wing of the Tory party suggests they’re damn pleased they can lean on Clegg to keep David Davis et al at bay. Again, Chris’ posts suggest that he is convinced that the Tories are evil, and that their policies are driven by a desire to do material harm to the poor, making argument with him on these points somewhat futile.

As to the final point – “If this view is to be remotely relevant to the current debate, it must be meaning that housing benefit claimants in Central London are living in better conditions than non-claimants somewhere else.” This is a very fair point, and one that I wished I had the time or resources to research a bit more so that I could come to a more satisfactory conclusion. The simple fact is that across all social classes in Britain there is a normative agreement that work should be more materially rewarding than welfare, and a pretty good economic case to make that such policies will incentivise more people to leave the welfare system. I happen to agree with the normative sentiment and the economic argument in broad terms. I may be wrong. I don’t think it makes me evil.

79

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 10:58 am

@ejh

I was just responding to the argument in the way you framed it.

80

ejh 10.29.10 at 11:03 am

Keep it up Daragh, you’re doing a great job.

81

Alex 10.29.10 at 11:07 am

It’s truly incredible the degree to which Clegg has turned himself into the coalition’s Baghdad Bob figure. He really is willing to say absolutely anything. As are some other people:

The other side of this question is – why should the state subsidise a large number of people to do nothing if they find the employment available not appealing

You don’t have to be unemployed to claim housing benefit. This has been repeatedly pointed out upthread. Continuing to pretend otherwise pretty much outs you as a troll. Actually, I suspect that the belief that all housing benefit claimants are unemployed is an effective memetic marker for a variety of other conditions, and I note that Tim Garton Ash has gone zombie in yesterday’s Grauniad. It’s simpler than the Voight Kampff test!

Further, why on earth would anyone think sending people away from London to a variety of bombed out seaside ex-resorts with notoriously high unemployment would be likely to lead to them getting jobs?

@D^2: you missed “fail to make repayments on your 180% LTV buy-to-let mortgage and therefore add to the still-enormous pile of shit on Lloyds’ balance sheet, with no doubt hilarious consequences”.

@nick s. – I ran the numbers over at StabPrin and was quite surprised to see that it’s not all that politically advantageous. Even making heroic assumptions about turnout, it’s a net pickup of about three kilovotes for the shower jobby, probably much less using a realistic turnout %. It might work out differently for Westminster purposes but you’d need much more data to answer it confidently. A key variable would be how the movement splits between people moving out of marginals vs. safe seats. You’d need to move a hell of a lot of people to make Islington North anything other than rock solid Labour, or Cities of London & Westminster anything other than rock solid Tory. But Islington South & Finsbury or Sadiq Khan’s seat in Tooting? Who knows.

82

engels 10.29.10 at 11:10 am

The simple fact is that across all social classes in Britain there is a normative agreement that work should be more materially rewarding than welfare

In case you hadn’t noticed, it already is. In most cases, substantially so. In quite a few cases, absurdly, sickeningly so. I must say your view of the British economy, where there is no material reason for working, and thirty million people are trooping off to the office or the factory day in day out from of sort sense of moral obligation to the rest of society is… interesting.

83

ejh 10.29.10 at 11:14 am

You know, I was never a great admirer of the old Liberal Party, nor of its successor, but it could fairly be said that both used to be full of people who were members of those parties because they were repelled by the sort of opinions that Daragh has been expressing here.

84

dsquared 10.29.10 at 11:25 am

I think Alex at 81 is right on gerrymandering and it could even be counterproductive for them given the places where the displaced will end up. Also, given the demographics and turnout in the inner city wards where HB claimants are concentrated, you might have to shift five or six individuals per vote gerrymandered.

85

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 11:26 am

@ejh

I’ll try to be less evil in future. Apologies.

86

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 11:37 am

@engels 82 –

I think this is a slight over-simplification of what I was saying. Yes, for the vast majority of people work is more profitable than welfare. For a significant chunk it is not. Indeed going into work can in fact reduce a family’s net income as opposed to being on benefits. There are many ways to ameliorate this – I for one would favour a significant increase in the minimum wage, or the current proposals that the state continue to pay the difference between what a person would receive on benefits vs. what they actually receive on benefits. Of course, the latter is being put forward by the EVIL Iain Duncan Smith, and the EVIL Tories, so it must not be considered.

@Alex – a) that’s absurd hyperbole on Clegg. B) that quote was from a rather different argument going on in the thread on welfare in general. I fully accept that HB are indeed claimed by people who are in full-time work. I also accept that there are a limited amount of government resources available for HB, particularly after 13 years of Labour, and that almost all cuts to the government’s budget will almost by definition hit the worst off more than the better off. However, I wonder what the net effect on income of those working and currently receiving HB will be with the implementation of the Lib Dem policy of exempting a significantly larger portion of their income from taxation? I’m not saying its necessarily greater than the HB cap – in fact I have no idea. But its worth investigating before we condemn Clegg and co. as useful idiots for evil Tories.

As to the gerrymandering – in fact a number of Tory MPs have expressed considerable disquiet that more HB recipients will be expected in their marginal constituencies, further showing the mild absurdity of the argument that this all part and parcel of a dastardly Tory plot to screw the poor.

87

Alex 10.29.10 at 11:45 am

However, I wonder what the net effect on income of those working and currently receiving HB will be with the implementation of the Lib Dem policy of exempting a significantly larger portion of their income from taxation? I’m not saying its necessarily greater than the HB cap – in fact I have no idea

I very much doubt it – if you’re drawing housing benefit you’re probably not paying very much income tax in the first place. As a toy model, for this to work you have to be paying enough tax that a tax cut can be a substantial sum.

88

ejh 10.29.10 at 11:53 am

further showing the mild absurdity of the argument that this all part and parcel of a dastardly Tory plot to screw the poor.

As I said, keep it up, Daragh.

89

Alex 10.29.10 at 11:53 am

To enrich this point with numbers, robbed from here, it’s quite possible to lose £400 a week through capping alone. I would be confident in asserting that no HB claimant exists who is paying £1600 a month of income tax, as you’d have to be earning over £4,000 a month to do so.

90

Chris Bertram 10.29.10 at 11:57 am

_I also accept that there are a limited amount of government resources available for HB, particularly after 13 years of Labour_

You know, I’m willing to entertain the thought that Labour are partly to blame for the defecit because their failure to regulate the banks sufficiently created the conditions for 2008. (Not, of course, an argument the Tories can put in good faith, because they were arguing for less regulation at the time.) But the claim that profligate spending by Labour over 13 years is the source of the present crisis is just boilerplate right-wing trollspeak. Presumably, Daragh will shortly be citing Byrne’s note to Laws as evidence of something.

91

dsquared 10.29.10 at 12:14 pm

But its worth investigating before we condemn Clegg and co. as useful idiots for evil Tories

I hate to pile on, really I do, but if you really thought it was worth investigating, you’d have investigated it and not made the silly mistake Alex points out in 89. Did it ever really make sense to think that a rise in the personal allowance for income tax would compensate for the withdrawal of housing benefit?

Of course, the latter is being put forward by the EVIL Iain Duncan Smith, and the EVIL Tories, so it must not be considered.

Daragh, saying things like this really does undermine the credibility of your own complaints.

92

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 12:14 pm

@Chris

“But the claim that profligate spending by Labour over 13 years is the source of the present crisis is just boilerplate right-wing trollspeak.”

Well you put me in my place. Given that none of the parties at the general election even mooted the possibility of budget cuts, and the Ed Balls faction of the Labour party won a decisive victory in the leadership election, obviously my contention that Labour’s budgets were too large to be able to be continued during a period of economic crisis is utterly wrong-headed. Furthermore, my claim that the budget is too large to be maintained during the crisis is evidence that I blame the crisis on the size of the budget. You’ve certainly got my number Chris!

93

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 12:22 pm

@dsquared 91

I think comparing the maximal amount that someone COULD lose under HB reform vs. the mean rise in disposable income for lower-income families due to the raising of the tax threshold tells us very little that is useful. I’m sure that in most cases the gap will be larger – the question is by how much in the mean case. And guess what – I’m on a thesis deadline and I really DON’T have time to investigate it. That means I should also not be commenting here, but I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

And as for my comments on IDS, maybe I am undermining my case, but I calls them as I sees them. IMHO, Chris consistently puts the worst possible interpretation to both the motives and outcomes of Tory policy, because he has an a priori antipathy towards the Tory party. Its an antipathy that I share towards broad segments of said party, BTW, but this is neither here nor there. It would be nice to see Chris actually address the Tory approach towards Welfare reform in toto, which has included a substantial element of withdrawal of middle and upper class subsidies and direction of welfare resources towards the bottom, and the simplification of the system reducing administrative costs in the long-run. This is, I believe, a good thing and to be cheered. Reasonable people can disagree.

94

Charlie 10.29.10 at 12:25 pm

It might be worth a recap of the government’s proposed changes:

bq. • From October 2011, Local Housing Allowance rates will be set at the 30th percentile of local rents (instead of the 50th percentile).

bq. • Deductions for non-dependants will be uprated in April 2011 on the basis of prices. This will reverse the freeze in these rates since 2001-02.

bq. • From 2013-14, Local Housing Allowance rates will be uprated in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

bq. • From April 2013, housing entitlements for working age people in the social sector will reflect family size.

bq. • Housing Benefit awards will be reduced to 90% of the initial award after 12 months for claimants receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance. This will be introduced in April 2013.

bq. • From April 2011, Housing Benefit claimants with a disability and a non-resident carer will be entitled to funding for an extra bedroom.

bq. • From April 2011, Local Housing Allowance Rates will be capped at £250 per week for a one bedroom property, £290 per week for a two bedroom property, £340 per week for a three bedroom property and £400 per week for four bedrooms or more.

bq. • The Government contribution to Discretionary Housing Payments will be increased by £10 million in 2011-12 and £40 million in each year from 2012-13.

(Source)

These measures were all in the June budget. I think the spending review added a policy whereby new social housing rents would be set at 80% of market rents. There may be a couple of other changes that I haven’t spotted.)

Capping the housing benefit paid to private renters (i.e. Local Housing Allowance) is only one of a set of policies. Arguably more significant are the measures to set rates for new claimants at the 30th percentile of local rents, and to automatically reduce housing benefit by 10% for those out of work for more than a year. This last one applies specifically to local authority (public housing) renters, I think. Local authority rents won’t go down by way of compensation – at least, I see no plan for this – and it’s been reported that at least one London Tory borough (Hammersmith and Fulham) is making plans for housing stock that it owns and which its leader considers to “deliver a risible return”. I’d guess that for a Hammersmith and Fulham council tax renter, it might seem as if the British state wanted to make itself into the Pullman company.

95

ejh 10.29.10 at 12:25 pm

Just out of curiosity Daragh, how much do you know about Housing Benefit? You live, I think, in Oxford. To whom would you apply for it? How would you go about it? What would you be required to provide? In what circumstances would you expect to receive it, and in what circumstances would you not? How long would you expect to wait for it? Have you any practical experience of any of these questions?

96

Charlie 10.29.10 at 12:25 pm

And if some nice CT’er would fix my tags there, I’d be grateful.

[done! CB]

97

dsquared 10.29.10 at 12:25 pm

Calm down and think before posting please. What you’re claiming your contention to have been in #92 is completely different from what you actually said (“after 13 years of Labour”) in #86. The problem here is that you’re expressing yourself too quickly, and making too heavy use of sarcasm, which leads to you make statements that are much stronger than you’re actually prepared to assert, and then getting angry when people take you at your literal word, which restarts the cycle.

98

dsquared 10.29.10 at 12:27 pm

And guess what – I’m on a thesis deadline and I really DON’T have time to investigate it. That means I should also not be commenting here, but I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

Under the voluntary code of practice observed by bookmakers, it is possible for someone with a gambling addiction to request that he be barred from bookmaking premises. I’m going to treat #93 as a request similar in character.

99

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 12:32 pm

Dsquared – you’re probably right. Which is why I’m going to get back to work at this point.

100

Norwegian Guy 10.29.10 at 1:21 pm

In most larger cities the poor are more likely to be immigrants (and descendants of immigrants) than the non-poor are. I would be surprised if not ethnic minorities are overrepresented among those who will lose their housing in London, and be force to move. So won’t this in some ways amount to not just social, but literal ethnic cleansing?

Which also raises another question. I don’t now the state of the immigration and integration debate in England at the moment, but in Scandinavia especially (but in no way exclusively) right wingers always express a lot of concern about how some urban neighbourhoods get immigrant majorities, leading to a lack of integration, minority ghettos etc.

If poor immigrants are now forced to concentrate in cheaper ares, wouldn’t this be counterproductive for preventing ghettoising? Which makes it especially surprising coming from a right-wing government, though I know that Cameron/Clegg isn’t actually Rasmussen/Kjærsgaard. (Not that the right wing has any actual solutions to the segregation problems, since it requires stuff like an active housing policy, they just like to complain about it.) Alternatively, this could perhaps be sold as an desegregation attempt to break up the urban ghettos and move some of the inhabitants there into ethnically English areas on the countryside?

This also applies irrespective of the ethnic composition of the people getting housing support. It seams to me that this proposal will lead to more economic segregation, which is a bad thing in itself. But I doubt the Tories are much concerned with rising economic inequality.

101

sg 10.29.10 at 1:22 pm

Regarding what the landlords will do …

4) rent their rooms to the vast pool of foreign workers in London who aren’t connected to the real estate market long-standing residents live in, and who get ripped off at every turn by unscrupulous slumlords.

This pool of people have the advantage of often having quite good wages, but not knowing their rights and having no real knowledge of how to negotiate the city. They’re currently crammed into houses without living rooms, paying too much rent for each room, and the landlords will make a killing even if they lower the rent a little and give up the living room.

I know for a fact that my landlord had a mortgage of about 1000 a month, and was making 2400 renting a shoddy housing co-op apartment to 4 foreigners, with no living room and the tenants expected to pay rent. She could easily drop a tenant from one room and still make a killing.

I had quite a few japanese friends who were renting rooms in social housing, btw, and basically using their minimum wage earnings at Japanese restaurants to pay most of the rent for the whole apartment. And on top of that their flatmate was trying to fuck them.

102

dsquared 10.29.10 at 1:34 pm

SG’s #102 also raises another point about unintended consequences – the HB cutoffs are different for one-bedroom, two-bedroom etc houses, and the definition of the number of bedrooms a house has will not necessarily be exogenous with respect to this.

103

nick s 10.29.10 at 2:02 pm

You’d need to move a hell of a lot of people to make Islington North anything other than rock solid Labour

True, but we already know that the Tories consider the shape and number of urban constituencies subject to negotiation. There’s also the impact of migrant workers from the EU (who can’t vote in most elections). There was a time when large numbers of British workers lived in Dubai-style dosshouses: it was a century ago, and most of those workers couldn’t vote.

104

Phil 10.29.10 at 3:24 pm

One problem here, of course, is that defenders of the changes to HB have a lot of different defences to choose from, and (especially if confused or unscrupulous) can switch from one to another at will. If anyone is going to take up the cudgels from where Daragh dropped them, it would be nice if they could pick one of the following positions regarding the proposed ‘reform’ and stick to it:

1: It won’t hurt many people.
2: It will hurt lots of people, but only a bit – not really *hurt* as such.
3: It will hurt lots of people, but it’s all for the greater good.
4: It will hurt lots of people, but we’re all in it together and nobody has the right *not* to be hurt.
5: It will hurt lots of people, but they had it coming.
6: It will – HEY! SHINY THING!

105

Lemuel Pitkin 10.29.10 at 3:49 pm

The canonical form of 6 is, look it’s Halley’s comet!

106

roac 10.29.10 at 4:36 pm

When I clicked on Lemuel’s link, I expected to see this.

107

christian_h 10.29.10 at 5:26 pm

The government knows full well (and Daragh has admitted in this thread) that many workers in the UK are not paid a living wage. Therefore demanding that people in work be better off than those without a fortiori is a demand to keep people without work on less than is necessary for living.

This shows the real reason the ConDems are cutting welfare in all its forms: it will put downward pressure on the wages of those who have jobs and increase corporate profits. It’s one thing to argue this is a good thing. It’s a completely different thing to disguise one’s argument as a morality play.

108

engels 10.29.10 at 5:56 pm

Which is why I’m going to get back to work at this point.

That’s remarkably self-sacrificing, but please don’t make yourself too miserable. Are you sure you wouldn’t be better off signing on and moving to a bedsit in Blackbird Leys?

109

mc 10.29.10 at 7:10 pm

Chris: @90 you say that “the claim that profligate spending by Labour over 13 years is the source of the present crisis is just boilerplate right-wing trollspeak”.

I wish you were right about this. The problem is that, as well as being boilerplate right-wing trollspeak, it is also what Tory spokespeople repeat with iron message discipline when they are on the media, regardless of what subject they are discussing. They are joined in doing so by Lib Dem govt members – not just Clegg but also Cable, despite the fact that his position on this pre-election was very different. Such message discipline can be very effective. I fear that given how often people hear this line repeated, how relatively little they hear it really challenged by people who are seen as independent (i.e., not Labour spokespersons or what they would regard as vested interests of one kind or another), and how relatively complicated the alternative (true) explanation is, I suspect that quite a lot of mainstream people believe this claim to be at least partly true. Changing that is very important for debates like this one (though I agree with various posters that genuine belief in this claim isn’t the only – or even the main – motivation for this particular policy change, it still forms part of the context).

110

Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 7:11 pm

@engels

Working on my thesis actually, which no isn’t particularly entertaining nor financially remunerative. And I no longer live in Oxford – had to move back with my parents for the home stretch which has meant relocation and turning my committed relationship into a committed, long-distance relationship. So yes, on some levels I just might have been better off signing on and moving to a bedsit in Blackbird Leys…

111

piglet 10.29.10 at 7:15 pm

Jack Kemp 51, thanks for responding.
“First of all, section 8 isn’t explicitly “to help inner city poor move to the suburbs.””

Yes, I meant to say that a small part of those vouchers are used for that purpose. I got that from Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century (http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/drepla.html) by Dreier et al. The book is about concentrated poverty and economic segregation in the US. Helping inner city poor to move to the suburbs has been one policy idea to address that issue and it has been implemented only at a very small scale. Allegedly with good result where it was tried but I’m suspicious of that approach, I’m more with Jane Jacobs. It is remarkable that the UK housing benefit is explicitly referred to as a way to prevent economic segregation (which is just another word for “cleansing”).

Getting into programs in cities is a lot harder than getting on the suburbs; it’s probably more common, at least in the Chicago area, for people to apply to get into the program in a suburb and then wait out their restricted period, if any, and then port back into the city.

That is interesting and it seems to contradict authors such as Dreier et al who say that wealthy suburbs in the US are doing whatever they can to keep the poor from moving in. Could you elaborate?

112

Lemuel Pitkin 10.29.10 at 7:33 pm

107-

That would have been better.

113

roac 10.29.10 at 7:48 pm

There are two hurdles to obtaining a Section 8 voucher. First you have to get one, from your local housing authority; the number available is limited. This is indeed likely to be easier if you live in a suburb, since there are probably fewer poor people there than in the city.

After you get your voucher, however, you have to find a landlord who will take it. Participation is voluntary (except in state and local jurisdictions that prohibit discrimination based on source of income). This — which is clearly a deliberate policy choice — is why the program has had relatively little desegregative effect.

114

Hogan 10.29.10 at 7:58 pm

there remains a belief that London’s lower-paid jobs, particularly in the public sector (nurses, teachers, firefighters, binmen) should not entirely be filled by people commuting from Luton or holed up in dormitories like construction workers in Dubai.

At one point (and still, for all I know) San Francisco provided housing subsidies for public school teachers. They were required to live in the city, but weren’t paid nearly enough to buy into the local housing market. (If it were my city, they would have just eliminated the residency requirement.)

115

Jack Kemp 10.29.10 at 11:54 pm

Following up on the section 8 discussion, I should clarify that my experience is entirely through the lens of the Chicago Housing Authority (since, as you no doubt deduced, I’m not actually a former NFL player/HUD Secretary).

roac is correct about the difficulty in actually obtaining a voucher. The program works via a waiting list; the last time Chicago opened up its waiting list, it took on 40K people (and projects it will take 5-10 years to work through the list as spaces open up [only a certain % of the waiting list winds up being eligible by the time their number is called]), but had something like 250K applicants. In a small town in or just outside the Chicago metro area, there very well might not be close to a proportional demand. The other thing to understand is that once a housing authority establishes a certain number of vouchers in its program, it needs to maintain that number. Participants who port to other locations, or are terminated from the program, need to be replaced, or HUD will cut your funding (since your funding is based on a particular allocation of vouchers); one thing that can happen to an authority that mismanages its Section 8 leasing is a kind of fiscal death spiral, where HUD keeps cutting the allocation and funding, with less funding the authority can’t provide the same level of service, and so forth. So a housing authority that doesn’t have the kind of relentless local demand for vouchers that Chicago does needs to be pretty open to letting people from outside their jurisdiction get on their waiting lists.

The other stuff that happens with what HUD calls deconcentration – i.e., spreading the program out so voucher holders aren’t as focused in high-poverty areas – is that: (a) Owners in nicer areas have less incentive to rent to voucher holders, because the primary boon the voucher provides (a guarantee that you’re getting a check every month, no matter how tenuous a tenant’s financial situation) isn’t as much of a concern in more affluent areas, so you’re taking on the negatives of the program (more procedural loopholes to jump through, such as allowing each unit to be inspected at least once per year, having payment suspended if inspections find deficiencies in the unit, etc.) without as much upside … and (b) honestly, a huge percentage of the voucher holders don’t seem interested in leaving their current neighborhood. A staggering number of the moves processed each year never change zip code. So it doesn’t surprise me that people go out to the suburbs with the long term goal of getting back to the city. There are a lot of factors, many externally imposed, that are responsible for that disinclination to move into a totally new environment, but that’s the day-to-day reality of the program.

116

Tim Worstall 10.30.10 at 4:51 pm

“The government knows full well (and Daragh has admitted in this thread) that many workers in the UK are not paid a living wage. “

The “living wage” is defined as £7.60 an hour in London. The difference between this living wage and the minimum wage of £5.91 an hour is, to within pennies per hour, the amount of national insurance and income tax charged to those on such low wages.

If the personal allowance for both sets of taxes were made the same as the minimum wage then the current minimum wage would provide, post tax, what the current living wage does post tax.

This is the result of decades of fiscal drag (at most raising the personal allowance in line with general inflation, never at the higher rate of rising incomes and not even that at times. And yes, all Chancellors have been guilty of this).

Yes, I know this is tangential at best to the rest of the thread but it’s something that bugs me horribly. The first and primary thing we ought to be doing for the working poor is stop damn taxing them so much.

What we then do on to do by way of redistribution etc is of course still up for grabs.

117

Chris Bertram 10.30.10 at 6:21 pm

_The “living wage” is defined as £7.60 an hour in London. The difference between this living wage and the minimum wage of £5.91 an hour is, to within pennies per hour, the amount of national insurance and income tax charged to those on such low wages._

Would you care to take us through the arithmetic on that claim, Tim, allowing for personal allowances and reasonable hours of work?

118

John Quiggin 10.30.10 at 7:20 pm

I think Tim means that if the exemptions for income tax and national insurance were set such that those on minimum wage paid nothing, the minimum wage (pre- and post-tax) would be equal to the current post-tax value of the “living wage”.

We have the same issue in Australia. The main reason put forward for keeping the threshold low is that a higher threshold primarily benefits part-time and part-year workers, many of whom are not poor.

But we don’t have a pseudo-insurance tax, and the average tax rate for a single person on minimum wage (earning about 28k) would be about 12 per cent, about half the rate in Tim’s example (threshold is 6k and marginal rate is 15 per cent), so the problem is not so acute.

119

Tim Worstall 10.31.10 at 9:28 am

“Would you care to take us through the arithmetic on that claim, Tim, allowing for personal allowances and reasonable hours of work?”

JQ has it there.

So, if you earn the living wage of £7.60 an hour, work 37.5 hours a week for 52 weeks a year, you get £14,800 a year. Not by chance this is within spitting distance of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation definition (a good one, one they reached by asking thousands of people what you need to be able to live in the UK without being considered to be poor: Adam Smith’s linen shirt writ large) of the poverty line. For the living wage is largely derived from that JRF research.

Income tax personal allowance is £6,700 (apologies, these numbers are from memory so they’re not exactly correct) and you pay 20% on earnings above that.

£1,620 in income tax.

National insurance limit is £4,900 a year, you pay 11% over that.

£1,089 in employees national insurance.

Total payments in income tax and NI, £2,700.

£14,800 minus £2,700, net income, £12,100.

Net income of £12,100 divided by 37.5 hours a week and 52 weeks gives us £6,20 an hour as net income.

Minimum wage is £5,91. We are indeed within pennies per hour of the living wage being equal, post tax, to what the minimum wage would be if the income and NI personal allowances were raised to the minimum wage level. (Part of the difference here from my original calculations of them being exactly the same from a couple of years ago is that the various living and minimum wages, the allowances, have changed.)

We can be a tad more controversial and include the employers’ NI in here as well, that’s 12.8%. That’s another £1,300. The controversy comes from how much of that is actually paid by the worker in the form of lower wages. Depends on various elasticities but it’s uncontroversial to assume that some of it is carried by the worker: slightly more so to claim that all of it is but not all that controversial. If we do add in some portion of that then the living wage post tax is lower than the minimum wage if it were untaxed. I haven’t added this in and don’t in general: it’s much too boring to try to have to explain the incidence of employment taxes all the time.

I argue that (and so do the ASI and UKIP, not unconnectedly, and we even managed to convince Oxfam of this at one point) that this is absurd and that we should raise the personal allowance to what would be earned full time full year on the minimum wage.

After all, the logic is that it’s “immoral” for you to be paid less for your labour than this, so why is it being taxed?

There’s also an interesting statistical wrinkle to this. The living wage and the JRF numbers are pre-tax. Which means that a rise in the personal allowance (as the Coalition has announced) should mean a fall in the living wage as calculated. Something I’ve taken great delight in pointing out to the JRF and the living wage campaigners.

The JRF has agreed and incorporated this into their calculations for the future, the living wage campaigners still seem to be saying “hunh?”.

And for a bit of trumpet blowing, yes, I was the first person to figure and point this out when the JRF numbers first came out a couple of years back. As the JRF themselves agree.

120

Philip 10.31.10 at 11:58 am

Interesting post Tim. I earn slightly over £14,800 but once my pension contribution is taken out my pay-slip is below it. Though I do live in an area of the country with a low cost of living and have support from friends and family. I live alone and I pay for rent, bills, run a car, groceries then don’t have anything left at the end of the month. I’m pretty certain that for a newly arrived immigrant in London it wouldn’t be a living wage, as I’m sure sg would point out. Also I’m not entitled to wtc, housing benefit, income support, or any other benefit though I would be entitled to something if I had a child. My personal feeling is that welfare is set about the right level and these cuts really are going to hit the worst off.

121

Philip 10.31.10 at 12:04 pm

Also on another thread here there was a calculator to see what your relative income was and I was in the fifty-somethingth percentile. This took into account the area you live and number of children in the household. But it would suggest that there are a significant number of people with a below ‘living wage’.

122

Tim Worstall 10.31.10 at 12:21 pm

There is one further wrinkle to the JRF figures which I should, in all fairness, point out. They assume social (council or housing association) housing, so there’s already a rent subsidy built into their figures.

123

sg 10.31.10 at 12:30 pm

I knew a chap in East London who had just returned from Japan. In Japan he was earning the “living wage” and saving money. When he came back to London, he was also earning the “living wage” and was eating into the savings he had stockpiled in Japan. He absolutely hated being back in London, the high cost of living, terrible wages and awesomely bad housing.

There’s no way 15k a year is a “living wage” in London. It’s only a “living wage” if you’re eating into capital and/or have family assistance. If you take into account social housing then maybe it is, but that just makes the cruelty of these social housing changes all the worse.

It’s particularly nasty that the Tories are attacking the poor through social housing, because this part of the economy – housing – is the cruelest and most retrograde part of British life, and also of course the reason housing in Britain is so overcrowded and overpriced is speculation in the housing market, which is the reason the GFC happened and the excuse the Tories give for the British having to “tighten their belts” (fuck off!) So the poor have to pay through losing their protection against the very aspects of the predatory behaviour that caused the belt-tightening.

Charming.

124

Philip 10.31.10 at 5:05 pm

I agree with sg on the problems in Britain this time. And I don’t particularly care if the coalition is evil or just wrong but I do care that instead of addressing criticism they respond by focusing on two words.

125

Daragh McDowell 11.01.10 at 1:35 am

If I may return briefly, I would note that in all the huffing and puffing about how awful the Tories and Lib Dems are for supposedly saying that poor folks shouldn’t have nice things, I note it took <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/john-rentoul/john-rentoul-ed-is-making-it-easy-to-be-a-tory-2121164.html"John Rentoul of all people to unearth this James Purnell classic – [we will ensure] “people on benefits do not end up getting subsidies for rents that those who work could never afford”.

Which is neither a) particularly out of the ordinary for Labour (in government) rhetoric or b) much different from what Clegg and Cameron have been saying. Additionally Bertram claimed the Clegg is a ‘useful idiot’ and mocked him for objecting to the use of language usually reserved for genocidal maniacs for proposing a modest cap on housing benefits that available evidence suggests Labour might have done anyway. I feel more and more vindicated in my initial stance that the rhetoric on the left of this issue has been generally hysterical and OTT.

In other news, I’ve found that if I tap my knee with a hammer my it suddenly jerks forward…

126

Daragh McDowell 11.01.10 at 1:36 am

If I may return briefly, I would note that in all the huffing and puffing about how awful the Tories and Lib Dems are for supposedly saying that poor folks shouldn’t have nice things, I note it took John Rentoul of all people to unearth this James Purnell classic – [we will ensure] “people on benefits do not end up getting subsidies for rents that those who work could never afford”.

Which is neither a) particularly out of the ordinary for Labour (in government) rhetoric or b) much different from what Clegg and Cameron have been saying. Additionally Bertram claimed the Clegg is a ‘useful idiot’ and mocked him for objecting to the use of language usually reserved for genocidal maniacs for proposing a modest cap on housing benefits that available evidence suggests Labour might have done anyway. I feel more and more vindicated in my initial stance that the rhetoric on the left of this issue has been generally hysterical and OTT.

In other news, I’ve found that if I tap my knee with a hammer my it suddenly jerks forward…

127

Daragh McDowell 11.01.10 at 1:38 am

Sorry – thought I had fixed the HTML before posting but seem to have, well, inserted another error after fixing the first one. Apologies.

128

sg 11.01.10 at 4:01 am

Daragh, I don’t think you’ll find many people here objecting to a claim that the party that presided over irresponsible housing speculation (i.e. Labour) was simultaneously conservative on housing benefits. I doubt you’ll find many people here (including the author of the OP) particularly interested in defending Labour’s record on inequality or defending the poor.

But pointing out that this bunch of arseholes are arseholes doesn’t save you from the simple reality that it’s the Tories and their useful idiots who’re implementing cruel cuts designed to punish the group of people least responsible for the problems currently facing the country. Does the irony of this escape you?

Can you not accept that the viciousness of the cuts, and the complete disconnection between the victims and the cause of the problem, might be cause for some to conclude that they are aimed at social cleansing or social reform rather than good economics?

129

Chris Bertram 11.01.10 at 7:04 am

Daragh, you’ll find I previously expressed myself on the subject of James Purnell here

http://crookedtimber.org/2009/07/20/open-left-at-demos/

See first comment. “Odious reptile” was the phrase I used. Was my rhetoric then “hysterical” and “OTT”?

130

Phil 11.01.10 at 9:04 am

There’s a link in the comments on that July 2009 post to this from Dave Osler:

Not only do Purnell and his co-thinkers not recognise any such thing as an unacceptable face of capitalism; they have never seen any visage of the free market that they do not instinctively like.

Thus they have been ‘intensely relaxed’ about people getting ‘filthy rich’, even as inequality has actually increased on any econometric measure, and equally intensely relaxed about cutting benefits to single mums and scrapping student grants. They have, in other words, knowingly devised and pursued policies with the express purpose of exacerbating inequality.

I can therefore see no ideological sense in which they can be described as ‘on the left’

In short, you can have Purnell – he’s not one of ours. See also Ken Loach debating with Michael Heseltine on who should take responsibility for the achievements of New Labour.

131

Phil 11.01.10 at 9:06 am

Ugh. /Thus…/ and /I can…/ should also be in itals; Osler quote runs from /Not only/ to /’on the left’./

132

Phil 11.01.10 at 9:31 am

Actually it was Clegg who chose to make the connection to “ethnic cleansing”:

“To refer to cleansing would be deeply offensive to people who have witnessed ethnic cleansing in other parts of the world.”

“Social cleansing” is a perfectly well-established – and uncontroversial – term. Here’s a few examples:

Guardian, 2008 (“Beijing’s Olympic chief has ordered a social cleansing operation to clear the city of beggars, hawkers and prostitutes before the start of the event in August.”)
Guardian, 2006 (“The government says too much social housing in one area concentrates poverty. It thinks increased homeownership is the answer. But isn’t this just social cleansing?”)
Christian Science Monitor, 2005 (“[Mugabe] claims his program – going on for about a month now – is to clean up urban blight and put a stop to illegal businesses. His political opposition says it’s intended to crush anti-Mugabe people, who have a strong presence in the cities, and to force them out to rural areas. … ‘This is social cleansing to try to eradicate the opposition,’ says Trudy Stevenson, an opposition member of Zimbabwe’s parliament.”)
Glasgow Herald, 1999 (“A COMMUNITY activist protested yesterday that ‘social cleansing’ was being carried out in her area in order to facilitate large- scale private housing development in the north side of Glasgow”)
New York Times, 1992 (“No sooner do municipalities pass, or begin to enforce, ordinances establishing curfews in parks and airports or prohibiting camping, loitering and begging than they are slapped with suits charging that their actions are unconstitutional. … six cities around Los Angeles have been sued by advocacy groups who want to end what they call ‘social cleansing.'”)

In the same answer, Clegg produced his own new variation on the Harrowell Housing Benefit Fail:
“What we are doing is saying that people who receive housing benefit, it is perfectly reasonable for the government to say it won’t hand out more in housing benefit than people who go out to work, pay their taxes, abide by the rules.”
Emph added. Not only are all HB claimants out of work, everyone who is out of work is cheating.

133

Alex 11.01.10 at 9:44 am

This only reinforces the point that anyone who thinks housing benefit is only paid to the unemployed is, ipso facto, untrustworthy on other issues. Speaking of which, I’m going to miss Tim Garton Ash.

134

Mordaunt 11.01.10 at 10:04 am

@127

I have no doubt that, if in government, Labour would be taking steps to cut the deficit and that such steps would be regressive and would disproportionately hurt the worst off. But they are not in government, are they? If the coalition go ahead and make a bunch of innocent people homeless whose only crime is that they are not very well off we are entitled to regard them as a bunch of tossers without giving much regard to the possibility that somewhere in a parallel space-time continuum Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling are being crap whilst Vince Cable and Nick Clegg denounce them from the roof tops.

135

Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 10:05 am

Further on the topic of unlikely ad-hominem-fellows, I particularly liked the use of ‘of all people‘ in relation to John Rentoul, of all people.

Daragh McDowell seems to have an irrepressible ‘this is good old me we’re talking about here’ sense of entitlement worthy of his political allies in the Eton party that enables him to keep putting his ignominous retractions behind him and starting up again.

I would recommend he does indeed get on with that thesis instead. Presumably he has put some thought into that, actually cares about it to some extent, and isn’t basing it on disagreeing with some people who are saying nasty things about someone whose club he has joined. Well, I’m not so sure about any of those, but at least only about five people will ever read the wretched thing, and I imagine it’s not on a topic in which, given the state of the discipline, being unreflectively over-privileged is going to be quite such a handicap as it is here.

The whole point CB makes about the ‘social cleansing’ rhetoric, apart from the fact that when people get evicted it’s not pretty (and bailiffs have recently been given extra de jure powers to use violence), was that it was Johnson who drew the comparison with Kosovo – as a deliberate ploy to turn a (possible) allusive analogy into a claim of the dreaded ‘moral equivalence’ – but Chris has said all this rather well already. In fact this is one of those pretty rare threads that was already decisively won by the original post.

136

Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 10:06 am

I would also make some observations about the dole scum side of things (though reiterating that HB is based on income, not employment status).

The class of those who are officially recognised as not being able to work, already artificially restricted under NuLab by the imposition of ridiculous tests that bear no relation to reality, is being further eroded under this lot. JCP staff can tell you about the hopeless cases who are supposed to be seeking work – and faced with a withdrawal of the ‘safety net’ on the basis of waves of often Kafkaesque dictats about checking this that and the other technicality. Never mind the fact that the JCP would never damage their image further by sending them to interview when they are in fact physically – or mentally – incapable of doing any of the jobs actually available.

And the Tories with Clegg’s indispensable support are putting in place measures which place no significance whatsoever on whether someone is genuinely seeking work – a year on the dole, and that’s it mate, fuck you. As anyone who pretends that their smug nostrums actually directly apply to the actual situation really ought to take the trouble to put themself in a position to know, structural unemployment is a key part of post-Thatcher economic policy, treating people like inputs to some industrial chemical process, tweaking the pressure and acidity for maximum yield. So it’s a bit fucking rich (excuse the 4-letter word) to pile moral obloquy on top as well. (See also christian_h @108).

These incentives are applied without regard for any actual standard of what is reasonable (must you work as a prostitute if that’s the work available? Right, so how far then does this go? Does it really not matter what the effects on innocents and indeed not-so innocents is just so long as this hydraulics of humanity exerts the right forces?). This is very much along similar lines to the general form of corporate governance – set up clear and brutal incentives for achievement of the desired result, then sit back and studiously avoid being a ‘controlling mind’ with respect to the actual details of how that result get achieved, either in terms of employee misery or of course salesmen terrorising old ladies, lying through their teeth etc.

Except actually these fuckers aren’t even bothered about the yield (even in terms of already warped measures like GDP growth) much. They and their mates are alright personally – hedge funds just the latest ways of ensuring the rich profit from both sides of the happily-accepted, supposedly inexorable ‘business cycle’. But from the narrowly political point of view, it would quite suit them to keep the recession (Labour’s fault) going for a bit, along with that unconscionable deficit (also Labour’s fault), to camouflage the effects of their evident intention of finally destroying the res publica.

I’m not even convinced Cameron or Osborne are really even much bothered about the next election – and anyway they, or those with any power in their party who do care, probably think they can squeeze through next time by a combination of fait-accompli, Labour failure, first-term incumbency, capture of the Lib Dems, economic state of energency rhetoric and something turning up likely as not. You can do a lot in a term with parliamentary sovereignty and a clear determination to ignore the backbenches and the electorate. And if what you do is irreversible, well, job done.

(Meanwhile that child benefit diversion runs and runs.)

137

Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 10:35 am

Oh yeah, and then there’s that ‘no true evil cunt’ fallacy – there’s always some less, er, banal stereotype to appeal to for an idea of what true evil might look like. Especially when Cameron, Osborne and Clegg (and of course, par excellence, Johnson, B) have all been to special evil-disguising school of the kind that has been useful to the ruling class of perfidious Albion for so many centuries centuries.

Which would be fine as a matter of theology or something, if it weren’t for the fact that ‘not actually evil’ then gets used in an argumentative position in which one would expect to see something like justification or mitigation.

138

paul hebden 11.01.10 at 10:59 am

The only thing that ever really seems to change in terms of poverty is the discourse that attaches to it (though the discourse doesn’t really change, it is merely amplified or rescusitated). That’s why the present chatter about cleansing, allusions to undeserving poor, welfare lifestyle choices etc is interesting. The change of discourse has coincided with the the election of a new government. Whether Labour would have resucitated the same sort of language to justify a similar campaign of vilification against the poor is up for discussion..
I bet that the one thing that won’t change, will be the fact of poverty itself.

139

Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 11:03 am

But as a beardy scrounger once said, ‘the point is to change it’

140

Daragh McDowell 11.01.10 at 3:53 pm

Chris – I would indeed believe that classifying Purnell as an ‘odious reptile’ is indeed OTT, especially given that he was one of the few members of Brown’s cabinet that was willing to put his head above the parapet and at least TRY to stave off political disaster rather than simply accepting the election as lost.

Finally – while I’m sure I won’t be able to covince most of the people on this thread that capping the HB at £1600 a month is not, in fact a brutal and unfair attack on the poor, I do think its worth mentioning that virtually any cut to government expenditure is going to hit the worse off disproportionately. The one significant exception might be the imposition of significant, yet politically difficult, cuts to the defence budget. Which of course those useful idiot Lib Dems who are just human shields for the Tory right would never… oh wait.

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Alex 11.01.10 at 3:58 pm

It’s not the cap, you fucking fool. The cap amounts to nobbut bugger all, although it will have drastic consequences for the few people it affects. It’s the slash of LHA from the 50% percentile of median rents to the 30% that accounts for most of the money (£425m) and the great majority of those affected. It is, however, government media strategy to refer to the cap as if it were the only measure. Stop complying with it.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.01.10 at 7:20 pm

‘I like complying with it’.

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Donpaskini 11.01.10 at 8:21 pm

Daragh, have a read of http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/10/29/housing-benefit-the-facts/

It’s a short summary of the proposals which you are defending, but which I don’t think you actually understand.

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