Saturday, 30 October 2010

Social Cleansing in London

Boris Johnson, Tory mayor of London, has been courting controversy again with a comment he made in a radio interview about the coalition government’s proposed policies on Housing Benefit. Johnson said that he was not prepared to tolerate a ‘Kosova style social cleansing in London on his watch’. It is not the first time that he has made controversial statements in the media, but this time he has provoked outrage from government ministers, who have accused him off ‘making inflammatory remarks’.

It is perhaps a rather over the top comparison to cite Kosova, but he sure knows how to capture the attention of the media, and he is highlighting a very important issue. He may have been more accurate to compare government Housing Benefit changes to the enclosures and clearances of land in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain, where huge amounts of rural land was cleared of inhabitants who were forced into the burgeoning urban areas by wealthy landowners.

Make no mistake about it, these changes to HB will cause profound social upheaval. The particular policy of capping the amount of payments to a third of ‘market’ value (down from a half) from next year, was what Johnson had in mind. In wealthy parts of London, HB claimants will be unable to afford private sector rents, and so will be forced into cheaper areas of the capital or outside of London altogether.

The Guardian newspaper reports that Haringey will suffer from an exodus in the wealthy western parts of the borough and an influx into the cheaper eastern areas, from claimants within Haringey and from outside more expensive boroughs. All this will lead to more pressure on other services, such as hospitals, schools and social services in the east of the borough, not to mention housing overcrowding, making these parts of Haringey more deprived than they already are.

Another change to HB which will cause social problems is the twelve month rule. HB claimants will automatically lose 10% of their benefit after twelve months, whether they are on Jobseekers Allowance or in low paid employment. How are these people meant to make up the difference when they are already on the breadline? Inevitably, this will lead to evictions and homelessness which in turn will lead to health issues and probably an increase in crime, at a time when police numbers, prison places and probation officers are all being cut.

Clearly huge sums are being spent on HB at the moment, but why punish the claimants when the problem is caused by a lack of affordable social housing and astronomical ‘free market’ rents in the private sector, in London particularly?

We are moving towards the kind of problems we saw in the 1980’s with poor ghettos becoming increasingly unsettled and a powder keg which exploded into urban riots in these areas in the end.

This is the ConDem government future, and it’s not going to be pretty.


Anonymous said...


Just for information (I agree with the rest), payments won't be capped at a third of market value, they'll be limited to the bottom 30% of rents rather than the bottom half at present. This is disastrous enough in itself, as claimants are already often excluded from cheaper properties and forced to pay well over the odds for inferior accommodation.

Please feel free to amend and delete this, it's just a factual correction.


Mike Shaughnessy said...

OK thanks Dave, I'll take your word for it, but the effect is pretty much the same.