Housing Nears Catastrophy - Morning Star editorial Sat 10th Aug

marksimonbrown mark at tlio.org.uk
Mon Aug 12 13:47:12 BST 2013

Housing Nears Catastrophy - Morning Star editorial from last Sat
Morning Star newspaper editorial from Saturday 10th August 2013:

Housing nears catastrophy
Friday 09 August 2013

The caricature of British society favoured by multimillionaires David Cameron and George Osborne shows feckless claimants sitting on their sofa or snoozing in bed as they wait for their benefits to be paid. 

Everyone knows that this is an unfair portrayal, but even critics of the conservative coalition government see the size of the benefits bill and believe that something must be done. 

Benefits are certainly a burden on society, but the key questions are why they are paid and who benefits from them. 

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny's comments in response to the Council of Mortgage Lenders report that 40,000 mortgages worth £5.1bn were advanced to buy-to-let speculators in the second quarter of this year are very pertinent to these questions. 

Housing benefit in respect of rent payable to private landlords owning over 1.5 million homes is little more than a direct state subsidy to the private sector. 

And the recent spurt in mortgages offered to buy-to-rent landlords will add a further 16,000 households to the housing benefits merry-go-round. 

Claimants, whether unemployed or in low-paid jobs, cannot afford the extortionate rents demanded by private landlords, but they have nowhere else to turn since both the Tories and new Labour pulled the plug on council housing. 

Margaret Thatcher's Tory government ran an aggressive right-to-buy campaign to encourage council tenants, especially in the most desirable properties and areas, to join the "property-owning democracy." 

This was beneficial to the tenants involved, but, in a situation where the supply of new council homes for rent dried up, it increased council housing waiting lists. 

Sales to individual council tenants were followed by wholesale stock transfers to the private sector, forced by government refusal to fund property upgrades, which has exacerbated the situation. 

Neither the government nor the Labour opposition has been willing so far to promise the necessary decisive action to kill two birds with one stone - meet housing need and reduce unnecessary spending on cosseting private landlords. 

Indeed, a massive council housebuilding campaign could add a third bird to the lethal stone's account by kick-starting the construction industry, providing tens of thousands of jobs and boosting government tax receipts. 

Kenny wants Labour to pledge a programme to build new homes to let at affordable rents across the country, which would undoubtedly be a vote-winner. 

So what stands in the way of Ed Miliband making such a bold commitment? 

The GMB leader's reference to the need for compulsory purchase orders to be applied to build social housing if 177,000 new units in London with existing planning permission are not started within six months of the general election provides a clue. 

Compulsory purchase orders and a mass council housebuilding campaign strike at the heart of the neoliberal orthodoxy that housing provision should be left to market forces. 

That has always been the fundamental philosophy of the Tory and Liberal Democrat parties. 

But Labour, for three decades after the second world war, had a different approach, seeing local authority housing as essential to working class security and social cohesion. 

Miliband's One Nation Labour, in common with its new Labour forerunner, remains obsessed with the invisible hand of the market, even though its shortcomings are plain for all to see. 

Breaking with the private-is-best policy for housing is an essential prerequisite to meeting people's needs and ending the state spoonfeeding of parasitic buy-to-let landlords. 


NOTE: Paul Kenny, a vocal leading light in the trade union bureaucracy, it should be noted, is a compromised bedfellow.  Two years ago, he said on record that he and the GMB whom he spoke for supported workfare (because he gave no critical appraisal distinguishing a workfare programme that targeted individual's personal career aspirations and training objectives from the oprressive American model):

Workfare the Future says GMB Union
Ref: http://unemploymentmovement.com/blog/welfare/49-workfare-the-future-says-gmb-union-
The GMB union with the work program provider Kennedy Scot has this week thrown its whole weight behind `Workfare`, with revelations it is promoting heavily the draconian model used by America to the coalition government. 

Unions as a general rule have distanced themselves from workfare but the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (GMB) in its first unprincipled jaunt into the fray of a condemned policy has through a report called `Welfare to Work in the 21st Century` made recommendations that the Department of Works and Pensions pilots a US welfare-to-work programme developed by America Works.      

The report authored by the University of Portsmouth and accountancy firm PKF, is notable by its lack of any real content and exceptional by the fact that amongst its four authors are two criminologists; which highlights the disjunction between criminality and how the unemployed are associated.  This association is not lost on the company being promoted as `American Works` primarily works with the hardest to help: offenders, disabled and long-term unemployed, who are vilified in the UK`s press.  

Describing the company `America Works` as `Innovative` at the launch of its report in the House of Lords the GMB placed heavy emphasis on the company placing over 200,000 US citizen into employment, replete was the fact that this is the number since 1984. The spin doctoring of its success is not however wasted on the American press who have questioned the cost-effectiveness of this company along with its troubled history in other cities, apart from it much vaunted success in New York.

In a statement Paul Kenny, Secretary General, GMB has said "The GMB is looking at how best to support both our members who are facing redundancy as the public sector cuts bite and those suffering the scourge of long term unemployment. We welcome the idea of pilots across the country to evaluate how best to do this."

Loosing membership as a precursor to this move into workfare could well seem self-serving but ignores the body of evidence available that besides providing cheap labour and subsidizing employers, workfare takes jobs away from other workers and serves as a mechanism for keeping wages down and profits up. Not principles generally associated with unions, however if the management is trying to placate its masters it will suit the business world and the politicians just fine.


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