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Government will outlaw squatting once and for all…..

Jamie Potter is a graduate in Journalism and Politics, a member of the Labour Party and his blog can be found here.

Grant Shapps has written in the Telegraph of his government’s plans to outlaw squatting ‘once and for all’ to alleviate the ‘distress and misery’ squatters cause to people who can’t be bothered to do anything with their building until it’s occupied by somebody in need of one.

This comes not long after the Tory Westminster council announced their intention to dispose of any human empathy in their collective soul and ban food donations to the homeless. Apparently it ‘encourages them’, much like scraps of food encourages rats and other vermin I guess. It’s hardly surprising then that the government want to crack down on squatters making use of empty homes whose numbers are startling.

According to local authority data (.xls) compiled by Empty Homes, a campaign group working to convert empty buildings into habitable properties, there were over 700,000 neglected houses stood idle in 2009. Meanwhile, there are over 1.7 million families waiting for social housing and hundreds more people spending nights on the street. Does something strike you as discrepant here?

And these are just the figures for homes. There are also countless empty shops, offices and other commercial (even industrial) buildings twiddling their thumbs in towns and cities across the country. The problem is apparent to anyone with eyes and the means to get around town, with buildings falling into disrepair and horrifying the well-to-do homeowners who fear for their own image and affected property prices.

On the other hand, many squatters have seen to it that such buildings are put to a good social use, acting as green education centres, women’s refuges, places of education and creativity which otherwise wouldn’t be there (cough, big society, cough). Guy Ritchie’s abandoned Fitzrovia mansion made more of a contribution to the neighbourhood when it was briefly taken over by protesters than it has at any previous point in its unremarkable, forgotten and couldn’t-care-less state.

For so many homes to be stood idle, waiting for investors, the market or local authorities to wake from their slumber, while so many homeless and marginalised people crave a roof over their heads is a disgrace. Are we really suggesting that it’s absolutely fine for property developers and the rich to buy up houses and forget about them while people across the country cry out for their own home?

In many cases, that people are squatting is a symptom of a wider malaise of deep rooted and systemic inequality, one that Grant Shapps and his colleagues in government are only going to exacerbate as budget cuts bite. Cracking down on squatting is nothing more than a doffing of his cap to the rich and landed, a policy that once again reveals the inner spite of the government and their refusal to consider the needs of the marginalised and impoverished in society.

Bollocks to it.

Filed under: Big Society, Conservatives, Economy, Welfare, Westminster

Three reasons why the child benefits fiasco is Tory master-stroke….

This article was cross-posted from Liberal Conspiracy with the kind permisssion of it author, Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

The Tories right now are laughing all the way to the ballot box. Whether they intended it as such or not, this cut in child benefit for the richer is proving a political masterstroke.

That sounds an extraordinary thing to say, given the sustained attacks they are suffering over it, and the apologies that they are being forced to make.

But consider the following three points:

1) As they deal with these attacks from the Mail et al, and are forced over and over again to respond to criticisms from broadcast journalists, what do the top Tory brass say? Over and over, they say: ‘Look; with this deficit we have to make tough choices; and it is only fair that the richest 15% give up this benefit in order that there is more money to go around.”

It enables Tories to identifying themselves with fairness and remove the impression that they are all about helping the rich. If they have to suffer a few days’ media discomfort in order to rebrand themselves in this way, it is a price well worth them paying.

Contrary to Sunny’s argument here, this attack on child benefit for the rich may be the way that the Conservatives finally escape the label ‘the nasty party’.

2) Meanwhile, the frenzy that the Mail et al are lathering themselves into works tacitly to the Tories advantage too: because the Mail are going on and on about protecting ‘Middle England’, while quietly ignoring the fact that someone earning £45k a year (the very least that someone now about to lose child benefit will earn) is earning twice the median income.

Twice the median: that is hardly the middle. So, the media furore is quietly stoking a sense of the country as richer than it really is, and of the rich as just part of the ‘middle class’: perfect for Tory ideas of how to reposition Britain’s sense of who it is, and of who matters.

3) Most crucially, all the attention on those poor parents earning anywhere between £45k and £Infinity is taking attention away from what really matters about this: the negative impact it is going to have on the welfare state because of a universal benefit being taken away from the rich. The poorest welfare states are in fact those which are designed only for the poor.

Thus the Tories get the best of both worlds: they get to look tough but fair, while actually doing something that profoundly undermines fairness and the entire Beveridge / Attlee agenda. Truly a masterstroke.

Lefties/greenies etc need to stop gloating on about how the Tories are shooting themselves in the foot and about those poor stay-at-home Mums, and start talking simply about defending the principle of welfare state universalism.

Otherwise, this cut will be the thin end of a very large wedge, and before we know it we will be looking at taking away NHS provision from the richest, on the grounds that they can afford private healthcare… I hope it is at least obvious to readers why THAT would be bad for us all. But it is nothing more than an extension of the logic of Osborne’s clever move here on child benefit.

Filed under: Conservatives, Economy, Welfare

Why not remove child benefit from the rich?

This article was cross-posted with the kind permission of its author, Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

Here’s why:

The problem with taking away child benefit from the rich is that the more you remove universal benefits, the less stake the rich have in the welfare state. Some people already say to me on the doorstep: ‘Why should I pay all these taxes? I don’t benefit from the tax-take!’ This problem will only worsen, if you start in effect means-testing even more benefits (Because that is what removing these benefits from the rich actually amounts to – a ‘kinder, gentler’ means-testing.).

So: this ConDem move will delegitimise the welfare state.

Actually, when you put it like this, it isn’t so hard to figure out why the Tories are happy to do this… Because many of them WANT to delegitimise the welfare state! So this move, that seems so ‘reasonable’ and sensible – the Radio 4 reporters are all saying things like ‘Yes, surely rich people don’t NEED winter fuel allowance / child benefit, etc.’, is actually a very clever political device for the long-term restructuring of the political consensus in this country in a rightward direction.

There is no way around this: it is an inevitable dilemma of a welfare state constructed around a complicated benefits system. There is no way out of this dilemma: except radical policies to change the status quo in an egalitarian direction. We need a genuinely progressive tax system (i.e. tax the rich more, rather than taking benefits away from them), a citizens’ income (slicing through the baroque welfare system and replacing most of it with one benefit that goes to everyone), and a raft of other measures that will take us in the direction that Wilkinson and Pickett are talking about. Unless we attain greater equality, the rich will always be looking for ways to opt out of the benefits system, and to delegitimise it. That is what this latest episode is a symptom of. However ‘reasonable’ it sounds to reallocate child benefit away from the rich to the poor, it is actually a move that will have the effect of undermining the very long-term acceptability of the welfare state.

Filed under: Welfare, , , , , ,

Let’s be Frank…

By Jane Watkinson

Frank Field’s recent musings around possible benefit reforms to reduce child poverty should cause some concern for feminist and pro-women activists. What is rather striking is his desire to cage women in at home, offering them economic incentives when the child is young. The Times explains:

“He said there was a clear case for providing more money in the early years to help mothers to stay at home after their child was born — a policy also backed by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary…The benefit could be taken away when the child reached 13 or 14, when a mother was more likely to want to go out to work.”

There are several problems with this. It is a clear attempt to revert back to the ‘good old days’ of the nuclear family, when in fact, these were not ‘good old days’ for women – instead, they were often very oppressive. Women shouldn’t be made to feel as though staying at home and looking after their children is somehow a ‘natural’ obligation/role.

This attitude is precisely what prevents a radical childcare policy forming. Also, it is not as easy as saying, “well, when the child reaches 13/14 the woman can just automatically go back to work”. This neglects the years out of work that the woman has experienced, it can take time to readjust to work again. It also ignores the likely dependence that women may have on their partner – as economically, for example, they are less likely to have built up a pension.

Central to Field’s vision is also a promotion of ‘good parenting’. This will see the state become even more involved with personal and family life. Thus, again, it is another example that whilst the government preaches a damaging retrenchment of the state effecting vital public services, they are expanding the state in areas that undermines people’s civil rights.

There is no wonder that Field has been appointed by the Tories; he fits their mantra and ideological vision of a ‘good society’ so clearly. Feminists and supporters of women’s rights need to make sure to assert a campaign against attempts, such as this, which threaten to undermine the movements away from ‘natural’ conceptions of the division of labour within households and the family.

Filed under: Feminism, Welfare, , , , , , ,

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