200,000 Homeless: The Real Cost Of Stopping ‘Something For Nothing’Posted: June 29, 2012
[First published in The Morning Star, 30/06/2012]
It’s ironic that David Cameron should choose this week to condemn a “something-for-nothing culture”, given the current judicial review of his government’s workfare programmes — the ones that have seen jobseekers ordered to work for nothing on pain of losing their sub-minimum-wage benefits.
But the PM was having none of that: the only “strange signals” he seemed to be worried about seemed to be the fact that his government had retained a welfare state at all.
“Those within it grow up with a series of expectations: you can have a home of your own, the state will support you whatever decisions you make, you will always be able to take out no matter what you put in,” he told the party faithful in Kent.
“This has sent out some incredibly damaging signals: that it pays not to work; that you are owed something for nothing.”
Meanwhile Cameron has dispensed a number of Solomon-like judgements as a kind of drip-fed stump speech for the next election: entrenching workfare for the 434,000 people still on a jobseekers’ allowance two years on, for one. Nevermind that this feckless culture seems to have sprung up entirely in the wake of the economic crisis, with fewer than 134,000 people having been unemployed for a year or more back in 2007. Or that barely one in 10 unemployed people prior to the crisis had been out of work for two years or more, compared to one in six today.
Another, presently only hinted by his aides, is said to involve withholding tax credits for unemployed households with more than two children — an approach that the Child Poverty Action Group has warned would necessarily leave their cause “in tatters”.
But perhaps the most risibly out-of-touch item on the agenda is the pitch to broadly scrap housing benefit for anyone under 25: a policy so incoherent that his own speech lamented the cost of Britain’s 210,000 young people in social housing in the same breath as a “growing phenomenon” of people in their 30s too poor to move out of their parents’ homes.
“So for literally millions, the passage to independence is several years living in their childhood bedroom as they save up to move out.
“While for many others, it’s a trip to the council where they can get housing benefit at 18 or 19 – even if they’re not actively seeking work.”
Well, let’s pick apart those assumptions: that most young people receiving a housing benefit are unemployed, and so comfortable on the government’s largesse that they are actively refusing readily available work.
That first key assumption, that most young people on housing benefits aren’t working, underpins Cameron’s entire “something for nothing” mantra — and it’s almost certainly wrong.
The DWP’s reports only distinguish between pensioners and everybody else — but as the New Statesman’s George Eaton nailed down within hours, just one in eight claimants are out of work. Even if we assume the current youth unemployment rate of 21.9 percent, that’s barely one in five recipients who are out of work (and as we’re about to see, through no fault of their own).
Cameron’s plea for social justice would kick the legs out from under 168,000 young people who actually are in work — and given the links between job growth, urban centres, high rents and the coalition’s previous decision to let social housing charge up to 80 percent of market rents, it would introduce a serious prospect of them losing their homes and subsequently the jobs that Cameron is so keen to push others into.
If anything the real welfare crisis is the young people who don’t claim housing benefits — not because they don’t need the help, but because they don’t have homes at all.
Earlier this month the Department for Communities and Local Government reported 50,290 ‘accepted’ cases of homelessness across England and Wales in 2011 – a rise of 14 percent from the year before. Likewise the charity Homeless Link’s survey of 108 councils across England last year found 48 percent had seen increased caseloads of young homeless people specifically, with 17 percent warning that they were already too overworked to meet their legal obligations. And again, given local authority cuts to shelter programmes and the decision to criminalise squatting, we’re looking at turfing out tens of thousands more, offering only the choice of either a criminal record or literally sleeping on the streets — all supposedly for the sake of social mobility.
Youth unemployment is undoubtedly straining the current welfare budget, and it’s a crisis that will shape the next twenty, thirty, forty years. More than a million young people in Britain were unemployed in March — up 7.5 percent on the year before and roughly a third more than when the global credit crisis began.
But it’s a simple matter of math: there are 2.6 million people looking for work in Britain, and fewer than half a million jobs on offer.
The only culture that needs blaring from the headlines is the Con-Dem coalition’s culture of ignorance.