Sunday, July 06, 2008

Government and homelessness

The "Pathfinder" project for urban renewal has come in for some criticism, because so far it's meant a net loss of 9,000 homes and many of those whose houses have been demolished have not received sufficient compensation to buy something similar elsewhere (see here and here, with an attempt at more balanced discussion in the Liverpool Daily Post).

I suspect we don't have a housing shortage, but a housing misallocation. There are lots of old people rattling around in houses too large for them, and too expensive for them to maintain properly. And how many million bedrooms have been converted into domestic gyms, games rooms etc? We simply expect far more space than we used to, and so the "shortage" is a function of our choices.

But there is a limit on land space, if we want to retain the capacity to feed ourselves in hard times. Maybe we should review policies on housing, housing benefit, local taxation etc. And the policy of using foreign labour to keep down wage rates, and so create traps for our working and under-classes. And is there a Gramscian plan to undermine the cultural cohesion of the country by means of deliberate negligence in border controls, with the side-effect of worsening the pressure on accommodation?

Governments have a talent for creating problems that will long survive them. After four centuries, Northern Ireland still has its difficulties. And look at Fiji, where a century ago British planters imported Indians for indentured service periods of ten years. By the end of their contractual decade, quite naturally the labourers had married, had children and put down roots in the island. The historical result is festering resentment between ethnic groups, leading to outbursts such as George Speight's rebellion in 2000.

Similarly, covering England's green and pleasant land with concrete, tarmac and brick will also have persistent unpleasant consequences. And is there any way to change it back? Could we put a foot depth of earth along a disused motorway to convert it to arable use? So, new building on agricultural land, flood plains etc is tricky, and now we are seeing some of the problems of brownfield development.

But there's a huge number of houses built in the Thirties that need refurbishment. There may be a boom in plumbers, plasters, electricians and bricklayers; while at the same time we may see growing white-collar unemployment, as a result of outsourced information-processing. Maybe the working class will be victorious, after all, while the chattering classes fill holes in their shoes and jumpers with old copies of the Guardian.

I know it can happen, because it did happen in the Thirties - read Helen Forrester, whose debt-burdened middle-class father made the mistake of leaving London post-Crash, to return to his Liverpool birthplace, where the parish had no statutory obligation to support him. Helen wrote that if the Depression comes again, the things to stock up will be newspapers, razor blades and soap. And in her case, a purse inside her clothes so that her own family couldn't steal her meagre savings.


Lord James Bigglesworth said...

I think you've hit it with "misallocation". Sigh.

[Sackers, please apply. We're waiting.]


Don't know why you're sighing, James, you seem to be a natural traveller.

Thought I HAD applied!

Ryan said...

Currently, with farming only contributing 1% of GDP it seems to me there is little financial excuse for holding back on introducing a planning free-for-all. Protect the land that deserves to be protected and let people build everywhere else.

We can't feed 40% of our people, NOW, so holding back on house building isn't going to help matters. If the UK wants to be sure it can feed itself- it's time to buy up some farmland in Oz, New Zealand and the US.

Gramsican plots to import immigrants? Sure, but more to break down social cohesion and cultural ties. Remember that the theory of "Cultural Hegemony" is aimed at destroying the prevailing culture - and theoretically that can be done by watering it down with imports of different cultures. Of course in practice the dominant culture tends to re-assert itself, sometimes violently. But Gramsican's are too dim to see that far ahead. They just think they are clever....


Ryan, food security should be a worry for us. It was a challenge to feed ourselves under sea-siege in WW2, when the population was smaller and more land was cultivated. If we should ever find ourselves in a similar plight again, it would be little use having our food sources half-way round the globe from us.

I can't work out the real reasons for the lack of proper immigration control. Maybe subversion is a motive for a nutso few, but I can't think it's the only motive. Keep down inflation by undercutting the wages of the semi-skilled? Even if you add to the burden on public serives, so it costs more than it saves? Doesn't make sense to me, unless it shows that our decision-makers don't plan for even the medium term, let alone the long term.

Wolfie said...

"I can't work out the real reasons for the lack of proper immigration control."

Did you know that certain foreign companies with offices in the UK have trusts that lobby the government and provide legal assistance to increase immigration?


Trusts, you say - so they can get tax relief?

I note that pressure groups don't lobby the voters, and our MPs try not to bother our pretty little heads with all these difficult issues, either.

I can see how tempting it is to become a conspiracy theorist, but I shall continue to resist.