Poor Caroline Flint. As you read this, our Minister For Housing sits in a darkened room, rocking to and fro, pausing only to bang her head on the table. Occasionally she turns to a colleague, groaning: ‘…whatever was I thinking?’
She’s still floundering in the fallout after suggesting the withdrawal of tenancies from those found shirking employment. She even cited ‘…a culture of nobody works around here,’ allegedly rife in social housing (i.e. council housing, as ‘twas in the olden days.) But don’t worry, Caroline, I won’t be mentioning your funny five minutes here…
…except to run through the following points.
Firstly, ‘…culture of nobody works around here?’
What’s that then?
There indeed exists a culture of ‘…nobody can get a job around here no matter how hard they try,’ but try they do. Meanwhile, the blameless residents of many estates endure ‘…a culture of nobody can get their windows repaired around here,’ as cutbacks mean that councils routinely evade even essential repair obligations for all tenants, employed or not. What about briskly evicting the officials responsible?
And about those estates: most inhabitants work, despite living on ‘schemes’ or ‘developments’ (never say suburbs) frequently placed - because of invidious notions of social hygiene - well outside the city walls. Spiralling transport costs render it prohibitively expensive for job-seekers to ‘network’, attend interviews, or try on spec in person with employers to see if any unadvertised vacancies have arisen. And that says nothing of bus timetables which are downright useless if you work punitive, anti-social shifts for minimum wage and can’t afford a car.
Education is a vital tool in acquiring well-paid, secure and interesting work. Stand outside a school on most of the estates Caroline refers to and you will observe a lack of Chelsea Tractors driven by eager, well informed yummy mummies and daddies, and rarely are parents from miles away moved by the Holy Spirit to come over all Catholic in order to secure a place for their bright eyed brood. Of course, there are local heroes, but most parents are fighting to transfer out, rather than in.
Social Housing is being reduced, and in order to secure access a family will likely have been homeless for ages. They might be bedraggled and demoralised to breaking point and beyond, having lost precious belongings like interview clothes and references (even their confidence, and ultimately the will to live) during the trauma of constant jaunts between hostels and B&B’s, and yet they still work, or at least they try.
If Caroline’s wish is granted, what sort of jobs will be provided? Properly paid, meaningful employment with some hope of advancement? Or just another badly organised, box-ticking training scheme which – somewhere along the line – involves learning by heart the phrase ‘Do you want fries with that?’
Full employment is a myth; there isn’t a job for everyone. Treating housing as a treat for those who behave themselves is not only patronising and offensive, but also another example of people who own no property being treated like teenagers who have outstayed their welcome in the crowded parental home, or landless peasant scum. Even so, Caroline Flint might have earned my respect had she suggested penalising those city wide boys personally responsible for breaking the UK’s economy by spiriting away mortgage money in convoluted, avant-garde but (for them) lucrative trading methods, which have siphoned off billions of pounds to rest a wee while in pixie-lala-land.
C4’s ‘Shameless’ is not a documentary, and the idea that on council estates, those in full employment are ridiculed by masses of scrounging, jeering neighbours is utter bunkum. Her now infamous statement was a cynical attempt to appease Middle England - that bastion of tolerance this government is so peachy keen to mollify, but she failed. When even the head of The National Federation of Housebuilders speaks out against you, then something is badly wrong.
I’m sorry if this response seems a little tardy, but when I first heard what she said, I couldn’t stop laughing. Then I started to cry. I’d imagine that’s exactly how Caroline Flint feels right now.