Thursday, 6 October 2011

Sheila McCechnie Was Right

I once interviewed the formidable and humane and amazing (but now sadly departed) Sheila McCechnie of Shelter. We were discussing one of the many instances that Tories had suggested relocating homeless people from the South of England, perhaps forcibly, to the North.

She worried about the effects of this, as do we all, where jobs and opportunities are found in the South, whereas the North has space and housing (a vast over-simplification of course). The situation was not as harsh then as it is now, and Sheila came up with a stark phrase to describe the possible consequences.

The South will become a concrete hell, I said, with people crammed into increasingly small homes. And the North? ‘Vast Bantustans of poverty,’ Sheila suggested, whip-smart and accurate.

You might not know what a Bantustan is. In apartheid South Africa, semi-independent states were formed, where people were kept deliberately poor and powerless, but lived under the lie that they were empowered by being dislocated from the state. Most foreign governments saw through the lie, and did not recognise these Bantustans as sovereign states.

Back in the present day, Housing Benefit changes are making life impossible for impoverished and jobless occupants of Southland. Unemployment is disproportionately high in Northland. Buy-to-let chancers even invested in The North, buying three flats in Rochdale, rather than stumping up for much needed homes in London, because investing in London and surrounding satellites was too dear, for all the good it did them when they went bankrupt.

An impossible situation is emerging. Are you vulnerable, and employed but still effectively homeless, due to precarious housing either through overcrowding or expense? Well, meet jobless but housed. Shake hands and say hello, as you might be compelled to swap places any day soon. It’s ridiculous. Where, if you are poor, are you supposed to live? What are you supposed to do?

Perhaps employers will start providing homes, or deposits. Maybe people will again live on site, like they used in Victorian times, with apprentices permitted a futon in the larder. Maybe homes in the North will come with jobs attached. Then we get to the state of tied housing as suffered by agricultural workers, where dismissal and redundancy means the loss of your roof as well as an income: back you go up North young fellow-me-lad. Another can of worms, and another battle fought and won heroically in the olden days, soon to be fought again and lost.

And what about family and neighbourhood ties, or the Condems and their beloved BS (big society)? How will a stable community run libraries and youth centres competently and for nothing, or summon sufficient spare concern to care for incomers, or organise their neighbours, when every so often everybody ups and moves in either direction?

Did you know the North of Britain, especially Scotland is, geologically speaking, rising up, while the South is sinking. Facile and flat-earthy to suggest it’s all those extra people moving in or vacating, but a tempting parallel to draw nonetheless.


space cadet said...

Excellent post, spot-on as usual. I haven't ruled out moving to Glasgow actually. You get far more for your buck up there!

Of course, it helps that i'm single and without children, or an employer that can even commit to a permanent contract. Consolation is, give it 20 years, and i'll be good to buy a retirement home. They're always cheaper.

RenterGirl said...

Be careful - those retirement are getting stricter about allowing owners to pacify residents with a cosh (chemical or physical...) so owners might now have to employ caring trained staff, thereby tightening profit margins.

Vionolo said...

Hi space cadet and RG,
I have also noticed that properties on the housing market restricted to those over a particular age are siginificantly cheaper and more efficient than those available for the rest of us. I've also noticed that they tend to be the sort of property with all the features my partner and I would like to have, if only we could afford to leave his parents' house! I increasingly feel that their generation had and are currently having a jolly good time (free education including living expenses at the HE level, health care, pension, cheaper housing etc etc) at the expense of my own. I feel exploited.

RenterGirl said...

'Mark' Here's what happens when you try and post spam ads: I delete them! here's what Mark had to say:
'Its not that bad up here you know. Well, actually its not as nice as it was a couple of years ago. It's now impossible to buy a house in the nicer parts of Cheshire because you can pretty much guarantee being gazumped by a BBC executive spending their handsome relocation allowance.'

space cadet said...

True Vionolo, very true! And we are just their cash cows. A quote:

"This is a deeply depressing situation: an enormous old cohort are cheering whenever a necessity of life becomes less affordable. It It seems that they want each successive generation to become more crowded and downtrodden than the last. See how they wail if anyone on the street attempts the tiniest renovation to make a slightly nicer home.

Housing greed has spawned a culture of usury, jealousy and spite. Many of our elders truly despise us, or at best they regard us as dispensible cattle reared to sustain a comfortable retirement"

Taken from here:

RenterGirl said...

When The Telegraph says such things, it's all getting very odd, isn't it?

Dazzla said...

Still plenty of smug very-small-c-conservative boomers there who think they invented Life Experience.

I must remember to stop reading Torygraph comments at work. We don't have showers here...