Monday, 2 July 2012

Design and Decency

I’m trying to be patient. I am trying to remain calm, but I just can’t (I can’t!) I keep screaming at random passers by. Here’s why.

I once watched a documentary on archaeology, which excavated a Georgian house in Manchester. An enlightened landlord had built what was, for the times, an decent, urban ‘worker’s cottage.’ Sadly his benevolent intentions were subverted by the greed of subsequent landlords, who squeezed generations into every room of what was intended to house one family.

We live in more enlightened times. We care a lot. Nowadays overcrowding, lack of privacy and dwindling personal space is absolutely never tolerated. Is it? It’s just that, this latest housing benefit proposal, which seems to expect claimants under the age of twenty-five to move back in with their parents is cruel, flawed and unworkable.

First all, we have to accept that adulthood begins for real at eighteen: you can drink, vote, and marry without consent (all the biggies.) So why have the Condems chanced upon twenty-five as a good age to force adult claimants to move back in with their parents? They might have left to study and been working for several years. Except…

Except the spare-room tax on council houses obliges their empty-nest parents to relocate. Or mum and dad might have died, gone into a care home (with the age of parenthood increasing, this is situation will increase) or just not want their prodigal child moping around.

British houses are tiny. Many teenagers share bedrooms that are smaller than that permitted for prison cells, and yet this hulking great twenty-four year old must return, pay to move, carrying the possession they’ve amassed in perhaps nine years of independence and cram everything into their tiny bedroom. Unless a half-sibling lives there now.

The mass building of dovecots led to cities packed not with spacious family homes, but one and two bed flats. So where are the homes suitable for families of three generations, maybe more? Those returnees might well have kids. They might be married. They might be ill, and their parents might not be able or willing to act as carers.

It used to be that overcrowding was universally accepted as a terrible thing, because it’s humiliating, and shatters dignity and privacy. Overcrowding thwarts ambition: where are students supposed to study in peace when they have Gove-only-knows how many family members stacked up in the lounge?

Leaving home is a valuable rite of passage as well as, simply, a necessity. And guess what, historically, it always was: young people left home just as they do now to work, then on farms or in service. If things went wrong they ended up not with their welcoming families, but in workhouses, begging or as one of the multitude of urban prostitutes.

If tenants are penalised financially for remaining in council houses deemed too big, then how are their children supposed to move back in? Unless that is, those free-market Georgian and Victorian slumlords are seen as trail blazing social-policy gurus. One family in every room, workhouses, begging: that can’t happen here. Can it?


Dazzla said...

There's something that worries me about all this: remember how unpopular Thatcher was, amid rising unemployment and stagnating industry, until the invasion of the Falklands and an upturn in the economic cycle? The economy is bound to bounce back soon despite the heroic efforts of Cameron and Osborne to hold it on the ground while their rich friends pump it for all they can get from it. And then what? Tax cuts, pandering to the ageing boomers, the middle classes and the remains of those who lucked out from right-to-buy and deregulation while keeping the frothing right-wing press onside.

They might look weak now, but they can always pull something out of the bag. They don't have to dissolve parliament for another three years yet. Expect to see a lot of positive economy stories in all the usual rags, whatever's happening at the time.

Remember 1992. And remember 1997, and all the Hayekian violence that happened after.

Anonymous said...

Lots of good points here glad I came upon your blog people are being hit all ways up with no real understanding from the people at the top who make the policy, we will end up with a generation once again who have poverty of ambition .I really wanted to mention house size I have thought a long while that estate agents should be forced to market property on a sq foot or m" basis to get a true reflection of size as they do in mainland europe or the US. 3 bed 4 bed etc is like how long is a piece of string.

MattW said...

Agree with Anonymous about house size. Number of bedrooms can be misleading insofar as guaging the size of a house.

Also they should bring back the old 'Parker Morris' house size standards - and apply it to ALL property built regardless of tenure.

ceridwen said...


I find it appalling to think that no-one would be able to rely on living independently until they are 25 under these proposals.

It doesnt apply to me - as I'm well into middle age and own my own home (mortgage paid off). BUT...I moved out when I was 21 and when I was out I was out...that was it...end of...

My parents are still alive (very elderly now) and still live in my old home. My old bedroom is still sitting there empty. BUT...I know that if the years were "knocked off" my age and I had to go back - that my mother wouldnt want me back. We are very different people and she (still) keeps trying to change me to be like her. She'd refuse to let me have on the heating when I want and complain that I was cooking different food to her (and "being such a trouble"). She'd still expect me to "be as quiet as a mouse". She'd still drive me nuts with always always having the tv on (her choice of channels of course). The only difference is that - these days - she'd also expect me to be an unpaid carer to her.

The other thought on this - is suppose the parents have had to take in a lodger to help meet their bills. Parents in that position wouldnt take kindly to having to throw out a paying tenant in order to replace them with a non-paying adult child.