Posts Tagged ‘Housing Associations’

TYT Cover Panel on the End of Neoliberalism at Labour Party Conference

October 22, 2017

This is another video produced by the progressive American news service, The Young Turks, of the Labour conference at Brighton the week before last. The panel was entitled ‘Welcome to the End of the Neoliberalism’. Held in a dingy nightclub, the female host jokes about how her audience can say exactly where they were when neoliberalism ended, and that, as with nearly all revolutions, the women were first and the men came late.

With her on the panel were Paul Mason, a former Channel 4 journo, playwright, documentary film maker, and the author of the book ‘Postcapitalism’; Jo Littler, an academic, who specialises in cultures of consumption, and the author of a book on meritocracy, pointing out that this is precisely what it isn’t, as meritocracy is a system that reinforces minority, elite rule; Valary Alzaga, a labour organiser working with the people at neoliberalism’s sharp end in precarity; and Clive Lewis, the MP for Norwich.

Paul Mason begins the discussion by trying to describe what neoliberalism is in reality, rather than neoliberalism as a collection of ideas. In doing so he states that he has annoyed the Adam Smith Institute. And he includes not only the perfect, ideal capitalist states of the West, but also mercantilist states like China, as they are now part of the same global system. He states that you could go back to the German ordoliberals to describe it, and to people like Von Hayek and the Chicago School. But he begins with Peugeot’s definition of its aims at a meeting in Paris in 1938. This described precisely what neoliberalism is not: it is not traditional laissez-faire economics. The early neoliberals realised that if markets and market forces were left on their own, the result would be monopolies that would be nationalised by the state, according to Marxist doctrine and praxis. So they sought to enforce competition at every level. This means not only privatisation, and the introduction of legislation to force companies to compete, but also the creation of competition as a mindset to keep working people isolated and competing against each other.

The result can be seen in the favelas – the deprived slums – of Latin America, where you have poor people living in former factories that have closed down. Then the housing association is dissolved, and the mob moves in, as only through organised crime is there safety. And Mason states very clearly that it isn’t only in Latin America that this process has occurred. It’s also happened in many of the towns in the north of England, where industry has been gutted and forced overseas, and the result has been a massive upsurge in crime.

He goes on to state that at first neoliberalism was devised so the rich West could exploit Latin America. But after the Fall of Communism opened up the 20 per cent of the world market that was the former eastern bloc, it became a global system. However, neoliberalism is now collapsing. It produces a series of crises, and so rightwing politicians like Trump, rather than destroying it, are producing nationalist versions of neoliberalism. That is, they are turning away from it as a system of international trade, but still enforcing it in their own countries as a system of private ownership that excludes and exploits the poor.

Jo Littler says much the same as Mason in a much briefer speech. She refers to it as ‘disembowelling’ the public, meaning the enforced privatisation of public services. She also describes how two of the sources for neoliberalism were the German Ordoliberals, who turned away from the state-managed economy of the Nazis, and von Hayek and the Chicago school. She also mentions how it was first proposed by the Montpelerin meeting in Paris. And she also makes the point that it took a long time for them to have their ideas accepted, as until the Chicago School, Pinochet and Thatcher they were isolated cranks and weirdoes.

Valary Alzaga explains that she is a care worker, who are some of the most poorly paid workers with the most precarious jobs. She describes how, under neoliberal capitalism, care homes have been privatised, bought up by hedge funds and venture capitalists, who have then gone on to sell off whatever was profit-making. As for care workers, neoliberalism means that if they try to form a union, they are immediately sacked. Under socialism and Keynsianism there was a social pact, by which employers and the state recognised the rights of workers to form trade unions and bargain for better pay and conditions. This no longer exists.

Clive Lewis, who to my mind looks like a younger version of Noel Clarke, the actor, who played Rose Tyler’s boyfriend in Dr. Who, is an economics graduate. He describes how, when he was studying it, he and the other students were filled with its doctrines, but no-one ever mentioned the word. He only woke up to what it was and really meant when he happened to go on a summer course about it. He describes this in terms of a religious revelation. He says it was as if he’d been deprogrammed. When he returned, his friends complained that it was as if he’d joined a cult, because all he talked about was neoliberalism, neoliberalism and neoliberalism.

He states that the goal of von Hayek wasn’t to set up an independent party, as he was asked by one of his followers. He wanted instead to permeate the academic institutions, like the universities and take over the whole system. And so this resulted in Blair and Brown accepting it as absolutely true, and introducing it into the Labour party. He refers to the story, which he thinks was apocryphal, about Thatcher being asked what her greatest achievement was. Instead of pointing to one of her wretched privatisations, she said it was Tony Blair and New Labour. Lewis states that their adoption of neoliberalism is unforgivable with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight but you have to understand the state of British politics at the time.

This is a fascinating analysis of the rise and destructive effects of neoliberalism. Robin Ramsay, the editor of ‘Lobster’, also studied economics in the late ’60s – early ’70s, and he states that Thatcher’s beloved Monetarism was considered so much rubbish that his lecturers didn’t even bother arguing against it. And before Thatcherism turned to mass privatisation and the idolatrous adulation of the free market after 1981-2, neoliberalism was considered very much an extreme doctrine held only by cranks. Which is what it should return to being.

As for annoying the Adam Smith Institute, they have been pushing for the complete privatisation of all state assets, including the NHS since the 1970s, so annoying them is, in my view, a good and holy occupation. And in amongst their dissection of neoliberalism they also have a gibe at Jacob Rees-Mogg, which is also always a good thing.

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The Conservatives and the Sale of Council Housing in Britain and Sweden

May 15, 2016

I’ve put up a couple of pieces, one today and one yesterday, which attempt to expand an article Mike put up on his blog, Vox Political, about the housing shortage and the scandalous rise in evictions. These have now doubled. This ultimately comes back to the Tory sale of council houses under Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s. This was deliberately designed to turn Britain into a home-owning democracy. The stock of council housing was deliberately reduced, and over the years former council houses have been bought up by housing associations and private landlords. As a result, rents in some areas have risen to the point where they are unaffordable.

Michael Sullivan in his book, The Development of the British Welfare State, notes that the Tories took their ideas for Housing Association, as a non-state solution to the housing crisis at the beginning of the ’60s, from Sweden and the Scandinavian countries.

In 1961 the Conservative government, struggling with evidence that the crisis was deepening not tapering out re-introduced substantial subsidies for new build, but, under Joseph, the Ministry of Housing was already turning to new ideas about housing for the poor. Officials seeking non-state solutions to the housing problem visited Scandinavia to investigate their not-for-profit housing association. Sir Keith, already an innovator, invested £25 million in a pilot project in 1961. In 1963, the fruit of that investment twelve two-bedroomed flats in Birmingham, took their first housing association tenants. Here, then, though from social democratic Scandinavia, was an idea that was to take root 20 years later in education and health: the publicly funded but independently managed provider of services. In the dog days of the Conservative government, a jubilant Sir Keith announced a £100 million grant to the newly formed Housing Corporation so that the idea of housing associations could spread. (P. 215).

It is therefore ironic that Sweden is also facing a housing crisis of its own, due to the importation of British Conservative housing policies in the 1990s under a Conservative administration. In 2013 riots erupted in an ethnically mixed sink estate, the product of the government’s abandonment of the social housing policies of Social Democratic administrations. This resulted in the creation of nearly all-White, affluent areas from which the poor were excluded through high rents. Owen Hatherley of the Guardian reported:

Under conservative governments in the 1990s and 2000s, housing began to be privatised, with predictable results, especially given the British experience. Flats in the most desirable areas – here, the city centre – rocketed in price. Yet Stockholm has kept building, and British architects and planners have kept visiting. The “success story” is Hammarby Sjöstad, a waterside scheme which shames the likes of Salford Quays. As much as Vällingby, it shows the virtues of long-term planning over speculation.

But although some of Hammarby was built by the municipality, it’s a wealthy and overwhelmingly white area, and rents are high. It offers little to those exiled to the peripheral million programmes. Hammarby implies that in Sweden, social democracy was only abandoned for the poor. Its innovations were retained for a bourgeoisie whose new areas are far more humane than those provided for them by British developers.

In Stockholm, the centre was cleared of the poor – the likely consequences in London of coalition’s housing policies. The stark segregation visible there means that for the first time, it should stand as an example to London’s planners of what not to do.

To read the Guardian’s article, go to: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/16/sweden-housing-programme-privatisation

The newspaper, The Swedish Wire, also carried a piece about the recommendations of the Swedish building workers’ union and its leader, Hans Tilly in 2010. It stated clearly that the Conservative government’s free market policies had failed. More new homes needed to be built, existing homes renovated and improved, especially for the needs of the elderly and handicapped.

Among the unions’ recommendations were the following points:

Do something tangible about the housing situation of young people. Today’s youth is the first generation that is having greater problems finding somewhere to live compared to their parents’ generation. Therefore we should invest in more rental housing….

Pursue a social housing policy. Everyone must have the right to their own home and this right is often a prerequisite when it comes to giving our children a good environment to grow up in.

• Establish a new Ministry for Community Development. For far too long, these issues have been divided between different policy areas. Hence, what is required is a firm grasp of construction, housing and living environment, infrastructure etc.

The present government’s housing policy is frightening. The coalition government is, however, obviously quite satisfied with what it has achieved when it comes to housing policy. Its motto is choice. The housing policy is to a large extent a non-issue for the present government. The government’s Spring Budget for 2010 gives a summary of what the government itself claims to have done as regards housing policy since 2006. 19 lines describe how the government has worked to achieve a better functioning housing market, how those living in the Million Homes Programme areas have been given the opportunity to buy their homes and how the government has introduced a system of owner occupancy in newly built blocks of flats.

See the article at: http://www.swedishwire.com/opinion/4987-swedens-housing-policy-has-failed

Across the world, Conservative housing policies have failed. They are only creating poverty, social exclusion and homelessness. The time is long past that they should be abandoned.

Last Fortnight’s Private Eye on Dave Cameron’s ‘Right to Buy’ Policy

April 14, 2015

Cameron formally announced today his ‘right to buy’ scheme, which would see the remainder of Britain’s stock of social housing sold off. Tom Pride and Mike over at Vox Political have already posted pieces on this today. I’ve reblogged Mr Pride’s, in which he tells it like it is. It’s just a return of Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ scheme from the 1980s.

He goes further, and describes Cameron as ‘a pound-shop Maggie Thatcher’. Which is pretty much exactly what he is. Though it does leave you feeling that we’ve been short-changed. Surely with his blue-blood and Eton education he could be something a bit more up-market. A Fortnum & Mason’s Maggie Thatcher, perhaps, or may be a Harrod’s Maggie Thatcher? Or perhaps something a little more popular, but still offering quality: a Sainsbury food hall Maggie Thatcher?

Mr Pride also points out that the beneficiaries of the original right-to-buy fiasco weren’t the ordinary tenants, but the private landlords who purchased them and then hoiked the rents up accordingly. People like Charles Gow, the son of the minister, who privatised them. Young master Gow is a multi-millionaire with forty of them.

Johnny Void also wrote a piece I’ve reblogged earlier last year, when IDS announced it as his big idea, pointing out, along with Mike, that it would lead to a complete absence of council houses, and that the affordable housing that’s supposed to replace it isn’t anything of the sort. It won’t solve the housing crisis. It will only make it worse.

Which was Private Eye’s view in their last issue a fortnight ago. In ‘Housing News’ they wrote

The wheels are falling off Tory housing policy as the desperate search for votes intensifies.

Chancellor George Osborne’s final budget saw yet another ineffective give-away to first-time buyers in the form of “Help to Buy ISAs” – up to £3,000 in taxpayer cash to top up savings for a deposit. Like umpteen other schemes designed to help those who can’t afford a mortgage, this one may just inflate prices further while failing to address shortage of supply.

Not to be outdone, the Iain Duncan Smith faction promptly leaked the latest version of its own pet idea: to extend the Right to Buy to Britain’s 2.5m housing association tenants. This sounds like music to Tory ears until one realises that, unlike the social homes owned by the councils, housing association assets are private property.

For decades, governments trying to keep the national debt down have restrained council borrowing by tying up council housing assets in ring-fenced housing revenue accounts (HRA) and making it almost impossible for councils to build. Housing associations, on the other hand, are independent charities so their £65 bn in borrowing is safely “off balance sheet”.

As the chancellor must be only too aware, compelling housing associations to sell to tenants and use the RTB discounts enjoyed by council tenants (up to £102, 700 in London and £77,000 elsewhere) would cost serious amounts of taxpayer money and bankrupt a few housing associations. Then again, as this is the eighth election in row where the Conservative party has said it will extend RTB to housing association tenants, will the vote-catcher fare any better than usual?

That isn’t the end of the TRB saga. Under localism, some councils have found a way round Treasury borrowing caps via public-private partnerships, using the new “general power of competence” to create their own “local housing companies” and build homes – for sale and for social rent – and keep them outside the HRA. Not only does this evade the borrowing caps, but it also means the new homes are not, er, subject to the Right to Buy. Housing minister Brandon Lewis is not happy, and has threatened councils with serious reprisals. So much for localism.

Now public-private partnerships, like the Private Finance Initiative, are by and large a colossal waste of money and a massive drain on the state, all in order to provide contracts to the Tories’ donors in private industry. But if local councils are using such schemes to build more social housing, then perhaps we could do with more of them in this specific instance.

As for Osbo and his Help-to-Buy ISAs, one of the commenters over at Tom Pride’s or Johnny Void’s blogs stated that the last thing the Tories wanted was for the price of housing to go down, as this would have a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy through the way mortgages are used to stimulate finances elsewhere. Hence in the short-term, I really don’t think Osbo would be at all worried about housing prices going up, so long as the bubble burst when someone other than the Tories were in power.

As for the ‘Right-to-Buy’ policy having now been wheeled out by the Tories in eight elections in a row, that shows that they have absolutely no intention of honouring it. Not if it’s been touted in the past, but obviously not been put it into practice, if they’re still claiming they’re going to do it this time.

This means that Mr Pride was probably being overgenerous in his description of Cameron as a ‘pound-shop Maggie Thatcher’. The stuff in pound shops is cheap, but it’s still good quality. This, however, is a decidedly shop-worn policy, that is definitely past it’s sell by date. This is the Arthur Daley, Trotters Independent Traders version of Maggie Thatcher. If the policy was an animal, it’d be the dead parrot in the Monty Python sketch, gone to join the ‘choir invisibule’.