‘Benefit cuts don’t affect me, everyone else can fuck off’

Ugh, I’m depressed. A post on Londonist about how benefit caps, specifically housing benefit, will in all likelihood force 15,000 poor families out of central London has been met by a slew of comments along the lines of “so? I can’t afford to live in central London so why should someone who earns less than me?”

I suspect the Londonist demographic is largely like me – incomers to London, no real family where they live, chose to live where they do according to their income and whose ‘support network’ are their fellow middle-class mates. But it’s not a huge leap of imagination for me to imagine someone who’s grown up in Somers Town or, like this lady, in Queens Park, who has a couple of kids and a low paying job who relies on benefits to keep them near their family, the schools, the social workers and doctors who’ve known them all their lives.

Apparently the correct reaction is to say “fuck ’em” and assume it’ll be as easy for them to carve out a new life for themselves as it was for me, when I moved from Muswell Hill to Lewisham – for economic reasons. Never mind that I’m (usually) capable of earning enough to go swanning off into town on my travelcard to see my friends who live all over the place, that I don’t have kids to look after and clothe and feed and sort out childcare for, that this was entirely my choice because I am middle class and well educated and only start to go a little bit crazy when I haven’t left the flat in four days (I really must leave the flat today).

I can make the imaginative leap to realise that it might be different for others. I’m not special, I have no particular cognitive gift; why can’t other people see it? Are they really so wrapped up in their own small worlds that they can, in all seriousness, leave comments like:

I am happy to hear that people who can’t afford to live in London are being moved out of London.

I work in the City, but I can’t afford to buy a place there. Not even an ex-council flat, the likes of which are offered free to people that contribute less (or nothing) to the economy.

Why should I be forced to commute from the suburbs, whereas cleaners and unemployed people get to live in the heart of the city I love, subsidised by my money?

You’re right. Why should your cleaner travel home at 2 in the morning to their home that’s a bus ride away, instead of having to trawl all the way out to Uxbridge?

Why does your sample family need a three bedroom flat unless they have 6 or more children – if you want to live in the heart of one of the world’s top cities, the least you can do is have your kids share bedrooms.

Two or fewer children to a bedroom? Then you’re positively wealthy.

Just because you are born somewhere does not give you a right to remain there.  If I could live in central London for free then that would be great, unfortunately I can’t – and so the question is why should someone else?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’ll just ask this pensioner who’s lived in Finsbury for 70 years…

This is a poorly thought out article regurgitating other poorly thought out and briefly researched stories appearing in the papers and online yesterday.

This article is less than useful: it’s fodder for inflaming an already tense situation. Housing is the single biggest repository of misery in this country, and the above piece does nothing to reflect on the wider issue or document an individual case study.

I am shit.

(I also want to take a moment to say that when someone posts a comment on Londonist, the site emails a copy of that to my inbox. It takes effort, sometimes, to remain detached and remind myself that it’s not personal when stuff like this comes pouring into my personal email account.)

Seeing as everybody seems to want to talk about this on an economic, rather than human scale (oh, how quickly we all became Tories), consider this. Forcing the poor to the outer boroughs is going to put extra pressure on housing (are 15,000 extra homes really going to become available in a few months? Perhaps more, when you factor in other people who’ve been made redundant and are looking for cheaper housing?), council services like schools and social services, and NHS facilities. So that’s your rent and council tax going up and your local doctor and dentist who you can’t get an appointment to see. For a governmental saving of £250m nationally (when you consider Vodafone was just told to pay £1.25billion in evaded tax this summer), is it worth bringing the extra pressure to your doorstep?

I am profoundly depressed that the argument has to come to that.


8 responses to “‘Benefit cuts don’t affect me, everyone else can fuck off’

  1. Alice October 6, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Don’t let the commenters get to you – I found that hard on Londonist too.

    Remember, for every 1 person on the internet who writes a scathing comment, there are at least 5 readers who agree with you but say nothing.

  2. Darryl October 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I suspect the distrust that many fresh-faced incomers have of native Londoners – including and beyond those you mention – is because they’re fleeing rubbish towns elsewhere for the bright lights, and don’t understand why anyone would want to stick around where they grew up.

    It shows in media too – very few people in the national press or broadcasting are from London, but their coverage is utterly London-centric. Lots of young people trying to deny their own roots by disparaging those who’ve stuck close to them.

  3. Clare October 6, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Top stuff, don’t let the commenters get to you. There are sensible people out there too!

  4. Max Calo' October 6, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    I left a comment on the Londonist pointing at the inflationary effect of housing allowance on everyone’s rent, I entirely agree on the unfairness and negative repercussions that the proposed measures will have and how this must be avoided, I read on Dave Hill’s blog that some measures are being looked at, so that may be a solution.
    On the other hand the system is just incredibly expensive and must be reformed, and I think that a large scale investment in social housing is the only way to do that, and part of the cost could be born by the offset of the housing allowance cost.
    When last May I was out canvassing I spoke with a single mother with two children that receives actually quite a lot of money each month to pay for her rent, and is forced to move every few months because the landlord of the day increases the rent and she can’t afford it anymore, so the current system is already shifting people anyway, and she’d love to get a Council flat, or she cannot afford to take a job because… she’d lose her housing allowance.

  5. rachel bagelmouse October 6, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you everyone! *hugs*

    I agree with you Max, in that we need more social housing pronto. And while we’re waiting for that we can at least take a sympathetic view towards the people who need it and are forced into the private market.

    There’s a New Statesman article that accuses the Tories of orchestrating this mass flight of the poor in order to construct majorities in constituencies they think they should have won. I think this is going way too far down the Doctor Evil line, but in conjunction with the idea that we need more social housing, it did make me realise that it’s the outer boroughs who will be stuck building said social housing in the future – because that’s where the need will be. (I know, it was a somewhat tortuous train of thought.) Let’s clear the unemployed and low paid out of potential Tory strongholds so we don’t have to deal with them in future! RAH! Low council tax for central London Tory seats! RAH!

  6. Ansum October 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    It also increases pressure on transport infrastructure if the relocated poor or jobless later find work back in the city.

    I figure Tory ideology actually depends on the people doing low-pay jobs in the city needing to actually live in it. As a consequence of that, a number of people living in Zone 1 but unemployed for some time would be unavoidable and any attempt to eradicate that scenario strikes me as impractical if not unworkable.

    There is some distaste towards the concept of the low income urban family – a lot of which is to do with concerns about the limitations of the inner city itself. Do they have enough space at home? Is there enough space at school for the kids to run around? Are the streets safe and clean enough? Along with money this is what motivates a metropolitan elite to raise their kids in the outer zones. The question of whether that is most people’s if not everyone’s ultimate aspiration and the consequences of that are fascinating go straight to the heart of what defines our society.

  7. Christie Malry October 6, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    The Vodafone case really wasn’t tax evasion. Not even HMRC would call it that. It arose from the UK’s extra-territorial tax rules on foreign companies, and was settled out of court for much less than the provision held in Vodafone’s books. HMRC settled because they knew there was a good chance they’d lose in court.

  8. chris Leonard October 21, 2010 at 11:29 am

    I am shocked at the hatred there appears to be towards people on benefits. I would have thought we are all aware that there are some benefit cheats but we tend to forget that there are far more people who either avoid paying the tax they should like George Osborne himself, or just hide earnings to not pay the tax they should. The people here who message and complain about the money spent housing people who cannot afford to house themselves should be asking why do they pay so much tax when a person like George Osborne is not helping them as he hides his money in places like the Caymen Isles. I would have thought that if the rich paid their way in this country we would not have to have any attacks on the poor at all but how can we expect fairness from a government full of people who avoid paying tax themselves! We knew historically that a conservative government would attack the least well off as that is what they always do. We know how their politics cause civil unrest as they are always very divisive. It would appear they are succeeding in what they intend our country to be like judging by some of the vitriolic comments aimed at people who claim benefits on this site. It is depressing that we now will have 5 years of unrest and rising breakdown of society from a conservative party who took control without a mandate to do what they have done and will continue to do. Things will only get worse. We are in this mess, as is most of the rest of the world because of bankers and private companies. Conservatives want us to grow the banking and private sector and they say this will sort all of our problems. I say we need to bring into control the banking industry, make it pay for the mess it created and stop attacking the poor and start making this country a good and fair place to live by taxing the rich and making sure they pay the tax and not avoid paying any tax as seems to happen now.

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