NY Brit expat looks at the Tories suggestion of imposing collective punishment on working class, usually muti-racial communities by depriving people of social houisng if anyone in their household is involved in the riots.
Whether this is bluster or a policy that will be carried out (designed to get the right of the Tory party behind him), the Prime Minster, David Cameron has supported the call for looters to be evicted from council housing. Even more so, some Councils are looking to do the same to those in tenanted housing by extending the laws dealing with anti-social behaviour.
Given that these are young people, this policy means that their families are to be evicted from council housing (and tenanted housing if the law is changed) as well. Several city and local London councils have already stated that they plan to evict those convicted of looting along with their families. Additional discussion on a government e-petition web-site has raised the removal of these people from benefits completely (http://www.guardian.co.uk/…, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/… ,); if 100,000 people sign this petition it triggers a process leading to MPs (parliament) voting on the plan.
Policy along these lines amounts to collective punishment. Why should their families, innocent parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, their partners and their own children bear the punishment for the actions of a few? Moreover, it is essential that separating those that are career criminals from angry and hopeless young people that participated in the riots. This type of collective punishment and extension of blame the victim mentality is not specific to the ConDem government. It can be found to the attempts during New Labour’s reign to punish parents by reducing their benefits when their kids were persistently absent from school (href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/…) and the Mandatory Parenting Orders given to parents of children that received ASBO’s (anti-social behaviour orders) (http://www.ialibrary.bis.gov.uk/…; http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/…).
Eviction from housing
Several local authorities have said they will seek to evict social tenants who are convicted of being involved in rioting across English cities, among them Nottingham City Council, Salford City Council and Westminster, Greenwich and Hammersmith and Fulham councils in London (href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/…).
Cameron has supported these proposals and argued (http://www.bbc.co.uk/…):
What I do think can be part of solving the problem is saying to people in social housing: if you misbehave, you can be thrown out of your house.”
He added later that, for tenants whose behaviour was “appalling it should be possible to evict them and keep them evicted”.He also told MPs: “I think there may be opportunities, possibly through the new criminal justice and sentencing legislation, to make sure we are better at confiscating things from people when they commit crimes.”
This will obviously discriminate against housing council tenants specifically. Given institutionalised racism in this country, and the link between race and class in poverty in this country, what is the probability that this will be applied more against families of colour rather than white working class and poor families? The extension to those on private tenancies receiving housing benefit completes an all-out attack on the poor, working poor and working class in London whose children participated in these riots. Moreover, it will punish whole families for the actions of some of their members that already alienated and facing a desperate future due to lack of jobs and opportunities.
How does creating homelessness deal with the poverty, persistent unemployment and lack of hope that created this problem? Rather than dealing with poverty and permanent unemployment caused by economic policies instituted from Thatcher onwards, rather than deal with systematic and institutional racism, they insist on blaming and punishing the victims of these policies. Poverty and lack of hope for the future drives most of these riots; certainly organised crime groups participated, long term criminals have participated. However, the vast numbers of poor and working class young people that joined and expanded the rioting in London can not be explained away as simply criminal actions. The hardcore criminal element that participated in these riots must be separated from the poor and desperate youth that were expressing their anger.
Criminalising these young people will merely continue the cycles of deprivation and criminality that engulf those that have limited opportunities for their futures. Instead of talking of throwing these kids in prison and vengeance, instead of throwing these families out of their communities and facing homelessness, let’s talk about the economic and social issues that have created this situation. Community work to help rebuild communities rather than imprisonment will certainly do less to reinforce the cycles of poverty and criminality characterising the lives on urban youth.
What does this mean for those already facing deprivation and poverty?
Council housing (this is public housing at very low rents) is given to those already extremely poor and with low income levels usually on government benefit. Being thrown out of council housing, and with housing benefit levels fixed, means that these families will have to pay market value for housing in their areas. While housing benefits are not being withdrawn or threatened to be withdrawn, rent money will need to be made up out of other income. Thus people that already extremely economically deprived and living on the edge of poverty will now have even less money to live on.
The other possibility facing these people is to leave their communities in the inner boroughs of London and move outside to the outer boroughs where rents are lower; again in working class and poor areas. Already facing government cuts to their budgets and the inability to raise council taxes, these councils do not have sufficient council housing to cover these families. Moreover, competition amongst the poor for housing will enable predatory private landlords and speculators to raise rents in these areas. Houses are already divided up and are being rented by the room at exorbitant rents to students and the poor in these areas; will whole families be cramped into one room to satisfy the needs of immediate vengeance of the government to enable Cameron to unite the Tory right behind him?
Housing benefit cuts
The government has already introduced measures cutting housing benefits to the poor to be capped at a certain level which is clearly below the market value for rents in wealthy areas in London (http://www.bbc.co.uk/…).
To provide some history: council housing and those on housing benefits are not limited to poor and working class areas. Much council housing was built in areas devastated by the Blitz during WWII. While the East End of London bore the brunt of the destruction (deliberate attempts to protect the wealthy west end during the Blitz have been documented), council houses were built throughout London. Thatcher’s policies allowing for the sale of council houses to tenants devastated public housing and enabled gentrification of poorer areas.
There is no question that the cuts in housing benefit that are part of ConDem austerity measures will lead to rising homelessness and undermine communities that are already partly gentrified and will place incredible difficulties for those already living in working class and poor areas in the other boroughs. There have already been legal challenges on the basis of equality legislation (http://www.bbc.co.uk/…).
The purpose of these measures is to force the poor (especially people of colour) outside of the wealthy centre of London and further out to the outer boroughs where the rents are lower. This will enable wealthy white people to have access to the areas in which the poor are concentrated in wealthier boroughs enabling them to develop and gentrify these areas.
This will make the centre of London a completely white upper class haven similar to Paris where the central arrondissements (http://en.wikipedia.org/…) are composed of white upper class people and the poor (largely people of colour from North Africa and other former French colonies) are located around the périphérique of the city. These measures have come under criticism not only from the opposition political parties (Labour and Greens) and the left, but questions have been raised from within the Tory party itself (http://www.bbc.co.uk/…). The question remains if the government will be able to use these riots to actually carry out its hopes of clearing the poor out from some of the inner boroughs in the centre without recourse to the cuts in housing benefits that are facing legal challenge and opposition?