Love don't pay the rent: Comments on Cameron's speech

Love don't pay the rent: Comments on Cameron's speech

Collective Action offer some initial and cursory remarks on David Cameron's speech today in which he announced his party's intention to make further massive cuts in welfare and to scrap housing benefit for the under-25s. These comments are to be followed by a more substantial look at what these cuts mean to the working class.

1. The high proportional cost of housing benefit relates less to the value of the existing (and depleted) social housing stock and more to the over-inflated rates of private tenancy. Any kind of state regulation in this sphere, however, would be political suicide considering the millions that all parties (but especially the Tories) receive from wealthy property developers and the economic impact this would have on the sector.

2. Cameron's comments on the "unfairness" of benefits rising with the rate of inflation, while wages drop, re-affirms the disciplining role of unemployment and the unemployed to the workforce. In essence; claimants are poor, but not as poor as they should be.

3. The proposed scrapping of housing benefit for the under-25s should not only be recognised as a further attack on a lost generation but an attempt by the state to shift the responsibilities concerning the reproduction of labour power. This is a dynamic that can be seen also in the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance, workfare placements and spiralling rates of student debt. All of which disproportionately affect young people but also modify the material conditions (and "self-investment" needed) for entering the workforce.

4. In scrapping housing benefit the state wants to go further by shifting the burden of housing young proletarians back on to their parents, perhaps in the hope that they might learn a thing or two from this "bought" generation - those who are the products of Thatcher's social engineering, who are getting poorer but are predominantly property-"owners" (mortgaged) and relatively economically stable. In this sense Cameron hopes to rely on past compositional changes in the working class - in the original sell-off of the social housing stock - to both stabilise and discipline an increasingly precarious young workforce. A young workforce which both trashed his party headquarters and burnt and looted the capital in August. This attempt to move reproduction back into the private sphere is something that can be likewise seen in the (less popularly covered) attacks on disability allowance. This is what the rhetoric of the "Big Society" denotes, that proletarians have to now accept the burden of social reproduction (something which was previously paid via taxes and guaranteed through welfare). It should therefore be understood not as further attacks on minority sections of the class (the young, the unemployed) but a generalised attack on the conditions of all workers.

Comments

Joseph Kay
Jun 25 2012 18:51
Collective Action wrote:
The high proportional cost of housing benefit relates less to the value of the existing (and depleted) social housing stock and more to the over-inflated rates of private tenancy. Any kind of state regulation in this sphere, however, would be political suicide considering the millions that all parties (but especially the Tories) receive from wealthy property developers and the economic impact this would have on the sector.

the point about the political power of property developers (i.e. as a faction of capital) is an interesting one. i tend to agree, but the thing is, housing benefit is effectively a subsidy to landlords. i mean, it's paid to workers by the state, and more or less paid straight back to their landlords.

so cutting housing benefit may well hurt landlords. i guess what they're relying on is that demand for housing is pretty inelastic, i.e. people need housing and will prioritise rent over other spending (increasingly including food). But if this does have the effect of forcing young workers back in with their families (thus 'privatising' costs of social reproduction), that would seem to be at the expense of landlords who lose rental income.

I'm not sure what the significance of this might be, but it seems worth drawing attention to.

soc
Jun 26 2012 11:25

@JK: I was wondering on the same issue, but I think I see what they did there. Housing benefit is of course a subsidy for the landlords, however there's also a drive to cut the social spending budget. If there would be a legislation that would limit the rent, that would affect virtually all landlords, except perhaps the ones with the most luxurious properties.
Landlords are already trying to get rid of tenants on housing benefit because they already know that eventually the councils can't afford to pay all the claimants and therefore try to find any excuse not to pay, adding new hops to jump through in the bureaucracy. So, while it will hit some landlords the cuts in the housing benefit system, the entire landlord population would get away without rent-control.

My all time favourite is the age restrictions. It seems that this is also due to the demographics of a developed nation: The younger layers of the voting population (immigrants and 2nd generation of the immigrant population thus excluded) are less numerous thus less interesting in terms of political aims. In other parts of Europe with lesser immigration, this trend is completely clear cut, but in the UK it could be the turning point for the worse for the traditionally anti-immigrant right wing rhetoric.

fingers malone
Jun 26 2012 15:04

soc, could you explain that again about age and voting and immigrants?

georgestapleton
Jun 26 2012 18:52

Hmmm. I'm not totally sure that this is accurate:

Quote:
the point about the political power of property developers (i.e. as a faction of capital) is an interesting one. i tend to agree, but the thing is, housing benefit is effectively a subsidy to landlords. i mean, it's paid to workers by the state, and more or less paid straight back to their landlords.

Housing benefit is a subsidy to landlords in two senses. 1. In the sense that it pays higher than the landlord would get on the open market without the contributions of housing benefit. 2. In the sense that it pays more than would be necessary through public sector investment.

Now I think that both of those definitely play a role, but I don't think it is the case that the the political power of property developers exists in the form of a property owning section of capital that has captured a certain area of the state and thereby set state policy in their interests and use the state to divert tax revenue into their pockets. I assume you don't think that either, but I think its worth emphasising that the political powers of various interest groups doesn't mean that those groups are homogenous or that they have captured political power.

Joseph Kay
Jun 26 2012 19:04

Yeah, I was more trying to reflect the quoted argument about the unlikihood of the government pissing off property developers. Ok, that can't be reduced to party donations (otherwise the labour party would stand up for trade unions), but reflects the class nature of the state etc.

ACD
Jun 27 2012 00:56

Denying under-25 housing benefit and forcing them to return to family homes (assuming they have one or it is safe enough for them to return i.e. no abusive family members etc) effectively moves housing for this demographic at least out of public responsibility and back into private family responsibility, and effectively depoliticises the issue. This can be seen in countries like Italy, where there is very little in the way of social housing for anyone and due to the lack of welfare available especially for young people, families must play a larger role since they are then the only safety net between people and living on the street. In my opinion, as a result, housing is not a political issue at all, rarely if ever discussed in the political sphere, and the ruling class does not see it as their problem. On the other hand, Italy has a good strong squatting movement (but this is also possible due to the greater ineptness of law&order enforcement in Italy)!

soc
Jun 27 2012 11:41
fingers malone wrote:
soc, could you explain that again about age and voting and immigrants?

Okay, so my point was, that in the parliamentary democracy, every political move is addressed to a specific perceived or real interest group. For example, when there's a benefit cut for unemployed people, it is addressed to the actively working low waged workers, that politicians make sure to abolish the injustice of the welfare system by depriving people from any income if they don't work.

In this case, there's a particular demographic issue with the so called developed countries, with an ageing population, that is, at some point, there are more elderly than young people. This means, that politicians won't give a damn about the current young generation because their votes are less worth to pursue than those above 50. This older generation is more likely to vote, and their number is higher.

Immigration changes the demographic of the age distribution both in the receiver and the source countries. But the first generation immigrants will not have voting rights for long if ever in their life. But in countries with massive immigration, such as in the UK, the second and later generation of immigrants, who doesn't necessarily follow the same demographic trends as the "original" citizens, therefore the situation could end up with a change in this demographic trend. The funny thing is, that keeping up with the same politics, which addresses the actively working 50 somethings, could actually antagonize the youth to the point where they would not count on any change, thus they withdraw from voting. Politics became the game of the over 40's in Europe in generational terms. I would not be surprised if eventually we would see a rise in the age requirement of the electorate, or any other restraining condition that would end up with the same result. You see, there's the ever green chorus against the "extremes", which means mostly the youth movements of all kinds are forced out of "moderate politics", just getting louder and louder.

In fact, I suspect that the underlying drive for the anti-violence rhetoric of the OWS originates from the need of creating a "radically moderate" movement for the youth, that would admit some of them in to the sphere of the politics of the adults. Funnily enough, this movement could only make a difference when it departed from the original premise of all peace, and turn to a more militant focus. All the rest became an other dead-end peace camp, in which people die of old age camping outside of some meaningless government building and claim it as victory.

wojtek
Jun 27 2012 17:21

I was going to ask what 'social reproduction' meant, but then I read this piece which I think is relevent.

Klaus
Aug 9 2012 17:50

FWIW here's the Wine & Cheese Appreciation Society's take on the same speech:

http://www.junge-linke.org/en/benefit-envy-without-benefit

It focuses on Cameron's attempt to mobilise the working poor to support the impoverishment of the unemployed and compares that with Occupy's agitation against bankers' bonuses.

Jason Cortez
Aug 9 2012 22:58

oh how radical of them