Next Saturday (19th May 2012) I am speaking at a Brighton Fringe event being organised by the Labour Representation Committee on the theme ‘We can afford Welfare and Housing’.
I am slightly in awe of others on the panel, not least Kevin Maguire (Daily Mirror associate editor & New Statesman columnist) and Teresa Pearce MP who sits on the House of Commons Work & Pensions Select Committee.
Of course, as the seventh richest country in the world, the UK can afford welfare and housing. An alternate view is that the UK cannot afford not to afford welfare and housing. Social coherence depends on it, and the reputation of the UK as a civilised country would be, perhaps is being, undermined by an ever increasing number of men and women sleeping on our streets.
In Brighton and Hove we have seen the number of rough sleepers increase from 14 in November 2010 to almost 40 a year later, and now there is a consensus that the number is in excess of 70.
The reality is 70% of the cuts already agreed have yet to bite. And one of the key safety nets, the availability of legal aid, is being eroded.
The post-war consensus on the Welfare State is being challenged; indeed, it could be argued that it has been destroyed. A new settlement is required that looks at how state-subsidised welfare and housing is provided, and what impact it should have.
In the 1980’s, the subsidy provided to social housing was moved from the subsidy of bricks and mortar to subsiding rents. That shift is being accelerated by increasing the subsidy provided to those buying their council houses. Such subsidy does not add value; rather it moves public money into private hands. That way the affordability of social housing is undermined.
Future discussions should be based on an understanding that welfare and housing can be afforded. The tough discussion is how that subsidy can best be used.