Once, I had to rent a flat in central London for a very brief time.
It was a dump and cheap but if I wanted to buy food, coming home
late from work, I almost had to take out a bank loan. Even a pint
of milk had a 50 per cent hike.
At Community Care Live last week, community care minister
Stephen Ladyman asked social workers to give him radical ideas for
reshaping adults services. Someone should perhaps look at the
perennial challenge of the poor marooned in a sea of affluence.
Waverley borough, for instance, is in very upmarket Surrey. In an
effort to retain a mixed economy, it has operated a principled
policy of re-investing the returns from council house sales back
into housing for those unable to afford the over-inflated prices of
the commercial market.
Now, the government has decided that 75 per cent of such revenue
should be pooled to distribute as it chooses. The long-term result
in Waverley, as elsewhere, will be communities with a vacuum where
the young people in their twenties and thirties should be, driven
out because they can’t afford to live in their own area. They leave
and so does a vital source of labour for the social care and
Meanwhile, those on the very lowest income who do remain exist on
benefits that fail to reflect that they live in one of the highest
income areas in the country. Nor, as has been pointed out many
times before, do they have access to a range of schemes such as
Sure Start and neighbourhood regeneration.
They could move, of course. But why should they – and divorce
themselves from a network of friends and family? That is also the
reason why, if benefits were customised to reflect say, regional
differences in the cost of living, most claimants would not uproot
and relocate where benefits are highest.
The Conservative peer Lord Tebbit, once instructed job seekers to
get on their bikes and find work. To his deep frustration,
relatively few listened. In a cold and cruel world, the comfort of
family – however fraught and tricky – is still infinitely
preferable to a wage packet and living in isolation.
Initially, the most deprived areas in Britain required priority
action. Perhaps now, however, it’s time to adjust policy to help
those whose equally desperate need is disguised by the healthy bank
balances of their neighbours.