The Right wing think tank Policy Exchange has published a report today calling for social housing worth more than average house prices in an area to be sold and the money invested in new houses. They claim this equates to some 22% of all social housing and would release £159bn. The English Housing Minister has welcomed the idea, describing it as "blindingly obvious".
Apart from the obvious practicalities of such a plan what would be the consequences? I was about to say "unforeseen consequences", but of course these right wing zealots have thought through the consequences and are very happy with them. Shirley Porter was simply ahead of her time, in their view.
The main consequence would be another round of social cleansing on top of the impact changes to Housing Benefit will have. Moving the poor and disadvantaged from rich areas into ghettos for the poor. The low paid can be bussed into privileged areas to do menial tasks, so long as they don't stay to "ruin the neighbourhood". Piling up likely Labour votes in certain constituencies and taking them from Tory marginals, is another advantage building on Shirley Porter's grand plan. The UK government are also planning to change the requirement on developers in England to provide a mix of housing in new developments, including low cost. Spot a strategy here?
However, I spot an even bigger strategy at play here. The wider aim of these zealots is to undermine universalism and turn the welfare state into a very modest safety net on the US model. If middle class support for universalism can be eroded, then the path is clear for the low, flat tax society with small government limited to simply defending the wealth and privileges of the rich.
They have spotted that support for public services is stronger when we all use them. The NHS has 90%+ approval ratings, but social housing is less than 30%. Arguably, this is because most people don't live in social housing. It can be viewed as for disadvantaged people, not "us". Social housing has the additional disadvantage of traditionally being spatially segregated. Not for us and over there. Newer social housing has focused on mixed developments to avoid spatial segregation, but this plan is aimed at stopping that development.
This report is a good example of taking what appears to be a cost effective proposal as a response to austerity. But it's real aim is part of a clearly thought out strategy to accentuate the "them and us" approach to society and undermine the welfare state. Making it another casualty of the crash, caused by the very Neo-Liberal thinkers that are attempting to use the consequences of their ideology for political purposes.