Thursday, 12 August 2010

Unintended Consequences & Broken-Up Thinking

God, all these changes with regard to Housing Benefit and council housing are stressing people out. It's the uncertainty that's getting to constituents more than anything else, although some are pointing out how many of the proposals are contradictory, at least in what their effects are likely to be.

Mrs Jennings rings up to say that she has been thinking of trying to exchange her council house for a smaller one, now her children are grown up. She wants to know whether, if she goes ahead with an exchange, her tenancy agreement on the new house will be time-limited. I can't give her a definitive answer, as no-one seems to have addressed this particular issue at all, though it does seem likely to me.

"They must think people are bloody stupid if they think anyone will move to a smaller house if that's going to be what happens to their security," she says. "People will just cling on to their houses 'til they die."

"It does seem rather ill thought-out," I say. "But we will have to wait and see." I don't say that what we don't know is what the exact nature of the carrots and sticks will be.

Mrs Jennings appears to be clearer-sighted than some ministers. Her next point seems equally valid:

"So, tell me this, then - what about all these plans they've got to make people move to find jobs? They aren't going to work either, are they? No-one's going to give up a secure tenancy for a time-limited one. Not when they're low-paid and their jobs are insecure."

I'm particularly confused by that particular set of plans myself. Constituents have always been able to exchange with tenants of other councils, as far as I'm aware. The only factors that I've ever known to prevent such arrangements are when one of the parties has been in rent arrears, or has had too few children to merit the size of house they would be swapping for. Maybe it's just a re-branding exercise. God knows, politicians are good at that.

I just wish the coalition would get on and clarify the detail so that we can actually start giving constituents some properly informed advice. At the moment, policy on housing and Housing Benefit seems a contradictory mess, which may well end up having the opposite effect to the one the coalition is hoping for.

It's always the same when politicians try to be radical. I bet they're not consulting caseworkers, or anyone else who lives in the real world - as per bloody usual. Meanwhile, some of our most fragile constituents are beside themselves with anxiety. Those with physical illnesses are finding it harder to cope, and those with mental health issues are losing the plot entirely. It's certainly not making any of them more able to lead more independent lives.

It seems as if it must be every man (or woman) for themselves in the Government at the moment, even more than is usually the case. Do they even talk to each other, before they make policy announcements to the Press? It's worse than when Blair was PM - though that business of dragging those guilty of anti-social behaviour to a cashpoint, in order to make them pay an on-the-spot fine, was a classic of its kind...... Maybe we should have an experiment, where MPs and ministers do their caseworkers' jobs for a three-month internship, while the caseworkers go off and make policy. The results couldn't be any worse.

I hate stupid jargon, but joined-up thinking does seem to have been conspicuously absent from some of the coalition's recent announcements, at least from Mrs Jennings' perspective. And it's not just a problem with regard to housing. Witness the lack of consistency between the Equalities Minister's position on "body confidence"(not to mention her sometimes derogatory language about the thin), and that of the Public Health Minister, who wants to bring back use of the word "fat."

I'm looking forward to seeing who will win on that particular issue: Lynne or Anne. I'd quite like to have Government approval to respond to Max's mother's rude comments in kind, next time she starts on me about being "as skinny as a rake." Last time we went round there, she peered at me, then said,

"Molly, you are far too skinny. Your arms are like sticks, and you have no bottom. No bottom at all."

I said nothing, as usual - though Max did mutter under his breath,

"That's because you've got a big enough arse for four people, for f*ck's sake."

Now I come to think of it, it was nice that Max was moved to mumble in my defence, even if he did stop short of speaking loud enough to make himself heard. Maybe that's what the problem is with the coalition? Too much mumbling, not enough yelling.


  1. Tory housing policy even more contradictory than you think. It is their stated aim to allow council/housing association tenants the right to purchase 'equity stakes' in their otherwise rented homes. So you can keep your home and have security if you are really poor, or doing really well, just woe betide if you happen to fall somewhere in the middle.

  2. Oh, good God. That's so typical. And illogical. The constituents in social housing who seem to have the biggest struggle anyway are those who are on low incomes, but who don't qualify for full Housing Benefit, or are just over the threshold for HB. Which rather begs a question as to how any of this encourages aspiration (although I have to admit that this was an issue under Labour too...)

  3. "Maybe we should have an experiment, where MPs and ministers do their caseworkers' jobs for a three-month internship, while the caseworkers go off and make policy."

    Now that's a good idea. I always been amazed at how much poor legislation gets through the forensic challenge of such an intelligent and committed bunch of legislators. The answer of course is that most have never had a proper job. They seem to move seamlessly from nappy to grave being nothing more than MPs, bag carriers or policy advisers. And their policy advice is based on their experience of, err, giving policy advice.