Not the last word on St Michael’s Gate

by on 16th December 2016

Momentum North Cambs supporting St Michael’s Gate residents outside Peterborough Town Hall 14DEC16 – (c) Unknown


I am sure that the tenants of SMG join with me in thanking everyone who came along to support the petition and to take part in the protest which brought in a good share of media attention. This is an issue which will NOT die down; SMG are at the sharp end but the legalised ‘benefit farming’ whereby private companies profit by maximizing their take from public taxes is not only abhorrent but something that HM Government needs to shut down.


We pay our taxes for the common good; for the NHS and Emergency Services, for the provision of infrastructure and systems which support our citizens – not for private profit. Public housing may have been sold off because it was a maintenance liabilty well before the concept of ‘sustainability’ entered the political consciousness and the failure to address this has taken decisions out of the democratic domain and into the hands of private developers and corporate plcs. The exploitation of that rare commodity in the UK, land available for development – for the maximum profit that can be wrung out of it, puts home ownership beyond the reach of the wage earner; even “dual income households” struggle to obtain mortgages at record low interest rates. Just as the price of new cars have taken them beyond bank loans and mobile phones can no longer be affordably financed within a 12-month contract, mortgages are starting to move away from the 25-year term. Loans will in future either extend over more than one generation as in Japan or be taken out of the reach of single family units: would-be homeowners will have to combine to form individual companies to contract with the moneylenders.


Until the Chancellor of the Exchequer and HMRC clamp down on the practice of ‘buy to let’ -an investment procedure which does nothing for the economy, save fuel an artificial property ‘bubble’, this madness will continue. Scrap the means for supporting this greedy and selfish capitalism and use public funds to develop alternative housing models; bring the rental sector of social housing provision back within local / regional government, where the statutory obligation to house people is not referred to ‘housing providers’ but remains the responsibility of the local authority as a direct landlord, answerable to the people who fund that democratic institution through their taxes.


The nature of British politics is adversarial rather than consensual. For my part, I would have hoped that Labour (had they the majority in Peterborough) would have refused the Stef & Philips offer (as happened in Labour controlled Luton) and instituted a policy of housebuilding (as per the City of Cambridge – another Labour authority.)


Having trotted out what I may have been expected to say, I would welcome the opportunity to work with the current administration to provide a solution. I obtained a quotation (not mere costings) for the provision of furnished cabin accommodation, inclusive of groundworks and connection to drainage and utilities for approximately half the projected cost of maintaining the offered 98 households (broken down as single, 2-bed, 3-b3ed, 4-bed accommodation) as per the S+P deal. No, I couldn’t match the SMG figure, but then the S+P deal did not consider the cost of rehousing the 74 households displaced.


My point is that there are always alternatives and it is more than time that the particular nettle of homelessness -whatever cause- was grasped in the 21st century. I do not subscribe to the view that the public sector is inefficient and that market forces will provide the most efficient solution to any economic problem at least cost. The raison d’être of the private sector is to engineer profit (by definition of the transfer of either capital or liquid assets at the expense of others), so somewhere along the line someone is being cheated.


If I may borrow from a Keynesian ‘supply and demand’ observation – the movements for social justice, whether Liberal in origin, Marxist, union-based, or as a particular example that much maligned yet popular Momentum movement are filling ‘a gap in the market’; a need in British politics for a counterbalance to the ‘Haves’ pitted against the ‘Have Nots.’ There is only choice to spend one’s assets on better healthcare, education or housing for one’s family where there is the means to garner sufficient disposable income in the first place. The poverty trap is not caused by gambling, drugs and alcohol; the poverty trap has moved on, gone a little upmarket, and now includes people who our parents might have considered to be in a good white collar job – families living hand-to-mouth due to housing and energy costs, the price of food and transport whether maintaining a second-hand car or travelling by public transport.


Yes, I think we would all welcome the end of partisan politics – which many of us are heartily sick of- but until we have a sufficient synthesis of ideology the left and the right will peddle their own extremes in a tug of war over the centre. Tony Blair made a bid for the middle ground but it was not matched by those on the right of the House. You don’t have to be an African on Robben Island to be an oppressed minority; it happens here in the UK and oppression knows no race or creed. The Vote Leave was a vote for change – not just over the EU but right through society: in 1979 the Saatchi & Saatchi hoardings proclaimed “Labour isn’t working” – the UK is dissatisfied with a lot more than unemployment these days. What is the difference between unemployment and zero hours contracts? The former is a drain on public taxation in the form of benefits, the latter is the same, masquerading as something else because the standard of living is the same, the opportunities are the same and the cost to the public is the same – the employer is being subsidised as well as the low wage earner, just a lesser amount each.

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