The UN High Commissioner has recently issued a scathing attack on the austerity and other policies of the Conservative government and the 13 page summary on a range of issues can be downloaded and read here.
Before I discuss a tiny percentage of the details of its considerations and its recommendations the UN is not some rabid left-wing socialist creation as no doubt it will be labelled by Conservatives; the UN High Commissioners Office is concerned with basic issues of a minimum acceptable standard not bells and whistles or delusional conceptual abstracts, just with basic levels of human rights and dignity and poverty related issues. That correct context is important.
In terms of social security the UN report says this:
The Committee is deeply concerned about the various changes in the entitlements to, and cuts in, social benefits, introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act of 2016, such as the reduction of the household benefit cap, the removal of the spare-room subsidy (bedroom tax), the four year freeze on certain benefits and the reduction in child tax credits. The Committee is particularly concerned about the adverse impact of these changes and cuts on the enjoyment of the rights to social security and to an adequate standard of living by disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, including women, children, persons with disabilities, low-income families and families with two or more children. The Committee also is concerned about the extent to which the State party has made use of sanctions in relation to social security benefits and the absence of due process and access to justice for those affected by the use of sanctions (art. 9 and 11).
That is scathing language in any terms let alone the diplomatic terms the UN ordinarily uses. The bedroom tax, benefit cap, the four year freeze of benefit levels and tax credits and who these cuts impact upon are roundly condemned as well as sanctions and the non availability of legal redress against these policies too.
The UN then makes recommendations, which when you read what they actually say are far from grandiose and are all about basic issues of any civilised society
Review the entitlement conditions and reverse the cuts in social security benefits introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016;
Restore the link between the rates of state benefits and the costs of living and guarantee that all social benefits provide a level of benefits sufficient to ensure an adequate standard of living, including access to health care, adequate housing and food;
Review the use of sanctions in relation to social security benefits and ensure that they are used proportionately and are subject to prompt and independent dispute resolution mechanisms; and
Provide in its next report, disaggregated data on the impact of the reforms to social security on women, children, persons with disabilities, low-income families and families with two or more children.
Reviewing the entitlement to housing benefit with regard to the bedroom tax is hardly a severe recommendation. All it does is ask the Conservatives to look again at the policy and all others that came from the 2012 Welfare Reform Act.
Asking the government to ensure an adequate standard of living, including access to health care, adequate housing and food is hardly a Marxist position to take and why I have emphasised the word ‘adequate’ in the above. If the economy is doing so well as the Conservatives repeatedly claim then surely ensuring an adequate level of health care, housing and food is not too much to ask?!
What the UN High Commission is saying in simple terms is that the Conservative government are eradicating the BASIC human rights that were enshrined in the Welfare State when it was created 68 years ago today. I repeat the BASIC human rights of any civilised society from 68 years ago
In terms of housing and especially social rented housing that is of course inextricably linked with the cuts to social security benefits the UN says this:
The Committee is concerned about the persistent critical situation in terms of availability, affordability and accessibility of adequate housing in the State party, in part as a result of cuts in state benefits. The Committee also notes with concern that the lack of social housing has forced households to move into the private rental sector, which is not adequate in terms of affordability, habitability, accessibility and security of tenure.
What is so disturbing about this UN report is these BASIC human rights they are deeply concerned about is a position that is way to the left of ANY political party in the UK.
Dwell on that assertion for a minute as it means that even the most BASIC and bare minimum acceptable housing conditions are (a) not present in the UK currently and (b) that no political party is calling for these basic bare minimum housing conditions of any civilised society to be met!
How has this come to pass is the next question that must be asked and the only answers to it must all stem from the fact that those who operate what we erroneously call social housing have been silent in putting forward the case for the social housing model to both government and to the public for decades.
So-called social landlords have never, ever, promoted the social housing model which underpins genuinely affordable and genuinely necessary rented housing regardless of whether the landlord is housing association, ALMO or council. That is the root cause of the problem that has allowed the intolerable and inadequate current position we have today and what the UN describes as the affordability, habitability, accessibility and security of tenure deep concerns of UK housing policy.
All governments are ONLY allowed to get away with this when the general public either (a) do not know this is happening, or (b) couldn’t care less it is happening when they perceive social housing as the housing of last resort. The general public have therefore acquiesced to the destruction of the social housing model because they have not been sold the social housing model and not sold it for decades by the so-called social landlords who operate it.
The UN report is a damning indictment of the apathy, inactions and silence of housing associations and council landlords and what is worse, the so called social rented sector has no plans to promote it in the future too and instead we see a hardcore of housing associations wanting to become private landlords at one extreme and housing pressure groups like SHOUT only target government on the basis of the construct of the caring Conservative is not as ethereal as the Ark of the Covenant.
Nobody is selling social housing to the public … while everyone involved in it admits that home ownership is unaffordable as is private renting and these are the only two other options to the question of where will my children / grandchildren live?
The level of incompetence of those who call themselves ‘housing professionals’ is stark in this regard. The SRS is the only business of any type that fails to promote what it does to its prospective customer … and then moans when government of any and all persuasions fails to support it!
In every industry we hear or read the term ‘silo mentality’ yet given that UK housing professionals only talk to one another and never to anyone else they have a silo mentality surrounded by an impenetrable series of bubbles of their own making. The same housing professionals know and have the arguments as to why the social housing model is THE most cost-effective way for the UK to house its populace yet never tell anyone other than themselves why this is!
Then they moan that nobody loves them … and then moan again when I have the temerity to say what the reality is and that they must shoulder 99% of the blame for letting this come to pass … and rest assured they would still moan if I argued they were only 1% to blame for it … which means the outer bubble surrounding the dozens of other bubbles and with the silo mentality at its core has an outer bubble made of Teflon …