17 Feb 2012, 11:13am
rant:
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  • I was too poor to live in London, so I moved out. What’s so hard to understand?

    The good old Grauniad had a bleeding heart article about the housing benefit cap squeezing the poor out of London.

    I was there, once. I was born in London, grew up there, went to school there, and then went to university at Imperial College, in South Kensington (seriously upscale part of London for those who don’t know the city). I rented in sleazy dives in Earl’s Court, and for a while I rented a basement bedsit from a doctor which was behind Harrods, where I’d get my milk. Curiously enough, Harrods’ milk was a halfpennny cheaper than elsewhere in the neighbourhood, but it only lasted a couple of days without a fridge.

    Then I looked for work. I worked in Beckenham, and then at the BBC in Television Centre. I shared a house with four other guys, then shared with two others, then settled on a bedsit in Ealing. London is probably even more damned expensive because it is holding the entire capital wealth of Greece embodied in its housing stock at the moment, but it was still dear way back in the 1980s.

    It really, honestly, never occurred to me that what should happen is for the taxpayer to subsidise my rent. I looked around me, came to the conclusion that I couldn’t afford to buy a house, even on a reasonably okay wage. It was obvious to me, getting on for nearly a quarter of a century ago, that I would never be able to afford to buy a house or rent somewhere big enough to bring up a family. So guess what I did?

    I moved out of London

    It’s not hard, is it? 25 years ago it was obvious to me that Central/West London, where I’d have liked to live, somewhere near Bloomsbury, if you please, though Ealing would have done me too, was out of my reach. To be honest the place where my parents lived, 15 miles out and in sarf London, was out of my reach. I needed both a better paying job and cheaper houses. So why the hell are there any ordinary families at all in Westminster, which is a damned expensive part of the city? Not only are they competing with Greek shipowners, Russian plutocrats and general old money, the area is also prime commercial and office space. You don’t find ordinary Americans living in Beverley Hills or Manhattan, or ordinary Germans living in central Berlin.

    And above all, why should the rest of us pay for people to live where it’s too dear for them? I wanted to live in London but it was too bloody expensive, so I moved out. Yes, in the end ordinary workers won’t be able to live in travelling distance of London, in which case the people that do live there will just have to stump up through their council tax to raise wages enough or pay for essential services privately. They are presumably rich enough to do that.

    Look at some of the rents in the article. £812pw, £525 pw. Crikey, I couldn’t afford to pay that on rent right now, at the peak of my earning career, well, not if I wanted to do much else. Think about it. £812pw is £42,224 p.a. You have to earn £53,000+ to be able to pay that after tax. Why are we subsidising familes to the tune of twice the national average household pretax income to live in Westminster?

    The whole benefits thing seems to have got out of hand, with presumptive rights accruing to people to mask organic change from them. It is the job of the parents to look around them and put their families in a place where they can afford the rent. Had they done this before they had lots of children, they wouldn’t have to disrupt their precious children’s education by moving when the taxpayer says enough is enough. If they were rich enough to be able to afford the rent, they wouldn’t have to move.

    It’s hard to find any sympathy for people who didn’t look around them and move, but took the easy option. This change happened slowly, over time, and should have been adapted to. As a young man I could just about afford to rent a bedsit, it’s been obvious for years that London is out of the reach of someone on the average UK wage. Benefits are there to help people that suddenly fall on hard times due to a short-term (couple of years) change in circumstances. They are not there to enable people to improve their standard of living at the taxpayer’s expense. If you can’t afford to live in London, then move the hell out like I did!

    At least the Graun showed us the logical conclusion of what they want to happen.

    Ben Denton, Westminster’s strategic director of housing, regeneration and worklessness, said: “Is it fair for the state to provide subsidy for people to live in places that are the most expensive? Is it correct for the state to support anyone to live wherever they want to live? That’s the philosophical question. If the answer is, anyone can live anywhere, then the state and the taxpayer has to subsidise that.”

    and the last word to Westminster Council

    The philosophy behind the new cap seems to be “if you can’t afford to live here, don’t expect to live here”. “To live in Westminster is a privilege, not a right, because so many people want to live here,” a Westminster council press officer explains.

    Too bloody right. There are lots of things I’d like to do, but can’t afford. What happened to making do, changing your expectations or doing without?

     
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