People living in social housing and on council estates should be working or actively seeking employment as a condition of their tenancy, Caroline Flint, the new housing minister, has said.
In her first interview since taking on the job, Miss Flint admitted she was surprised to learn more than half the people living in social housing and of working age are unemployed, twice the national average. Nearly three-quarters of tenants under 25 are without work.
Something is very odd here. There\’s a difference between being unemployed and being out of the labour force altogether. That "more than 50%" number has to be referring to those who are economically inactive. That is, including early retirees, mothers of young children etc. Otherwise we\’d be saying that the national unemployment rate is 25%….which it isn\’t. That\’s the number of people of working age who are not economically active.
Those who are actually receiving unemployment benefit are already supposed to be actively seeking employment.
The problem with the plan is that there\’s no reason why anyone should be forced to be economically active…..as long as they\’re not receiving a subsidy from the rest of us that is. The aim is not to produce the largest economy that we can, it\’s to produce the greatest amount of freedom and liberty that we can and this, clearly, includes people being able to drop out of the world of work if they want to. For example, said mothers of young children. The only proviso is that in doing so they are not claiming from the rest of us.
In theory there\’s nothing wrong with such people getting council or social housing: just as there\’s nothing wrong with a young mother living in owner occupied or privately rented accomodation. If they\’ve got the resources (through family, their own previous efforts, whatever) to not need to work, well, damn fine for them.
The problem comes as above, when their private choices lead to a subsidy from the rest of us. A much simpler solution to this problem would be to remove the subsidy from council and social housing altogether. But to apply that same subsidy directly to the rental costs of those who actually need it: by being registered as unemployed, or incapacitated or whatever.
The problem that Flint sees is a direct result of the way in which council housing is actually provided. If instead of it being directly provided there was a rental subsidy for those who were in need of one, but not for those who were economically inactive by choice, well, the problem wouldn\’t be there, would it?