Two scandals: buy to rent and Maximus

The Independent leads with extortionate rents on sold-off social housing, and Johnny Void introduces Maximus boss Montoni, all set to be more ATOS than disgraced ATOS. The consequences of government decisions were obvious. These are examples of ideologically driven nastiness.

But both these examples make the need for a Citizens’, or Basic Income all the more urgent. There are rules against the immediate re-sale of former council, or social housing, so the same rules were just as necessary against renting – unless private profiteering was intended. Johnny void’s warnings about Maximus and its chief are as dismaying as they were predictable. Anyone willing to pick up a job that ATOS found too dirty to handle was always going to be even less pleasant.

The necessity of the Citizens’ Basic Income, not just the desirability, will be difficult to explain in the sound-bites likely to be available, but at least we can start with a few propositions. It is clearly not saving public money to sell property cheaply to tenants, and then to have to pay new tenants Housing Benefit, the original tenants having used their home as an investment anyway. It is just as clearly wrong that tenants should be allowed to profiteer in this way. But if market forces are what makes this possible, then at least we must all be on the same level playing field.

Another self-evident proposition is that we cannot go back to a pre-industrial peasant economy where everyone could be assumed to have access to some subsistence. There are only three stark alternatives: no benefits, means tested benefits, or the Citizens’ Basic Income. In other words starvation for many; a massive tax on the poor, or everyone on the same fair basis.

If it is pointed out that thee three are not the only alternatives, for example benefits could be conditional on work, so what? If benefits are given there has to be a basis for paying them out and they still have to be funded.

The figures which the third option generates are scary, but once the medieval safety-net of the monasteries was removed, even Queen Elizabeth I was forced to accept that sheer starvation was out of the question. ‘Lusty vagabonds’ caused too much trouble. I have explained elsewhere that means testing involves a grossly unfair tax on the poor. The logic is inescapable.

Why do Johnny Void’s devastating criticisms not make more headway with the general public? There is a grain of truth in the government’s claim that they are making ‘scrounging’ more difficult. The massive, oppressive, unfair tax inherent in the withdrawal of means tested benefits has been successfully portrayed by the government as a Scroungers’ Charter. If you have not heard of the Citizens’ BI (or refuse to consider it) then the unpleasantness, even leading to suicides, seems unavoidable, if scroungers really are a problem .

Of course scroungers never were the problem with far fewer jobs to go round than there are desperate jobseekers, healthy as well as disabled, but there have always been a few families who had large numbers of children and did no work, enough to make the myth look real. Until the totally different mindset of persuasion instead of force goes mainstream, the government mantra will seem to make sense to the majority not actually at the, er, mercy of Maximus.

Uness something more pressing emerges, my next blog will be on an eye-opening book I have just read –‘The Origin of Capitalism : a longer View’, by Ellen Meiksins Wood (Verso, 2002). It is highly relevant to the foregoing discussion.


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