Sunday, 6 July 2008

Housing and the underclass

I find it simply impossible to imagine what life must be like for the infant of a teenage single mother on a sink estate with little education, no family support, no marketable skills, no ambition, no drive, no money, no nothing. How is that child going to grow up? What chance is there is of its own future being anything other than a mirror image of its mother's life?

We hear idealists of the left tell us it is all about inequality. I have never understood how my winning the national lottery and thereby becoming a millionaire overnight would be to the detriment of anyone, nor have I understood how giving all my winnings to a Museum of Lightbulbs the next day would improve matters for anyone; yet each would have that effect if the mere fact of inequality is causative.

We also hear that the underclass need "support" through a vast army of social workers, advisers, and counsellors. If that cured the problem there would now be no problem. Yet the more "support" people are given the more they seem to need, not in every case but in so many that one has to ask whether the exercise is worthwhile.

One thing that seems to be a constant in the underclass is depressed and depressing housing, the "sink estates". There can be no better example of (possibly well-intentioned) socialist policies making things worse for everyone. It was claimed that these estates would give "the poor" modern housing they could be proud of and a strong sense of community. The theory was that "the poor" were victimised if they lived next door to the wealthy. The victimisation theory worked on many levels, the most often stated aspects were that poor people suffered a loss of dignity by seeing their neighbours enjoying a lifestyle they do not have themselves and the poor are always snubbed by the wealthy and made to feel worthless.

At heart it is all about the leftists' love-affair with social class, for them class is everything. Someone from humble roots who qualifies as an accountant and earns enough to buy a nice house and drive a nice car is a traitor to his class and must be denounced (unless he donates money to leftist causes in which case the only difference is that he will not be denounced to his face). Someone from a wealthy family who falls on hard times is not one of "the poor", he is a toff who has achieved his just desserts. Social mobility and the concept of a classless society are the last thing these people want to recognise because it destroys the very foundations of their beliefs.

Massive concrete estates built to accommodate the poor would be happy places, so the leftist theory goes, because everyone would be among their own class. Best of all would be to put them in a modern tower block with lifts. Not only would they live among their own class but they would have lifts which only the toffs had before. That's one in the eye for the enemy.

The reality, of course, was that bringing together the poorest people also increased the concentration of those who are poor because of their own unsociable behaviour. One yobbo in a terrace of 50 houses can only do so much harm and if he can be influenced by good examples there is a chance of changing his ways. Give him 40 yobbo neighbours and the power to wreak havoc is increased by far more than 40-fold, and the influences on him to change his ways are negligible.

Sink estates are self-perpetuating. Those unfortunate enough to be housed in them have their lives blighted by gangs of, frankly, scum. Some are able to escape but for those who cannot life can be a constant misery, prisoners in their own homes.

If we are to tackle the problem of the underclass our first priority must be to ensure that as few as possible join the group. Demolish the sink estates. Build new estates in small squares and closes with no more than 10 or 12 houses down each avenue or cul-de-sac. Build small houses with private gardens as well as flats. Spread the known trouble-makers as far and wide as possible and give the decent majority the chance of a decent life.

How will this help the child of the feckless teenage single mother? Nothing is guaranteed, but I suggest the mother will get more practical help from a houseproud matronly neighbour than she would from a dozen social workers and counsellors. In turn the child will have a chance of growing up surrounded by good influences.

Would it cost so much that it cannot be done? Quite possibly. Solving the mess left by socialist folly is always expensive and it takes time. We could aim at one estate a year to start with. I doubt that taxpayers' money would ever be better spent.

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