Magazine article Public Finance

The Grim Reality

Magazine article Public Finance

The Grim Reality

Article excerpt

CHANNEL 4'S IDEA of sending four MFs to live in social housing is not entirely new. Matthew Parr is, for one, took part in a similar programme while he was in the Commons. But last Monday's first instalment of Tower Block of Commons certainly provided plenty of cringew orthy moments. The hapless parliamentarians were moved into households in Hull, Birmingham and east London and left to live the life of locals.

Programmes of this sort are often seen in terms of 'how the other half lives'. The dilapidated tower blocks chosen for this particular social experiment are not generally representative of social housing. Nor are the living conditions an accurate picture of how all poor people live. But there is little doubt that the coming together of towers, poverty and social problems creates grim outcomes. And the minority status of poor people living in high rises puts them at risk of being ignored by policy makers.

The odium now dumped on municipal tower blocks makes it hard to believe that such buildings were constructed in an era of consensus and hope, when politicians believed they were radically improving the lot of city slum-dwellers.

The history of council housing and, in particular, tower blocks is endlessly revisited in books and research reports. It is now recognised that gardenless flats in tall buildings are alien to virtually all Britons1 desires for a little country house with a garden.

In fairness to the politicians and architects, they planned most of the highrise housing at a time when the country was still deferential, and with very low crime rates. Had the ordered (some would say repressed) society of the mid-1950s continued, it is probable that tower block housing would not have become associated with intergenerational poverty, drugs and the loss of hope.

The parliamentarians certainly witnessed these ills and more besides The contempt for MPs was palpable. Indeed, contempt is too weak a word. Derision, envy and even hatred were all on display.

The expenses scandal has simply created a lightening conductor for a wider sense of abandonment expressed by many of those given a voice in the programme. One man explicitly said he had switched from voting Labour to the British National Party for this reason. …

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