Friday, October 29, 2010

What's fair?

Huge debate about "fairness" as the government's "reforms" of the benefits system (basically - less) begin to bite, summed up by this article in the Guardian about the row over housing - on the one hand we have the Tory minister for housing saying, well if I can't live in the posh street why should people on benefits be able to do so, and on the other the Tory mayor of London (conscious of his soft-left constituency no doubt) arguing against "Kosovo-style social cleansing".

Certainly I wouldn't dream of moving to an expensive part of town and claiming housing benefit (and knowing the rental market I'm not sure if this is more than a fantasy given the amount of deposit you usually have to pay up front, although I suppose there are always exceptions). The people this is more likely to hit, it seems to me, are the working class who have lived in areas for generations that have been gentrified around them. Housing benefit presumably allows them to keep doing so and families to keep together.

Now, this may not be "fair" by the standards of a free market capitalist society, but is this the kind of "fair" we want? Isn't another kind of fair one in which communities consist of those on all rungs of the social ladder and working class people have the same access to decent state schools as their middle class neighbours? A communal fair as opposed to an individual one?

Just because the banker in Kensington earns ten times more than the nurse or street cleaner next door, does this mean their work has ten times more value? That they have ten times more right to live in a better area with better amenities than their neighbours?

Only by one extremely narrow definition, surely.

Another definition of fair is one in which the differential between rich and poor is much less widely defined, and where the contribution of the people who run the railways is acknowledged as much as the people who travel upon them. Where we define fair by what we contribute to a community rather than simply what we can make for ourselves.

Only 40 years ago, Notting Hill, home of David Cameron, was a working class area. Over the past few decades it has been transformed in to one of London's most exclusive and fashionable addresses as Trustafiarians - like David and his wife Sam - bought up properties, in the process pricing out those locals who wished to buy (as opposed to rent, presumably supported by the benefit system).

It is interesting then that the policy he is pursuing so aggressively will inevitably result in his own community being affected, with possibly even some of his neighbours forced to up-sticks. It probably won't seem very fair to them, but somehow I doubt David will be around to explain.

UPDATE - UK benefits spending in one easy graft.

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