Thursday, May 06, 2010

Welcome to Cameron land.

Johann Hari has another article in the Independent giving us a foretaste of what Cameron's Britain might look like.

Hammersmith and Fulham have a Conservative council, and it is one which George Osborne promises will be a "model" for a new Conservative government.

Here's what they did for the homeless:

They promised to move beyond Thatcherism and make the poor better off. They were the first to hum the tune that David Cameron has been singing a capella in this election.

People who took this at face value were startled by the first act of the Conservatives on assuming power – a crackdown on the homeless. They immediately sold off 12 homeless shelters, handing them to large property developers. The horrified charity Crisis was offered premises by the BBC to house the abandoned in a shelter over the Christmas period at least. The council refused permission. They said the homeless were a "law and order issue", and a shelter would attract undesirables to the area. With this in mind, they changed the rules so that the homeless had to "prove" to a sceptical bureaucracy that they had nowhere else to go – and if they failed, they were turned away.

We know where this ended. A young woman – let's called her Jane Phillips, because she wants to remain anonymous – turned up at the council's emergency housing office one night, sobbing and shaking. She was eight months pregnant. She explained she was being beaten up by her boyfriend and had finally fled because she was frightened for her unborn child. The council said they would "investigate" her situation to find "proof of homelessness" – but she told them she had nowhere to go while they carried it out. By law, they were required to provide her with emergency shelter. They refused. They suggested she try to find a flat on the private market.
And here's what they did for the disabled:

In their 2006 manifesto, the local Conservatives had given a cast-iron guarantee: "A Conservative council will not reintroduce home-care charging". It was a totemic symbol of leaving behind Thatcherism: they wouldn't charge the disabled, the mentally ill or the elderly for the care they needed just to survive.

Within three months, the promise was broken. Debbie Domb, 51, is a teacher who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1994. She had to give up work, and now she needs 24/7 care. After being lifted up by a large metal harness and placed in her wheelchair so she can talk to me, she explains: "This was always such a great place to live if you were disabled. You were really treated well. Then this new council was elected and it's been so frightening... The first thing that happened when they came in was that they announced any disabled person they assessed as having 'lower moderate' needs was totally cut off. So people who needed help having a shower, or getting dressed, had that lifeline taken away completely. Then they started sending the rest of us bills."

She "panicked" when a bill came through saying she had to pay £12.50 for every hour of care she needed. "I thought, 'Oh my God, how am I going to do this?' The more care you need, the higher your bill, so the most disabled people got the highest charges.

Cameron is going out of his way not to tell us what he plans to do, but he claims to be "especially proud" of the work being done in Hammersmith and Fulham.

They have turned on the homeless and made the disabled pay for their own care, and they did this so that they could cut taxes which disproportionately favour the wealthy.

And the next thing they have in their sights is council housing.
Recently the leader of the Conservative council, Stephen Greenhalgh, co-wrote a pamphlet called Principles for Social Housing Reform, recommending that Cameron adopt a radical new approach to council housing. He said it provides "barracks for the poor" and helps create "a culture of entitlement", while "deliver[ing] a risible return on assets". He asked: why do we continue to "warehouse poverty in the core of our great cities", on land that is worth good money? Instead of following "the same narrow agenda of 'building more homes'", he said councils should "exploit [the] huge reserve of capital value" in the houses and the land by selling it off and charging "market terms", with some mild subsidy for the very poorest.
And yet, today, it looks as if we are about to elect these buggers to power.

If the behaviour of Hammersmith and Fulham Council is any indication of what we are in for, God help us all....

Click here for Hari's column.

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