The battle buses are rolling, the Tory jets are fuelling up and the march of the nice shirts and sinister wives has begun. I'm technically on holiday, which technically means that I'm technically supposed to sit around reading nice books and writing a dreadful one and not technically blog about the election. So, for those of you who, like me, are already sick of seeing their terrible faces, here is a blog that is not, technically, about the election.
Where the hell are we gonna live...
where the hell are we supposed to live?
where the hell are we supposed to live?
The government has just rushed through a bill called the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 2010. No, it hasn't made the headlines, and probably wouldn't have done so even if it weren't Election Announcement Week, because it's a very, very boring bill. I know, because I've just read it. In between interminable sub-clauses concerning what types of building may or may not be used to store maggot-infested meat* is a slippery little snippet of legislation creating a new dwelling category, 'Houses with Multiple Occupants' - meaning that any three or more unrelated adults living together now constitute a legally separate form of household, requiring separate planning permission and separate housing administration. Sounds like an everyday piece of wearisome local-government wrangling, but let's be paranoid for a second and ask ourselves: who is this set to target?
The practical effect of the legislation will be this: if you're a student, on a low income, a lodger in a landlord's home, a migrant worker, or if you simply want to share a flat with more than one friend who you don't happen to be fucking, any landlord offering to rent you a property will have to go to the expensive beauraucratic nightmare of obtaining planning permission. Even if you can find a landlord willing to take on the hassle, the local council will be able to decide whether allowing house shares will fit in with their "development plan" for your local area - a scheme that has already been test-driven in Loughborough. The number of properties available for people wishing to flatshare will inevitably decrease, rents will rise, overcrowding will worsen, and many of us will simply be unable to afford to live in large towns and cities.
Is this a targeted attack on young people? Let's have a little look at the Manchester City Council briefing on the new legislation:
"Problems caused by high concentrations of Houses in Multiple Occupantion (HMOs) have become an issue in a number of towns and cities across the country. High concentrations can have a detrimental effect on the local environment as well as impacts on social cohesion and services within an area. Manchester, along with other local authorities, has lobbied the government for greater planning powers to be able to tackle these problems."
Manchester and other councils evidently consider people living in houseshares - students, migrants and young adults - to 'have a detrimental effect on the local environment'. They don't like our sort, you see. Not only are we feckless enough to want somewhere to live, we have the temerity to use actual services. The bloody cheek of it.
Let's not forget, either, that those of use who are under-25 and are sick, on low incomes or receiving jobseekers' allowance will still only be allowed to claim housing benefit based on the average "shared occupancy" rent in the local area. Young people are expected to live in houseshares, and local governments will only pay for us to live in houseshares - but they'd rather those houseshares were kept to an absolute minimum. Where in gods'name young adults, students and migrant workers are actually supposed to live is, apparently, not their problem. Starve, move in with mum or leave the cities, they don't care, just don't have the audacity to be young, poor and energetic on our doorstep, thanks.
Right now, I pay half my meagre salary to live in a room the size of a normal person's toilet (we suspect it used to be a toilet before a dodgy landlord modded the place) in an overcrowded houseshare in inner London, the fourth such houseshare I've lived in since moving here in 2007. Nobody does enough washing up, everyone gets on each other's nerves, and we all have to pretend not to hear each other's shagging sounds through the paper-thin walls. We are also family. We play music together, cook together, discuss politics, write together, share smokes and paperbacks and ideas. We may not be related, but we're enough of a family to have agreed to put up a sign in the window endorsing the Liberal Democrats, and we are voters too.
There are millions of us, young, frustrated, eking out a living in warren-like flatshares in every city in the land, and we all have votes, and it's policies like these, put in place by local authorities and blithely given the nod by central government, which engender a strong suspicion that politics has nothing to offer us, that they're all the same, and that the man might, in fact, be out to get us. And sometimes, that's the correct assessment. It doesn't mean one shouldn't get one's wriggly young arse down to the polling station like a responsible person, but sometimes the assessment is correct.
As far as me and my housemates are concerned, we're sitting here waiting for an election, when what we need is a revolution. Not the revolution, the rapture for socialists and dreamers, the big change that's always coming over the hill, the revolution, the kind there's only ever one of. I'm talking about the sort of quiet, radical upheaval that follows in the wake of social agitation and gets things done. The sort of unravelling that prevents the authorities from lashing out at the poor, the young and the disposessed. I'm talking about everyday revolution, revolution I can grab with my hands and show to my friends. I want it so much I can almost taste it.
Looking at these three grinning hairdos, it's painfully obvious that none of them will bring that revolution, even though all three are so frantic to repeat the word 'change' that I keep expecting one of them to voice his desire for the Queen to appoint him Britain's first African-American Prime Minister. Two days into the big push, and I can't persuade myself to feel anything but irritated over this election. Can we have some revolution now, please?
[Muchos Gracias to JH-M for the tip-off]
*Unfortunately for our prospective overseers, the Houses of Parliament are excluded.
ETA: Oh, and the Digital Economy Bill passed. Ugh. Not in my name.