If anyone truly believes that Britain is a far better place now, than it was maybe even forty years ago, in terms of jobs, housing, health, education, transport, manufacturing, international trade, politics, or perhaps more importantly our society, then quite honestly they must have been living under some isolated rock somewhere, for much of that time.
The coalition has made much recently of the fact that some one million or so new jobs have been created within the private commercial sector since they came into office in May 2010. What they fail to point out however, is that these increases in the private sector workforce has been almost entirely fuelled by part-time jobs, typically of 25 hours per week or less, most of which are aimed at women. At the same time, it seems to have escaped the government's notice that an estimated 300,000 former full-time employees, have been compelled to accept part-time hours by their employers, presumably on the basis of part-time work being better than no work at all? Even though most of these new part-time and often heavily subsidised posts (as many part-time workers are in receipt of Family and Working Tax Credits) are filled by female employees, it is worth noting that approximately 2.1 million men, out of a total male workforce of 16 million, are regularly employed on part-time hours as well.
Between 2003 and 2012 the numbers of unemployed workers in the UK was reported to have risen from 5% of the workforce to 8%, an estimated 2.5 million people. Between 2008 and 2013, the numbers of workers actively underemployed (wanting more hours than they could get) was said to have doubled, from 700,000 to around 1.5 million, suggesting that between the two distinct worker groups, roughly 4 million British workers were unable to achieve the levels of employment they actually wanted, often as a result of the various government's employment strategies. Within this 4 million strong underused workforce, will be some of the nearly 1 million young people who have left school looking for work, whilst tens of thousands of others will be temporarily off-the-books, as they participate in any one of the numerous government training schemes, purportedly designed to help them get back into full-time work. Fortunately for national governments, aiding them in their attempts to downplay Britain's actual unemployment figures, is the fact that some 40% of secondary school leavers now choose to go onto Higher Education, rather than paid work, meaning that they don't actually show up on any official employment statistics, until such time as they enter the jobs market after they have graduated.
Needless to say, assuming that many of these students and graduates ever manage to find a full-time, well paid job, once they leave Higher Education, then at some point in time they're going to want their own homes, away from mum and dad. But that then leads them into a whole new world beset by a range of various problems, do they have three years of student loans to repay (potentially 3 x £9000 = £27,000), can they attract a high enough salary to warrant and comfortably afford a 25 year mortgage (assuming that interest rates won't remain at record low levels forever); and does that then inform their decisions about having children, pets, annual holidays, a car, etc. etc?
Don't forget, things are bad enough now, so quite what they'll be like in the future is anyone's guess? Despite our international status as a modern developed western economy, we are reported to be one of the worst EU countries for available housing, a situation that will not have been helped by successive governments devotion to both the private rental market and wholesale inward foreign migration. According to informed sources, each and every year an estimated 250,000 new households are founded within the UK, each of which requires a house or property to operate from. According to these same sources between 2011 and 2012 less than 20,000 new building starts were begun, around 10% of the actual number required just to keep pace, a figure that the Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Schapps, referred to as "impressive", perhaps suggesting the source of the problem for Britain and its people!
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Britain is expected to have a shortage of around 1 million homes by 2022, which was based on the market requirement of 210,000 and a market delivery of only 155,000, leaving an annual shortfall of around 50,000 homes over each of the next 20 years, thereby equalling the million homes mentioned. Considering that some 1.8 million houses were sold between 1980 and 2013 under the Right To Buy Scheme, introduced by the Thatcher government, the scale of the problem becomes fairly evident, especially when one adds in the 3 million foreign migrants who have arrived in the UK during the past decade or so; and the burgeoning numbers of Buy-To-Let investors who have been busily purchasing the nations housing stocks over the same extended period.
With the country's social housing stocks having been nearly exhausted by natural community growth, foreign migration and pure selfish greed, it is perhaps little wonder that Britain's ability to actually house its indigenous population has become so troublesome. However, the fact that an estimated 709,000 properties were reported as being empty in 2012 might offer some clue as to why the situation has been allowed to become so bad. As with any market that is governed by the potential financial benefits offered by a supply and demand economy, the prospect of initiating yet another property bubble, where the housing stock is in short supply, to help stimulate people's spending must have an attraction for any government, whatever their political ideology; and conversely the production of a housing surplus would not be such an attractive proposition.
Unfortunately, those who are outside of the housing market will ultimately bear the associated costs of a limited property market, although this is clearly a social cost that most governments are more than happy to accept. Over-inflated private rents, overcrowding, homelessness, property repossessions and rent arrears are just a few of the many social issues that can arise from a the pitifully thin social housing portfolios held by many local authorities, yet in response the coalition has simply helped to make matters even worse, through the introduction of its now fairly infamous Spare Room Supplement, or Bedroom Tax.
According to figures reported by the national housing charity, Shelter, the numbers of families living in emergency Bed & Breakfast accommodation has reached a new ten year high, with more than 2000 families living in such conditions in England alone. In total an estimated 9000 families with children are thought to have lost their homes within the last year.
Some 60% of people living in private rented accommodation consider themselves to be on a financial "knife-edge" regarding their homes, believing that any additional living expenses of £100 or more will almost certainly push them over the edge into hardship. 40% of private property renters stated that they had absolutely no flexibility at all in terms of their finances and were simply unable to absorb any further additional living costs, a significant admission given that interest rates are at an all time low. Even though home repossessions are thought to have fallen to a new 5 year low, due to the UK's historically low interest rates, an estimated 160,000 households are currently in arrears with their mortgages, suggesting that even modest interest rate rises could prove to be fairly catastrophic for some individuals in the future.
On any given night in February 2012, there were thought to be in excess of 2000 people sleeping rough in England, a rise of 31% on previous figures. Also, according to one London based homelessness charity during 2012/2013 there were reported to be a total of 6500 people sleeping rough in the capital city, an increase of some 13% on previous figures. 47% of those interviewed by the charity were thought to be UK nationals, whilst some 28% of the rough sleepers were said to be from other EU states.
Finally, even though Social Housing Tenants are generally more secure than their private counterparts, following the introduction of the previously mentioned Spare Room Supplement, or Bedroom Tax, an estimated 50,000 social housing tenants are reported to have gone into arrears with their rents, as they struggle to balance the losses to their housing benefits, with their other incomes. Aware of the growing problem, the Coalition government still insist that reductions to claimants housing benefit for any spare rooms that they happen to have in their homes, is a fair and equitable measure, despite any evidence to the contrary.
In closing the first part of this blog article entitled "Governments Reap What They Sow", it is perhaps appropriate to comment on the various aspects of the two main subjects covered by the post; that of jobs and housing.
It goes without saying really that in a modern western economy largely devoid of heavy labour intensive manufacturing industries and where women make up as much of the national workforce as do men; that the idea of full employment, as we might once have recognised it, is a wholly outdated concept that has inevitably been consigned to the past; and yet successive British government's continue to pursue the notion regardless of the fact that it is probably unachievable, be that in the short-term, long-term or any-term.
It cannot have escaped people's notice that in an earlier blog post regarding Mr Miliband's Magical Manifesto Show, I mentioned that some 2.9 million foreign migrants were reported to have arrived here in the UK between 1991 and 2001, a strikingly similar figure to the 2.5 million people who are reported to be unemployed in the UK at this very moment in time. Neither can it be a coincidence that the numbers of these foreign workers seems to accord with the levels of housing that some experts suggest that we currently need simply to meet our own people's basic accommodation requirements.
This is not to attach blame to the migrant workers themselves, who for the most part are simply looking for a better life for them and their families, but rather it is to accuse the various British governments, who have not only signed away our country's national sovereignty, our border controls and our independence, but also singularly failed to plan for the inevitable effects of their own ill-thought out party political actions. Did it not occur to John Major, Tony Blair or Gordon Brown that the arrival of nearly 3 million migrant workers might have an adverse effect on the people of Britain, as well as their jobs and their homes? Did they not think about the possible consequences for our country, or didn't they really care to begin with?
If it happens to be true that Tony Blair's only motivation was party political advantage, or ramming the idea of multiculturalism down the throats of his more resistant adversaries, then shame on him and the Labour Party for having essentially betrayed the British people. With that particular lesson learned one would hope that a majority of the electorate might return the favour in any of our forthcoming elections, thus ensuring that such a trick cannot be played on us for a second time.
Of course, Tony Blair's actions cannot and do not alleviate the blame that attaches itself to the Conservative Party and its then leader and Prime Minister, John Major, who was just as culpable for the ruination of our country, as was Mr Blair. Even during his unremarkable tenure in Downing Street, an estimated 350,000 foreign workers were thought to have arrived in our country, the initial trickle that would later become the flood, which has wrought so much damage to the socio-economic fabric of Britain.
Adding insult to injury of course is a typical Conservative trait; and by way of doing so its latest reinvention as leader, the wholly unimpressive Mr Cameron, along with the quietly oppressive Mr Duncan Smith have sought to make good on the injuries that their party inflicted on British workers, by punishing them even more. Not content with undercutting British employees with cheap foreign labour, they have subsequently decided to penalise the British people even more by cutting their benefit entitlements, freezing their wages, creating a new form of tax especially for those in social housing, cutting huge numbers of public service posts, part privatised the NHS and are now in the process of selling off the publicly owned Royal Mail.
The fact that Grant Schapps described a 10% achievement rate on new housing starts as "impressive", tells us all we need know about the Conservatives and their underlying ideological priorities. For a party which promised 3 million homes by 2020, it is clear that their electoral promises are as empty as their heads, so any hopes that things might prove to be better in the future are obviously forlorn ones. Yes, the days of full employment are long gone, but obviously so are those when politician's promises actually meant a damn thing. It is hardly surprising that the majority of British voters are so disillusioned with the political classes, but it still remains in each person's power to deny them their vote come election time, thereby teaching them the age old lesson of "you reap what you sow".