Monday, 27 February 2012

Social Housing, single mothers and failing the next generation - A co-operative answer

Abject failure, pure bloody abject failure. That is what Great Britain PLC is facing. That is what Barnet Council is facing. What am I talking about? Social housing. If you are sixteen (the age of my eldest daughter) what sort of a life faces you? If you have aspirations, you will go to University and end up with £20-30,000 worth of debt when you enter the workplace. And it in, say ten years time, you have worked hard at Uni, got a decent job paying say £45,000 per annum (which most people won't) and you've met someone you like what then? You want to buy somewhere to live? Mortgage lenders lend on 3 X salary. So you have £20 odd grand debt. You can borrow £135,000.Do you know of a place in Barnet going for that money. And that is for someone who has done well. The only way you could start to afford it, is if you have a rich mummy and daddy who can bale you out. Does that encourage self sufficiency?

And what about the other end of the social spectrum? What about the kids who leave school at 18 with no proper qualifications, with no wealthy mums or dads to help them. What about those kids who want to escape from home. There is only one easy solution. Have a child and get a council to accomodate you. Do I think this is wrong? Well I don't criticise people who are shafted by an unfair system, the human race is resilient and inventive. That is why we have prospered. I most certainly don't expect anyone to lie back and get punched in the face by the system, every day of their life for ever.

So you get a flat, you get your benefits and what then? You can't work, because you've got a child. You have no qualifications, so you won't get a decent job anyway. Would I stack cans in Tescos for the minimum wage (or nothing as the government seems to think you should), if I could get by on benefits? Do me a favour.

And what is even more perverse is the number of empty properties in nice areas, such as Barnet. The Council don't own these, private landlords do. For whatever reason, they are often quite happy to let the properties sit empty and rotting. Especially in these times of austerity, where no one will lend you money to do them up.

Morrissey & Band campaign against benefit scroungers at Santiago gig
And then what about the educational prospects for single mothers, on benefits with child? How can they ever learn? The Barnet Eye has been approached by a "social entrepreneur" who believes he has an answer. Does he? Well I don't know, but I do know that his ideas at the very least are worthy of discussion.

Consider this. If you have a block of flats or properties,  which could accomodate say 20-30 single mothers in decent accommodation, with children, but these properties are currently empty, who benefits? Councils spend a small fortune on "rental accomodation". This money is solves the immediate issue of housing, but nothing else. Just suppose that each of the single mothers was offered the opportunity to study, with a view to finding their way into the workplace as their child grows. But you may ask, what about the childcare. Well surely if there are 20-30 mothers in a similar situation, between them they could operate a co-operative creche service. If each mother gave 3 hours a week, then the children could be cared for, at virtually nil cost. The women could then get qualifications and part time jobs.

So what would the council need to do? Simply make funds available to support the finding of suitable locations for the creche and training and safeguarding. In the long term, the schemes could be self financing, but seed money is clearly needed to get the program working. By combining micro-financing (small scale loans from the co-operative to the women), people could be raised out of poverty and the cycle of despair broken. Where does the private element come in? Well with so much property, surely it is in the councils interests to get private landlords with empty buildings to participate. If the members of the scheme were signed up to fixed term contracts, then surely this would offer income and guarantees. The person who contacted me tells me that he already has schemes running and has a 97% success rate in helping break the cycle of despair. He has asked me to introduce him to the people I know at Barnet Council, with a view to running a pilot in the Borough.

But before I do (assuming they will listen to any suggestion the Barnet Eye makes), I'd like to hear the views of the people who read my blog? Is this good or bad? Does such schemes have a place in Barnet in 2012? I've heard one side of the story and it sounds good to me. Lets start a debate

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