Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Napoleon's Toothbrush (Farewell to Welfare)

Since my confinement to one of the capital's dingier suburbs I have noticed more than ever the widening chasm between Central London and "the rest".
Popping into town now feels like a trip to another country, populated by an 8ft master race in excellent shoes.
In contrast to Walthamstow's "diverse" streets, every man you see walks with purpose as if in charge of something.
The women, long glossy hair resplendent, look vital and energised by some invisible force. Everywhere you look is white, wealthy, professional.
The streets are clean, the scores of high-end chains are private equity.Tramps are few and far between. It is now a sanitised capital where the rich rarely have to come face to face with the poor.
No longer the pangs of guilt as you pass a homeless person on the steps of the Hungerford Bridge. It is now a light-footed, conscience-free prance onto the Southbank's many cultural and consumer delights.
Happily, as a "memento poverty" there are still council estates, there are still poor people, tucked between the tourist sights and the endless museum cafes.
The observant Londoner may never truly forget his poorer brother's suffering. So-called "problem families" still live a mile from the science museum.
A Bangladeshi housewife living in a council flat off the Euston Road can still walk into the Wellcome Collection and admire Napoleon's toothbrush or Florence Nightingale's moccasins. Not that she necessarily would. But she could.
But the Government's proposed welfare reforms could see an end to all this.  Anyone who finds that £26,000 falls short, can simply "relocate" to a cheaper location. Houslow, perhaps. It will make that search for cleaning jobs all the easier, I'm sure.
Their thesis is that the poor should be intensely grateful for whatever they  receive. Even if this means being booted out of the only area they know and sent to Hull (see Croydon council's excellent plans to ship council house overspill to Yorkshire.) It's an insult to folks on benefits, and it's an insult to the North.
It is hard to believe the benefit cap will encourage mums of six to stop having children and get jobs. Childcare, for one thing, is simply too expensive.
Central London could move one step further towards being a completely sanitised bubble of affluence where the privileged are no longer forced to confront poverty, because it has been "shipped out".
Let's treat the poor like humans, not animals. Let them live three minutes from Napoleon's toothbrush if that is where they have made their home.

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