The direc­tion of social hous­ing pol­i­cy since 1979 has been grad­u­al­ly to remove the state from the busi­ness of build­ing hous­es, and now grad­u­al­ly to remove the state from the busi­ness of sub­si­dis­ing rent. You can imag­ine free mar­ke­teers believ­ing the mar­ket can house the poor in decent com­fort with­out the bet­ter-off being forced to chip in, although there is no evi­dence that it can. This is the benign view of the Thatcherites’ motive. But it is eas­i­er to believe that the actu­al inten­tion – not for­mal­ly designed in some con­spir­a­to­r­i­al way, and nev­er open­ly described as such – is to demon­e­tise that part of gen­er­al tax­a­tion on the well-off that goes towards evening things out for the poor and replac­ing it with a tax in kind, a tax on con­science. To per­mit the grad­ual re-emer­gence of slums, in oth­er words, in order to keep income and cor­po­ra­tion tax low, and to make the threat to the well-off an eas­i­ly ignored threat to their con­science, rather than to their wealth. To set­tle for his­to­ry as wheel rather than ascent, in which it will even­tu­al­ly be time for Dick­ens to come around again.

James Meek · Where will we live?: The Hous­ing Dis­as­ter · LRB 9 Jan­u­ary 2014

This is a prop­er long read (I mean, 13468 words) on Britain’s hous­ing cri­sis with some dis­con­cert­ing par­al­lels to what has hap­pened in main­land Europe (although per­haps to a less­er degree). The pos­si­bil­i­ty of the reemer­gence of slums sim­ply bog­gles my mind.

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.