Rarely has London been so divided. The fracture in UK politics – where the Tories are despised in the North, Scotland and Wales but rule anyway – cuts through the heart of the capital city. Here the poor and the rich often live alongside each other, and walk the same streets, but they might as well be in different cities. And whilst those with nothing cannot fail to notice the gleaming new skyscrapers, the wealthy cannot the see the lives of the poor. We are just tenants to them, or low paid skivvies, here to clean up their shit and fatten their wallets. Not worth talking to, or thinking too much about.
So it is no surprise at all that a fucking toff like Simon Jenkins – ex-public school then Oxbridge of course, and now a columnist for both the Evening Standard and The Guardian – should be so blisteringly out of touch that he can declare that London’s housing crisis is a myth. That’s all you need to know by the way, you don’t have to read his shit. Jenkins, who lives in a plush Kensington & Chelsea house and reportedly owns another property, thinks everything’s just fine and the poor should stop whining and live in sheds. Or move to Salford where that £65,000 they’ve probably got kicking around in a savings account somewhere will buy them a home. Or some such bollocks.
To the pampered rich, money doesn’t run out and poverty is really beyond their comprehension. They have no knowledge of the small, but never ending depravations that fill up the lives of the poor. They have no way of imagining what’s it’s like to be sucked dry of what little you have by pre-pay electric metres, benefit sanctions, travel costs, loan sharks or rent increases. They have never experienced the debilitating panic that devours the body and mind when you receive an eviction notice, or your hours are cut, or you get a brown letter from the DWP calling you in for a benefit assessment. If the rich are hungry they eat, if they are cold they put the heating on, and if their kids need shoes they buy them some, without a second thought.
In the absence of any real experience of how many people live, all the privileged like Jenkins have to go on is cold statistics. That’s why he says the only priority for housing policy should be addressing the 60,000 families in temporary accommodation, with everybody else abandoned to market forces. He probably doesn’t even know that those 60,000 families only represent a fraction of the true number of homeless people. It doesn’t even include people living on the street, or in fact anyone at all without chldren unless they have a significant health condition. Neither does it consider the hundreds of thousands of kids growing up in social housing who will not be able to afford to live in London when they are old. Or the growing number of people in their 40s and 50s who are renting privately and will never know what it is like to have a secure place to live – and who face a bleak future in retirement when they are dependent on Housing Benefit to pay the rent. Whilst every measure of homelessness is rising sharply, it is not just those without a roof who are suffering from the housing crisis.
When something directly affects the rich however, even in the most trivial way, we never fucking stop hearing about it. In 2013 Jenkins wrote a breath-taking piece for the Evening Standard declaring that the only real housing crisis in London was that the opulent West London streets he lives in are becoming a ‘peculiar’ and ‘eerie’ due to the number of homes bought as investments and left empty. This is a terrible thing whines Jenkins, whilst condemning everyone else’s housing concerns as hysterical. After all you can still buy a flat in Camden for less than £300,000. Except you can’t.
London is now two cities, a fantasy world for the rich and an economic torture chamber for the poor. And someone living in a fantasy can never understand the rage of those being quietly exploited, or expelled. Just look at the acres of newsprint devoted to some paint on a cereal cafe whilst the desperate stories of social cleansing go almost untold. It’s news when the powerless fight back but only when there is a minor inconvenience to the cosseted business class. They are so astounded by our anger that they think it’s unreasonable. Why don’t we just have a crêpe and a latte or something and calm down. Or spend a fiver on a bowl of cereal. For heaven’s sake poor people, you might spoil Disneyland. Indeed we fucking might. In fact we intend to.
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