Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 16 February 2016

From Each according to his Ability, to Each according to his Need

Yes, that’s socialism, and you all know that I’m a socialist. I’m probably what a lot of Americans would refer to as a Liberal Intellectual, but I’d add Socialist Feminist to that.

It’s a mouthful, isn’t it?

It makes me sound like an idealist, too, and I suppose that I am, but not necessarily in the way that you think.

More than I believe in anything else, I believe in being responsible. And, like charity, responsibility begins at home. I believe that the first person we need to be responsible for is ourself. I believe strongly that the first thing we must do is admit to our failures and our mistakes. I believe strongly in honesty.

Because who could resist a portrait of
Karl Marx
You’ll all remember from each according to his ability, to each according to his need from studying Karl Marx, or from not studying him, but simply from knowing the little we all know about Communism, but the fact is that few of us know very much, and we all know just enough to be ignorant.

This idea is older than memory. It is borrowed from the New Testament. The idea of community, of shared responsibility, of this kind of socialism can be found in Acts of the Apostles 4, 32-35:

32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

The French utopian √Čtienne-Gabriel Morelly took up the idea in 1775 when he outlined his ideas for his Code of Nature, which included:

Every citizen will make his particular contribution to the activities of the community according to his capacity, his talent and his age; it is on this basis that his duties will be determined, in conformity with the distributive laws.

In 1851, the socialist, Louis Blanc also adopted the idea, and was among the first to use the word ‘capitalism’, in this particular context:

...what i call 'capitalism' that is to say the appropriation of capital by some to the exclusion of others.

Redistribution of wealth is something that we all live with, even in the Capitalist society that we all live in and subscribe to, and it has to be a good thing. It surely behoves us to look after the least of us, to ensure that our children are cared for and educated, that our sick are hospitalised and that our old are comfortable.

You know that I’m going somewhere with this, don’t you?

This is my first blog of the week, so you know that I’m going to refer to a news article that I read in the weekend papers.

The article I read was about social housing. I’m in favour of social housing. I never lived in a council house, but I know people who have. As a child, I did live in tied housing. My father was allocated housing as part remuneration for his job. While he was in that job our housing was secure at a stipulated rent. The houses weren’t furnished, but they were maintained. My parents were also allowed to buy their home under a similar scheme to the council house sales scheme in the late eighties.

As an adult, I haven’t lived in council housing, but I have rented privately. Again, I know people who have been in the unfortunate position of having to rely on social housing.

Capitalism, by its very nature, creates an economic system that is cyclical. There are boom times and there are depressions. During those times of depression, there are large increases in unemployment, and where there is unemployment there is poverty. Of course there is never a time of full employment. The latest figures, June to August 2015, show unemployment at about 1.8 million and falling in the UK. 

But unemployment isn’t the only thing responsible for poverty. According to the Poverty and Social Exclusion Research team 45% of people in the UK live in households that could not pay an unexpected expense, and 35% struggle to make ends meet. There’s plenty of poverty out there. The minimum wage keeps a lot of families on the poverty line, the cost of living is high with housing a big part of that, and the standard of living is dropping.

Some would argue that social housing is as important as it has ever been. Families need homes, and the poorest families need the most help. It’s tough to argue any of that.

The minimum wage is currently about £12,000 per year. Assuming that a young couple are living together and that both are working full-time at the minimum wage, that’s £24,000 between them. The average cost of a two bed flat in the town where I live is £950 per month. So one entire income must be reserved for rent. The average cost of full-time childcare for a toddler in the UK is £450 per month. So, this couple could not afford to have a child and continue to maintain two full-time incomes and their home. If they happened to live in Southwark, their rent would be £1700 per month, and they wouldn’t stand a chance.

What, then, of the 58 year old single woman, earning £55,000 a year, who is only paying £650 per month for her flat in Bloomsbury, Central London? She’s been renting her flat from social housing for six years. She doesn’t save. Private rents in her area are £2,000 per month. She could afford to pay it. She would be a single person, responsible only for herself with earnings after rent of over £30,000 per year.

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

The point is that there are plans afoot to cap the amount that council tenants can earn before their rents go up in line with the private rental market.

I am a socialist, but part of the point of being a socialist is that we believe in personal responsibility. Part of the point is that we contribute when we are able.

Social housing must be available for those who need it, and there should probably be more of it. Of course, more social housing would be available if those who no longer needed it gave it up when their circumstances improved.

Someone close to me once needed and secured social housing. He worked hard, saved, did better, and, when he was able, he bought his own home. It was a struggle, and his mortgage payments were significantly more than his council rent, but he saw social housing as a stepping stone not a lifestyle choice. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

There will always be people who need continued help and support, and I want to support those people on a longterm basis. 

A couple was cited in the article. They earn £56,000 between them, and pay only £550 per month rent. To rent privately in their area would cost around £1700 per month, and they could afford it, but they have chosen to stay in their council flat. Of course they would be less well off if they rented privately or bought, but how many of their neighbours, friends and co-workers earn less than they do, but find a way to pay those rents? They say they want to remain in their community and they say they value their friends and neighbours, and yet they set themselves apart from them by doing what they are doing. They only want to stay in their community if they can maintain their lifestyle at a cost to the rest of us, and some of that cost falls on the poorest. All the time they remain in their social housing flat they are depriving someone who has a greater need. They are not taking responsibility for themselves and they are not contributing. They are appalled that their rent could rise. If it did, that money might be used for more social housing. They got the help they needed when they needed it; why should they deprive others of that help now that they are in a secure financial position?

The problem with socialism is that it makes these kinds of people feel entitled. If they were ever taught humility, they have long since forgotten what it is to be humble.

Being given the use of something doesn’t mean it belongs to you.

Social housing is about the loan of a home, and, like anything else that is on loan, when you no longer need it, you hand it back in the condition that it was loaned to you. Just because it was loaned by the council and not an individual doesn’t change the rules. Where is the humility and the gratitude? We are lucky to live in a society in which there is the opportunity for us to care for each other and to be cared for by each other. This can only happen when people understand responsibility.

There should be no need to cap the amount that council tenants earn and then raise their rents to match the private rental market. If we all learnt a bit of responsibility, council tenants would take it upon themselves to find alternative accommodation when their finances allowed it and simply hand back the keys to their social housing properties with smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts.

These might not be my favourite people to hate. In the end, the financial gains from raising council rents will be small, and there are very much bigger fish to fry when it comes to social injustice. Let’s go after the corporations for massive tax evasion, shall we? That would be a decent step in the right direction, and would more than fulfil the main tenet of Socialism that I outlined so painstakingly at the start of this blog.

I can’t help feeling a certain amount of contempt for these people, though. They can’t have their cake and eat it. Either they’re socialists, in which case they should contribute to the system when they can, since they’ve been so content to reap its benefits; or, they’re capitalist, in which case they had no business applying for social housing in the first place, since doing so clearly flies in the face of everything they believe.

1 comment:

  1. Super gritty subject matter, ems...