Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Principles of Public administration

Joseph Heller’s wonderful novel Catch-22 was a classic of its kind and all students of government ought to read it. 

To paraphrase its essence it concerned flying dangerous missions in World war 2. 

With the death rate that bombers were experiencing you had to be crazy to want to fly more missions. And crazy people would be grounded. 

But Catch-22 was that if you expressed concern for your safety in the face of the dangers that were real this showed that you were rational. Being rational you wouldn’t be grounded. 

There you have it, you would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if you didn’t, but if you were sane you had to fly them.

Now Catch-22 is alive and well and is affecting  some of the most disadvantaged people living in Wales. 

It is connected with changes to the Housing Benefit regime and one change in particular. The change concerned is popularly named “the bedroom tax.” And there’s nothing fruity about it.

If tenants rent a house and are on housing benefit they’d lose on average £11 per week if they were under-occupying by 1 bedroom. Those under-occupying by 2 bedrooms or more would lose on average £19 per week. They’d have to make the money up themselves to pay the rent.  But they wouldn’t be on housing benefit in the first place if they could pay the rent. The Heller principle again.

So they can’t pay the rent, agreed? And the consequence? Out on their necks. Another addition to the homeless statistics.

A sensible policy I hear you saying, why should tenants continue to live in a house that is too large for them. Let them move to somewhere smaller. 

But here’s the rub. There ain’t anywhere smaller. Nobody’s been building  smaller houses or flats. At least not in the number’s that housing bodies say will be required as a consequence of the changes.

So for example  a couple that have raised a family and whose children have left the nest will have to give up on the family home, because they no longer have the cash to pay the rent. Fine and dandy but where can they go?

That’s the catch, nowhere. 

So they’ll be evicted for non-payment. Become homeless. The council will have a responsibility to house them. And where will they house them. In the housing stock that’s available. And what kind will that be? Well, it will could be a hostel at great expense to the public purse or as is most likely they’ll be put in temporary accommodation. 

And what kind of temporary accommodation, a house that’s likely to have more bedrooms than they need. 

Heller’s principle is alive and well and embedded in Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms.


  1. I think that should be World War II, unless we've had quite a few that I missed?

  2. Time that families took care of their own.

    Social care must end here and now. We cannot afford it, it isn't right and it doesn't send out the right messages.

    Kids, parents, grandparents. Look after your own!

  3. Changed from Roman numerals just to stop confusion