As the UK prepares to distance itself from one continent, the Tories want it to get closer to another. While Brexit remains uncertain, it seems likely this government will look more across the Atlantic than the Channel for its socio-economic and political future. Some Tories are actively pursuing this wish-fulfilment. Liam Fox has talked about leaving the EU being an opportunity to “supercharge” the “special relationship”. Writes Kevin Vickers
The UK is mirroring the US across a range of social issues. Our health service is being privatised by stealth. Primary and secondary education is increasingly stratified with academies and multi academy trusts (MATs) engulfing state schools and limiting the democratic control of both local authorities and parents. Students in higher education are saddled with massive debt. Trade union membership is falling as casual employment spreads. More workers are now long-distance, high-cost commuters.
Populist, racist and far-right politics are on the rise; as is deadly urban violence. Each of these factors disproportionately affects people with lower incomes and darker skin. As a result, our social fabric is fraying and tearing, producing the kind of isolated individualism that’s a sad feature of US society.
This shift isn’t accidental. As Liam Fox’s words confirm, there are people who hold the US as the highest form of capitalism. They want to open every aspect of our lives to corporate profit seekers and reduce social services to discretionary charity. But the morphing doesn’t end there, or with chlorinated chicken - something Fox refers to as just a “detail".
Under the Thatcher and Reagan governments the banking system was heavily deregulated. This allowed lenders to legally offer mortgages to people who could not, and would never be able to, pay them back. This, in turn, created the “sub-prime” lending bubble that laid the crumbling foundations for the global financial crisis. And made many thousands of families homeless. We are only too familiar with the fall out from this.
Bank bailouts and 9 years of austerity - paid for by the poor.
Another troubling and telling aspect of UK-US twinning is the increased use of prescription drugs. This form of self-medication has been at epidemic proportions in the US for decades. Over the past 5 or 6 years, however, visible homelessness and drug use on the street in places like San Francisco has spread. There are many reasons for this in the US, not least the pernicious role of big-pharma.
Under the Tories a similar story has been playing out here in the UK. Homelessness is at a level - but it’s the Tory flagship policies of austerity and privatisation that has led the assault.
Predatory landlords are responsible for almost half of all cases of homelessness in the UK. Ending tenancies after 6-12 months to put up rents and make more profit is common practice. For those on minimum wage or in receipt of capped benefits there is no money to pay the increase - and so they are forced out. These increases also push up “market” rents, making it harder for working people to afford to live. At a time of historic low interest rates (0.5% for the past 6 years) what justification can there be for rent rises that put people onto the streets?
Crumbling social services, inadequate mental health support, rising costs and stagnant wages have created the perfect conditions for homelessness, despair and addiction. At a time of high political anxiety and instability at all levels it’s understandable that people seek solace in all kinds of ways. But treating the symptoms of these underlying societal insecurities wont work.
For a partial antidote, the Homes for All campaign is organising a special conference looking at the toxic link between bad housing and bad health. Raquel Rolnik, former UN Housing Rapporteur, who exposed the Bedroom Tax during her 2014 UK visit, will open the 'Bad Housing Makes us Sick' event on 30 March.
She joins Guardian columnist Dawn Foster, campaigning doctors,
Generation Rent, Fran Heathcote of PCS union, Deborah Garvie from
Shelter, Justice for Grenfell and Ellen Clifford of Disabled People
Against Cuts, to inspire discussion and action. on 30 March 10am in
It’s about widening the campaign for housing – and a society – that doesn’t make us sick.
Looking at the toxic link between housing failures and mental and
physical ill health, they want to build the campaign to demand action in
- See Facebook event here for updates and to book tickets: