There are 2.65 million unemployed people in Britain. 1.7 million people are on the waiting list for social housing, while 2 million say they struggle to pay their rent or mortgage. I would not be the first person to point out that a mass programme of house-building would go some way to alleviate the unemployment problem. However, what if we made this a real ‘something for something’ project? What if people built their own homes?
Hear me out. The government sets up a public company to build a
housing development. They provide the land, there’s plenty of it. If we
run short we can always repeal a few of those Enclosure Acts as Peter Lazenby
suggests. Then, you hire the usual medley of skilled labour;
electricians, plumbers, carpenters etc. Finally, instead of searching
round for the low-skilled labour which is part of any large scale
construction project, you invite local people on JSA to apply. To be
clear, these will be jobs paying at least the national minimum wage. The
added draw is, you won’t just be lugging bricks around to build a home,
you’ll be doing it to build your home. Every person who switches from
JSA to working for the company, and stays in that job for the length of
the build, is guaranteed a place in the completed development.
We can go even further, and nick an idea from Henry Ford. We could
allow someone to contribute a portion of their gross income towards a
shared ownership scheme for their property. They would not pay tax or
national insurance upon this contribution, boosting it further. Since
these people would essentially be deferring their wages, the up-front
costs of employing them would be even lower.
Think about what this would create. At the end of the build, you
would have dozens of people who had worked together now living in the
same community. You would already have the social bonds that come from
collective enterprise. In addition, no individual is going to tolerate
vandalism to what they themselves built. You would have that sense of
ownership, that sense of cohesion right from the beginning. When looking
for new opportunities, people would have a proven track record of work
and achievement, but they would also have those informal networks
through which opportunities so often travel.
The old cry goes up, ‘where’s the money going to come from?’ The net
salary for someone on the minimum wage working the standard 37.5hr week
is £10,424. JSA annually is £3,692, so these are indeed significant
increases. However, you could employ every one of those 2.65 million
unemployed for two years for the projected cost of HS2. Further, the
money spent would be offset by that saved over the longer term as the
housing benefit bill fell and rents produced an income stream, to say
nothing of previously jobless people going on to further employment. At
the last, you have an asset: hundreds of thousands of new homes to house
the people of Britain.
If you’re a conservative, love it because it rewards those who work.
If you’re a socialist, love it because it is infrastructure investment
by the interventionist state. And if you’re a woolly liberal, love it
for those bonds of community it creates. Let’s have the Brick Society.