Economics in the raw

focusE15-mums

Economics happens to real people. Meet Focus E15 — the young London mums at the sharp end of our housing market failure.

The Focus E15 mums, who are campaigning for affordable housing in East London, are back in court this week, after fending off Newham Council’s vindictive attempt to evict them on Friday from the abandoned Carpenter’s estate, a stone’s throw away from the Olympic Park. Here’s Zoe Williams, writing in Saturday’s Guardian, after visiting the “really nice” flats being occupied by these brave young women at the sharp end of London’s housing crisis.

So it’s a constellation: social housing being bought out by private developers, councils trying to divest themselves of what sparse stock they have left, “affordability” criteria bearing no relation to actual affordability, wages that don’t even cover social rents, thousands of homes empty in preparation for the billions their destruction will bring in. It’s pretty plain to everyone except council officials that what looks like a heap of problems is actually one: housing is too expensive. If you try to shoo people from each area as they are priced out by rents, at some point they’re going to mind.

Exactly the point I made (less elegantly) in my post earlier this month: sometimes what looks like a complicated, intractable problem has a simple solution, but the people in power simply don’t want to see it.

Newham Council actually sent people to vandalise the water supply to the Carpenter’s estate in a crude attempt to force the Focus E15 mums to leave. How the bloody hell do we end up  with a Labour council in London’s poorest borough doing something like that? Because politicians and policy makers simply can’t bring themselves to admit that the free market has failed utterly with housing and we need to try something else.  God forbid, we might actually have to go back to what we used to do and let councils do what the market patently cannot.

Economic ideas aren’t abstractions; economics happens to real people. And this really is economics in the raw. Market failure ruins lives, including the lives of people too young to have even heard the word “economics”. This is too important to be left to comfortably salaried academics and City executives to discuss among themselves. That’s why I’ll be at Bow County Court on Thursday to support the Focus E15 mums. I hope you can join me, but if you can’t make it, you can donate a few quid to the cause via their Facebook page.