Free Housing for All

(Or How the Government are Colluding with Tenants to Wreck the Private Rental Sector and steal your Grandma’s income)

Tenants have been given the green light by the Government to occupy property at no cost. With the legislated balance of rights and responsibilities, tenants can unilaterally determine what responsibilities they will or will not exercise, for example paying the rent, with the threat of a civil slap on the wrist, whilst the landlord must operate under the threat of criminal conviction and crippling fines for stepping out of line in any way.

It’s heart breaking to see small private landlords, many of them ‘accidental’, being driven to despair by government policies designed to put as many obstacles as possible between them and a fair relationship with their tenants, and equally depressing to see organisations which help tenants in trouble sometimes giving advice to say nothing and sit tight until the courts evict them. Housing policy has spawned an adversarial system in which tenants are helpless victims of the landlord class who are shamelessly exploiting them for profit. But so far has the pendulum of rights and responsibilities swung in favour of the feckless or dishonest tenant that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to imagine why honest, decent tenants would want to stay quiet and be associated with them, and why landlords would want to stay in the private rental sector against the barrage of abuse they endure.

Of course, I’m not referring to all tenants here – I’m talking about a minority. Most manage the swings and roundabouts of rights and responsibilities fairly and would surely want to be out there supporting landlords to solve the problem. These landlords are your mums and dads. And before anyone protests that there are bad landlords too – yes, that’s true but I’m not writing about them right now, I’m writing about bad tenants.

What’s happened during the coronavirus pandemic has brought enormous injustices into sharp relief, as pensioners, second-families, small investors and accidental second property owners have had their properties requisitioned by the state and handed to professional tenants who have nothing better to do but conspire to find new methods of stealing accommodation from those ruthless capitalists on the hill, Auntie Mabel and Uncle Bob.

Put simply, a huge number of people who rely on the private sector for their housing, many of whom would be on the streets if it wasn’t for my mum or your pensioner uncle because the state doesn’t have a social housing system, have now come to the attention of our knee-jerkers in Whitehall. Or rather, their votes have.

So here’s what they came up with. Without any thought for the effect on the incomes of tens of thousands of private landlords, the government signalled to a whole section of society that it’s okay not to pay the rent, and that the consequence of this would be nothing at all for many months. This will probably be a year or so, because they also decided that courts are not allowed to hear possession cases through which landlords can exercise what few rights they actually have over their own property, which is actually close to none. Even after Auntie Mabel decodes a ream of legislation and delivers the six months notice she is required to give before the tenant even has to start thinking about whether to move out or not, which he won’t, Uncle Bob still has to fight his way through the court system to get a possession order which will be refused for a spelling mistake somewhere.

Of course there are good arguments for not evicting anyone during a pandemic; life is hard enough without being homeless as well.

BUT…

In return for this edict requiring the private landlord to bear the costs of social policy, your Uncle Bob was given no consideration. None. Not a single aspect of Government policy or court procedure was eased, not a single rule relaxed, not a single law relating to the landlord’s responsibilities was stayed for the period. Not one. And not a single penny of assistance has been offered to people for whom that rent may be the income that supplements their state pension and for whom the property may be the capital which excludes them from state help for care fees.

I can only assume the Government thinks that landlords are stupid enough to try and evict good tenants. They’re not. Nobody ever turned up in court to say their tenants are fantastic but they wanted them evicted to make their lives more difficult. The whole point of most evictions is to evict bad tenants who collectively have become expert at gaming the system whilst simultaneously wrecking the properties of people who’ve had the wit to organise their own pension plan and finding ever more ingenious state-sponsored ways to not pay their rent.

Space: Big stuff a long way away.

Messier 51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy

The incredible clear skies over the past few weeks of Lockdown (which gets a capital ‘L’ now I suppose) have inspired me to do an astronomy course, so a special mention today for my first Deep Space photograph: a snap of the Whirlpool Galaxy last night (looking very much as it did the night before and probably a few million years before that). There’s nothing remarkable about this photograph of course – it’s just a product of our ability to take pictures with telescopes and stuff – but the facts and figures about the Whirlpool are worth some pondering just to get a few things in perspective. So I thought I’d add some numbers in here, to practice what I’m learning from the space boffins on my Open University OpenLearn course.

Two galaxies appear in this picture. The small one at the top is NGC 5195, which has been ambling across this shot for billions of years and happens to be placed where it is right now to give the appearance of two galaxies joined together. The Whirpool has star factories in those spiral arms, is host to many black holes and as a galaxy it contains billions of stars. The Whirpool is 31 Million light years away from us, which makes this picture 31 Million Years older than the camera it was taken with. This photo shows a galaxy which is around 60,000 light years wide, which is probably better thought of as 300,000,000,000,000,000 times the width of Wales. Aproximately.

Technical stuff: This is a visible lighty, colour picture of M51. To get this picture I tasked the Open University COAST (COmpletely Autonomous Survey Telescope) which sits on top of Mount Teide on Tenerife. Clear skies most of the time, and a high altitude make this a popular place for telescopes. This one is a 14inch Schmidt-Cassegrain and you can see it here: https://www.telescope.org/v4webcams.php

Swampy’s alive and well under my lawn

Having more or less decided to dig a pond in the garden, and moments from pressing the button on Amazon to buy a liner and a pump, I made one final survey of the intended site in our extensive grounds (as I hyperbolically refer to the front garden). Imagine my surprise on discovering that excavations have already started!

Small, volcana-like mounds have appeared, and it turns out the far-flung corner of my estate selected for the aquatic feature plastic waterfall has been occupied by a colony of tawny mining bees.

No, I’d never heard of these either. It turns out these bees are absolutely fascinating. They’re solitary, but not so solitary that they haven’t got together to thwart construction efforts on my pond. These little stripey buzzers dig their holes vertically into the ground, seemingly about 8 or 10 inches, and raise little families (after making sure they’ve got rid of the offending male who caused the problem, of course). I have seen them going in and out, but not having my camera with me at the time I’ve borrowed a picture of one, thankyou to wakefieldnaturalists.org

A mining bee!

So that’s my shovelling project delayed for a month or so – let’s hope the sun keeps shining.

Short cuts on a winding road

I hear today a story about the Isle of Wight becoming a testing zone for an app designed to let people know if they’ve been in the vicinity of somebody who has self-declared symptoms of coronavirus. Our local radio has been running the story-and-phone-ins all morning . I’m slightly baffled by this and very alarmed at the way this idea will inevitably be heading, aside from the fact that the same effect could be achieved simply by asking the ‘declarers’ to wear a red bandana – it would be cheaper, simpler, and the bandana could double as a mask during any sneezing fits caused by hayfever or the like. So we need to try and get to the bottom of this and to explore the consequences, because all of us need to know the destination to which this winding road will take us. Here’s what I think.

Let’s assume that everyone has a smartphone capable of carrying a tracking app. (They don’t, but what a huge opportunity for smartphone companies to get a properly PPE’d foothold in the senior-user market …more later.) let’s assume also that users must voluntarily place the app on their newly and expensively aquired smartphone. (They won’t have to , because there’s another corporate opportunity …more later.) Okay, so given this scenario. practically everyone will have a smartphone with a coronavirus tracking app on it. Well now we’re in trouble.

The current crisis gives government and big tech the ideal cover for some serious development work. Every one of us who uses social media will understand the extent of the profiling going on, and the profit which is made from this profiling. Facebook isn’t capitalised at over $500,000,000,000 because it likes to give you a way to make your mates laugh at pictures of your budgie doing a juggling act. Google isn’t valued at over £880,000,000,000 because it does shotgun advertising like on an old black and white TV set.

There are other companies out there – remember Cambridge Analytica*? – with very smart people who probably aren’t averse to getting extremely rich and who may or may not recognise some ethical boundary, and if I were in a socially distanced video conference with them right now on consultant’s rates, in pyjama bottoms and a fake shirt and tie, a large mortgage to pay and a corporate ladder to climb as quickly as possible, I would be making a few suggestions.

Having declared on my app that I have symptoms, it’s an obvious improvement to be able to say that I don’t any more. In fact, wouldn’t it make sense if I could complete the workflow, from initial sore throat to discharge from the ICU, by ticking each of these boxes on a checklist and thus declaring to the world, and especially people who’ve been near me, that I’m now immune because I’ve had the virus. Brilliant. I’d simply need to get this confirmed by a doctor at the hospital, and all my contacts could breathe easy again. I could show this to everyone I meet and it could be called an ‘immunity passport’. Big Tech would know this of course, before we did, because it works at the speed of light, and more or less every advertiser in world would now know it too.

I’d go straight to the front of the queue for a cheap holiday as tour companies try and revive their businesses. Cheap insurance would be a given. I’d be able to go to the pub again and have a beer with others like me. I’d be able to nonchalantly jump the queue at Sainsbury’s (see earlier post). I’d be able to apply for jobs that mere mortals wouldn’t have a hope of getting because they wouldn’t be able to prove their immunity on the app. I’d have an encrypted password, the key to secret societies of superbeings…..and the rest of you will be fighting each other to catch the virus so that you can be immune too.

See where this is going? It’s inevitable. Don’t believe for a second that these scenarios are not going to happen if we decide as a society to embrace apps which share and profile our medical history. It is total lunacy to do this. It’s no good simply to say ‘yes, but we’re profiled already, so what’s the harm in some more?’ This is just a way of creating short cuts on a winding road to total control for absolute profit, and I’m betting this won’t be yours.

Nice day for ducks

Weird stuff going on at home, though not altogether surprising. Quite often I play my guitar and attempt to sing one-man-and-his-guitar songs in a fairly good approximation of a tortured cat, the pain on our actual moggy’s face notwithstanding. In stealth mode in the corner lurks my Google Home automated spy, covertly listening over the last few weeks. Today I wander into the kitchen, say ‘hey Google, play discover weekly’ and it sets up Spotify, which plays me all the same songs by one man and his guitar – only this time perfectly, and even throws in a few Jeff Buckley classics to complement my destruction of Hallelujah. Although, as we all know, there’s no way Google is listening and gathering intelligence until you say ‘Hey Google’ …. is it.

Anyway, here’s a couple of ducks, stuck indoors during last week’s rain.