The Modern Day Clearances

The Modern Day Clearances

Rigged capitalism has always required disposable populations in order to function. ‘Cleansing’ is akin to the Scottish land clearances Mark Braund outlines how to address the root causes.

The government’s controversial cap on housing benefit comes into effect this April. When first announced, Boris Johnson vowed to fight a policy he described as ‘Kosovo-style social cleansing’. The Mayor of London would have done better to compare it to the Scottish Highland Clearances, for here the parallels are more evident, both in terms of their motivation and the likely consequences.  

The clearances, like the land enclosures that began much earlier in England, were, according to their supporters, motivated by the need to improve agricultural efficiency to feed a growing population. For others they were a means by which a privileged elite, discomfited by rapid social change and threats to their position, were able to re-assert their power over the masses.  

Today it’s much the same: the government argues for housing benefit cuts as an essential part of its deficit reduction plan, an objective shaped by a particular interpretation of economics. For those who reject that interpretation, they are part of a pernicious project to defend elite wealth in an increasingly uncertain world.

Westminster councillor Philippa Rowe describes as ‘absolutely ludicrous’ a situation where anyone entitled to housing benefit can claim up to £2,000 a week to live in a desirable part of central London. But she ignores the fact that it is a dysfunctional market in private rented housing that has driven up social rents, along with the failure to build sufficient new homes.

It is absurd that the state, through the redistribution of revenues raised through unfair taxation on incomes and enterprise, has to subsidise the housing costs of millions of people to the tune of £21 billion a year. But more absurd is the fact many housing benefit recipients are in...