We need answers: Is Wales paying the price for London’s social cleansing?

 

Dafydd Thomas

The term ‘cleansing’ makes us think of a bloody process, a kind of genocide where people of the wrong religion or ethnicity are killed or driven from their homes.

But if the objective is to displace one population to make room for another then there are less brutal ways of doing it. As former residents of London and other parts of England can confirm.

Social cleansing is an ongoing process as the poor, sick and disabled are being moved out of the wealthiest English cities.

Leaked documents obtained by the Independent in 2015 showed that 50,000 families had been moved out of London alone in three years and that Wales was one of the primary destinations.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s shocking to see…. the sheer volume of homeless families being uprooted and sent miles away from their local area.

“[They are] being forced to pack your bags and wave goodbye to… everyone you know – this is the reality for thousands”.

Wales’ politicians need to ascertain as a matter of urgency to what extent Wales is aiding in this inhuman practice by housing thousands deemed undesirable by England’s city councils.

It is very likely that we are, for simple economic reasons – it’s much cheaper to house them here than it would be in the many parts of England, where housing costs are much higher.

Unfortunately, we have no idea as to the scale of the problem because housing associations are one of the very few organisations exempt from Freedom of Information requests.

Why might this exodus be a problem?

  • Many of the people being moved are fragile and are being moved into a country where the health service is already burdened by a comparatively poorer, older and sicker population
  • Their economic prospects are unlikely to be improved by being moved into the poorest country in the UK
  • Rural areas are ill-suited to supply the kind of specialist care that people with some disabilities, health problems or drug issues need
  • Rural areas are also ill-suited to dealing with a rise in crime, as cuts in police budgets mean that forces are spread thinly
  • It can change the character of linguistic communities already under pressure from a large influx of retirees seeking cheaper homes

While we simply do not have any figures to confirm the scale of the movement of people into Wales, anecdotally people will tell you that some areas, such as Rhyl in Denbighshire, has seen a considerable influx for some time.

This town has the highest crime rate in Wales and is also one of the poorest, with an unemployment rate of 67%.

England’s cities aren’t moving those they consider their best – they’re getting rid of people they deem to be a problem that they don’t want to have to deal with.

Researchers have found that of the people accessing the housing service in London, 22% were disabled, and 48% had a health condition.

We also need to consider the mental health implications of this mass relocation – 89% had worsening mental health, 66% reported depression, and 9% suicidal thoughts.

As they noted: “Any move involves upheaval, but moving halfway across the country when you are already likely to be vulnerable causes huge emotional and health problems”.

Mistake

This is not a matter of not wanting people from England in Wales. It’s a question of:

  • Whether Wales should aid and abet an inhuman practice
  • Whether Wales can afford, financially and socially, the dislocation of thousands of families that England’s cities found to be undesirable.

Unfortunately, as we do not have any concrete figures as to the scale of the displacement it is impossible to know what the effect is on the Welsh Government’s annual budget. It is however, over time, likely to be very large.

This, in turn, means that there’s less to be invested on initiatives that might improve Wales’ economy, such as education.

Professors’ Gerry Holtham and Brian Morgan’s research shows that the most important contributing factor affecting economic outputs such as GVA, wages and levels of economic activity is expenditure levels on schools.

In discussing the report Prof. Holtham noted that: “The biggest single mistake in Welsh Government policy has been to bleed education spending [on schools] in favour…….of health, while it should have done the exact opposite”.

As a result of spending more on health, Wales already spend on average £604 less on education per head every year than England.

By allowing thousands of families that are more likely to have health issues to be forcibly moved to Wales, the Welsh Government is making its own problems much worse.

This is ultimately about moving people out of very rich cities that can afford to look after them into very poor areas that will struggle to do so.

Unfair

The problem of ‘social cleansing’ in England is only likely to worsen as a result of the Conservatives’ policies, such as the bedroom tax.

The sad truth is that the Conservatives’ policy is being facilitated by the Welsh Labour government by using funds from the Welsh budget to finance housing associations in Wales to fund this forced exodus.

The English Conservatives are offloading problem families, and the associated costs, on to the Welsh NHS, and thereby bleed spending on education.

They can then point to Wales’ deteriorating education and health services – the “line between life and death” as David Cameron liked to call it – as a further sign of the superiority of their own.

This is unfair to the people of Wales but also the thousands of vulnerable families that are being displaced. They need to be supported in the communities they call home.

Imagine growing up in London and, after a period of mental health problems and unemployment, being sent to a rural community in the south Ceredigion.

There is no hospital within twenty miles. The people around you are speaking a language you do not understand. It would be a completely alien landscape.

Wales’ Assembly Members are understandably reluctant to ask questions about this issue because it might be interpreted as callousness towards thousands of sick and vulnerable people.

But the truth is that they would be acting not just in Wales’ interests but in the interests of those being moved as well.

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