It seems one of the driving forces in the present welfare debate is the old 18th century notion of the deserving poor, that the days of handouts for free are gone, but there is a housing association in the county of Somerset that seems to have gone a bit far and seems to be about to break the law.
Yarlington Housing Group manages 9,000 houses, and is proposing to introduce the ‘Housing Ambition Plan’, or HAP which they expect new tenants to sign when they take on a new 7 year lease. These ambitions that tenants are expected to work towards include “skills and qualifications so that you stand a better chance of finding the type of work you want”. “Skills for life” covers such matters as “cookery, gardening or DIY”, and “health and well being” includes “thinking about what you eat”.
The group agree that some people may be uncomfortable about signing up to this plan, in which case they will be free to bid for other providers, which begs the question how many other providers are there? with the current housing crisis, this agreement may seriously limit choice in housing for the poorest members of society.
But beyond this, the agreement opens up a whole lot of worms. Is it really the right of a landlord to dictate a persons’ lifestyle in this way? Attempts have been made to limit NHS healthcare to people who smoke and/or eat badly, and this has raised howls of opposition. How is this scheme any different?
In the midst of an economic recession, and in one of the poorest counties – it is a largely agricultural region – is it realistic to suggest increasing skills when most people would already be doing this?
But what is this nonsense about thinking about what you eat? What if you think about a bag of crisps and then eat them. Does that count?
Many people have unhealthy lifestyles due to poverty and/or depression. Bullying them like this will not help. Carrots always work better than sticks, and anyone who has eaten healthy food and led a reasonably active life knows full well how much better they make you feel.