Monday, January 23, 2006

Homeless, welfare and labour laws



One of the less desirable facts of living in Europe are the homeless people. Despite protestations about how socially inclusive and fair Helen Clark’s model societies are, there are more homeless people or beggars (who knows who is homeless and who isn’t) per kilometre in London, Paris, Zurich and other major cities in Europe than there are in New Zealand cities. So why is that?

One reason could be the population is huge – therefore more poor people. Well, maybe so, but that doesn’t explain why they congregate in central London and Chelsea (where I am usually at). What explains that is something very simple – the homeless aren’t entirely stupid. They target commuters because with the million plus people entering central London every morning, even if you get 1% of all those walking past you giving you some change, you wont be too badly off. Secondly, sitting on Kings Road in Chelsea means that you can target the guilty wealthy who live there and tourists who are shopping. You don’t find the homeless hanging out so frequently in High Barnet or Wimbledon. Let’s not forget that if you were homeless and seeking somewhere affordable to live, the LAST part of London you’d be in would be Chelsea – see a one bedroom flat there costs between £300-£450 easily a WEEK. The £300 one would be noisy, small and unbearable, whereas £450 would be pleasant. If you were homeless and serious about finding somewhere to live, you’d go to Hounslow, Brixton or somewhere else where not so many wanted to live.

However, you say, they probably don’t have a job. That is where the government is partly responsible – for pricing jobs out of the market.

One thing that is sadly lacking in the UK compared to New Zealand is service. You don’t know how lucky you are to go to a supermarket and find that someone on NZ$10 an hour (or less) is filling your shopping bag with your groceries as everything is being passed over the barcode reader and scales. These are jobs that anyone without serious physical or mental handicaps can perform – but they don’t in many supermarkets in the UK. You do it, unless you specifically ask for it to be done – which the entire British population should do because it would bring the absurdity of packing your own groceries to an end, and give a nearly unemployable person a job.

However, there is, no doubt, minimum wage laws and other socialist inspired restrictions that stop this. So there are people begging on the streets instead of being “exploited”. I am sure that the supermarkets would happily pay someone £5 an hour to fill shopping bags, partly because customers hate having to do it, but it also slows things up immensely – as the checkout person (not chicks – but then it could be that Chelsea teens wouldn’t be seen DEAD working in a supermarket) has to wait for you to finish packing before serving the next customer.

The same thing happens in other sectors. Furniture removalists work on Saturdays grudgingly with a massive surcharge. Why? Well, you see, this is considered overtime – when flexible labour laws should mean that Gary Upminster can work Wednesday to Sunday, and his employer doesn’t need to pay him more to work weekends, because HIS weekend is Monday and Tuesday. I’d LOVE to not work Mondays and Tuesdays, when the shops are open but quiet. Supermarkets are not open beyond 5pm on Sundays.

Now I could be wrong – maybe people in London don’t want the level of service that people in New Zealand expect. Somehow I doubt it. More liberal labour laws and abolition of the minimum wage may give homeless people a chance to get jobs. The left may say this people would be exploited earning low wages - but I don't see too many of THEM giving money to the homeless. I'd rather work 4-8 hours a day for low wages that sit in the cold begging for money - there is at least a chance I could do better if I was working. More inexplicable is the huge amount of local authority housing that remains in Britain, yet there are homeless people.

Overall the homeless are rather sad – but when I see the tax and national insurance confiscated from my pay packet, that really pisses me off. I don’t owe the homeless anything and it is preying on consciences (and frightening to some) to sit in a blanket in Chelsea beside an ATM and ask people for money. If I didn’t have so much of my income confiscated by central and local government, much of it dedicated to helping those “less well off” (because being well off is a matter of luck to most of us, not hard work), then I might feel more inclined to give some change to people begging.

People selling the Big Issue, on the other hand, are doing something useful. Albeit the only ones I consider are those who are friendly and making an effort, the drone like man staring into space mumbling “big issue” isn’t going to get my attention, when there is a guy on the Strand who is full of life and greets everyone with a smile and thanks them whether or not they buy a copy.

Yes, there are similar people in Paris – in fact I saw a boy of around 15 begging outside a bakery in Paris. Homelessness is seen throughout Western Europe, and although I have not done research into it, I suspect that much can be done in changing labour laws and other restrictions on business that would give such people a chance. However, for too many of them, they have psychologically given up - and the welfare state does nothing for them.

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