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What’s Wrong with Britain? Poor Housing, Education and Health in Crisis

Housing and the ‘Right to Buy’

This country has never recovered from the 1980s Great British Sell-off of our social housing – council houses and flats. Having sold them off, councils weren’t then allowed to use the money to build much needed… council houses. There has been a social housing crisis ever since.

Tory plans to force housing associations (private, non-profit organisations) to go down the same path will lead to more desperate people that local councils will have to deal with. The Tories are fond of telling us we all ‘aspire’ to home ownership, but that aspiration comes second to people’s simple wish to have a secure, affordable roof over their heads. Whether it’s the rent or the mortgage that is affordable is not actually that relevant.

Education and the loss of morale

Why is it that each new government has to overhaul the education system, just when teachers have got to grips with the last ‘reforms’? A YouGov poll finds that over 50 per cent of teachers are thinking of leaving the profession. Yet people go into teaching because they sincerely want to teach. Schools Minister Nick Gibb says “Teaching remains a highly popular profession…” He continues, “While many teachers stay in their roles for more than five years…” Five years? Is that now a long time to be in a job that used to be for life

Governments have for years depended on teaching being a ‘vocation’. No matter the conditions, the extra hours, the lack of support they receive, teachers will go on teaching, won’t they? Not any more it seems.

Health, the NHS and corrupt money

Poor housing and poor education often result in poor health, but we all know the National Health Service is in trouble financially. Tories use that as a good reason to privatise parts of it, but that doesn’t stop them hiding how bad it has got under their watch. One of the main problems has been the Private Finance Initiatives, introduced by the Tories, which has led to crippling debts.

While the right to buy has ruined the supply of housing for poorer people, so PFIs have ruined many hospitals. Those built under PFIs still have to allocate large sums of their budget away from patient care, just to go on paying the interest on these deals. Governments should get bold and put an end to this. Financiers have earned more than enough from the poor taxpayers.

But they won’t. Another health story to emerge is connected to the Volkswagen scandal, where harmful emissions have been polluting the air when customers had been led to believe that VW was environmentally friendly. It turns out they are rather more friendly to the body that is supposed to measure and monitor the emissions produced by their cars.

But although Housing, Health and Education form major ‘life’ concerns for the average person, for people earning a less than generous salary all three areas are heavily impacted by the lack of financial security. It goes without saying that the Guardian and other newspapers had, in September, highlighted the news that ‘zero hours’ contracts rose by nearly a fifth last year. And it should come as no surprise that they will increase because business groups are in favour of such contracts.

So there we have it: insecure jobs, insecure housing, and an insecure education system that lets down both teachers and pupils, all of which results in poor health that can’t be addressed by a failing health-care system.

Insecurity is the problem.

Life itself is never secure and dependable, but the current government and its devotion to business and profit are making life a whole lot less secure for many people. Are the Tories hoping we’ll all simply die of worry? Then they can close down government and go and enjoy themselves.


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The Huge Racial Injustice Hidden in Our Credit Scores

Worried about the use of big data for corporate gain? Look not further than the credit scoring system in the US, which has profound impact on our daily lives and is a source and perpetuator of systemic racial injustice.

In response to aggressive marketing by the “big three” multinational credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – employers, landlords and insurance companies now use credit reports and scores to make decisions that have major bearing on our social and economic opportunities. These days, your credit history can make or break whether you get a job or apartment, or access to decent, affordable insurance and loans.

Credit reports and scores are not race neutral. Rather, they embed existing racial inequities in our credit system and economy – to the point that a person’s credit information serves as a proxy for race.

For decades, banks have systematically redlined black and Latino neighborhoods, refusing to make conventional loans or locate branches in non-white and lower-income areas, notwithstanding laws that obligate banks to meet the credit needs of all communities they serve, consistent with safe and sound banking operations. Thanks to financial services deregulation and the advent of asset-backed securitization, a multi-billion dollar “fringe” financial system has filled the void, characterized by high-cost, destabilizing products and services, from payday loans to check-cashers – which banks typically also own or finance.

People and communities of color have been disproportionately targeted for high-cost, predatory loans, intrinsically risky financial products that predictably lead to higher delinquency and default rates than non-predatory loans. As a consequence, black people and Latinos are more likely than their white counterparts to have damaged credit.

This firmly-entrenched two-tiered financial system has had devastating consequences for entire neighborhoods of color. Starting in the 1990s, financial institutions began flooding historically-redlined neighborhoods with predatory mortgages that ultimately led to the meltdown of the global economy. Waves of foreclosures hammered neighborhoods of color for more than a decade before the crash and black and Latino Americans bore the brunt of the ensuing foreclosure crisis, recession and spiking unemployment. Droves of people turned to high-rate credit cards to cover even basic expenses, contributing to the consumer debt crisis and spawning a bottom-feeding debt-buying industry that purchases old debts on the cheap and then uses the courts to extract judgments disproportionately from people and communities of color. These judgments are then listed in their credit reports, which also brings down their credit scores, in turn limiting a whole range of opportunities.

Although Wall Street is no longer pumping toxic mortgages into black and Latino neighborhoods, people and neighborhoods of color continue to reel from the foreclosure crisis, which many predict is far from over. Meanwhile, racially discriminatory and subprime auto lending are on the rise, payday lenders continue to extract billions of dollars from low-wage workers, and student loan debt has surpassed the trillion dollar mark. One in five Americans has unpaid medical debt, with more than half of all African-Americans and Latinos carrying medical debt on their credit cards. By definition, people who take payday loans and have uninsured medical debt are struggling, and are likely to miss payments. Missed payments translate into decreased credit scores.

This information – unpaid medical and credit card debt, student loans, and mortgages, as well as foreclosures, bankruptcies, debt collection judgments, wage garnishments – appears on people’s credit reports and lowers their credit scores. And the credit bureaus make humongous profits by selling this information about all of us.

In New York City, a coalition of labor, community and civil rights groupsrecently won the strongest ban on employment credit checks in the country. It’s a major economic justice victory, but we know it’s just a first step. We knocked down this discriminatory barrier because there is no demonstrated connection between a person’s credit history and his or her likely job performance or character. Credit checks can also block applicants with no or “thin” credit histories, including many students and immigrants. Rather, using credit information to make hiring decisions – or to rent apartments, set insurance terms, or extend credit – is a clear way to perpetuate inequality, poverty and segregation.

Credit reports and scores are mirrors of our manifestly two-tiered financial system, and more broadly our system of racial wealth inequality and unequal opportunity. In our culture, indebtedness – and certainly failure to pay one’s debts – is deeply entwined with concepts of morality. The insidious notion that our credit history speaks to our reliability as human beings is largely taken for granted.

The credit bureaus and the information they sell have out-sized influence over our lives. It’s time to stop these pernicious practices and the systemic injustices that underlie them.


daily alternative | alternative news – The Huge Racial Injustice Hidden in Our Credit Scores

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