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Owen Hatherley on the "horrible logic" of evicting rioters' families

Josh Oldham17 August 2011

Owen Hatherley condemns the government reaction to the riots as "brutal," undemocratic and illegal. In an article for the Guardian, the author of A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain discusses controversial proposals to evict rioters' families from their homes, which have already implemented by Wandsworth council, with many other councils preparing to follow suit.

Hatherley argues that such a response is ideologically motivated and designed to accord with previously existing agendas on social housing and benefit cuts.

The coalition sets time limits on council tenancies and freezes the already meagre levels of social housebuilding; Labour councils embark on massive demolition programmes of large estates and their replacement with developer-led mixed private and supposedly affordable estates. Both have much the same effect - removing the "undeserving" poor from highly profitable inner-city sites.

He suggests that the strategy of evictions "exemplifies that failure of the most basic social understanding that at least helped trigger these riots" and will only perpetuate the underlying causes of the unrest.

The idea seems to be that those in social housing could just find somewhere else, they could just walk into private housing. Like the similar proposals for taking away housing benefit from miscreants, it is based on an inability to imagine what poverty is like, to think for a second what might happen to a family when it loses its income or its home.

Furthermore, Hatherley questions the legality of these evictions, arguing that such punishments are completely unprecedented in a democratic nation.

On another level it is of dubious legality – for a council tenancy to be rescinded, the tenant has to have been convicted of an offence on or near the premises, not always the case in these highly mobile riots; and given that so many of the rioters were minors, their parents will be those being evicted. There's a term for this – collective punishment. It is illegal under international law.

Discussing how such proposals link to a wider agenda on public housing, Hatherley links the recent developments to previously announced government plans to decrease spending on housing benefits - plans which were already threatening to drive the poor away from more prosperous inner city areas.

This is an intensification of that already existing agenda. Knowing that many of the thousands of young people who rioted were living on estates, their expulsion can free up some more space, clear that overstretched waiting list a little. It will make our cities even more Balkanised and unequal, and it will make the young even more dispossessed and angry. Brutal as these proposals may be, they are hardly inconsistent. Like the long-predicted riots themselves, they have not come out of the blue.

Visit the Guardian to read the article in full.

Filed under: articles, riots