Monday, 26 January 2015

Queer-ying gentrification

18 months ago my colleague Dr Kirsten Besemer blogged on here about a surprise finding from some work we had done for the EHRC in Scotland – that a disproportionate number of non-heterosexual people lived in the most deprived neighbourhoods in Scotland. We’ve since written this up as a journal article now published in Housing Theory and Society.

In writing up the paper we set the findings in the broader gentrification literature. As Kirsten wrote about back in 2012, this was because the narrative of LGBT households as gentrification pioneers is dominant. Growing up, one of the formative events in my emerging sexuality was watching the Channel 4 drama Queer as Folk. Aiden Gillen’s character Stuart typified this narrative – he lived in a swanky loft apartment in central Manchester, in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, paid for through his successful career, despite the homophobia he had experienced in his life. Similarly, in a lot of American scholarship on the creative class, LGBT households are synonymous with the creative class. If you’re a gay man, you’re rich and live in a loft apartment.

Reading through the literature on gentrification and LGBT residential location choice that I did for this paper, it was surprising how much this narrative has not been troubled – even though Loretta Lees in this article from 2000(£) argued that gentrification scholarship needed a much greater focus on issues of gender, ethnicity and sexual identity as well as class. Apologies if I did miss out on particular literature, but the stuff that came up in my literature search was predominantly accepting of the gay gentrification narrative.

There are two issues with this. Firstly, it does smack of a growing heteronormativity that has been particularly noticeable in the debates around equal marriage. Gay men are now just seen as men, in fact they’re almost seen as uber-men as they aren’t burdened with childcare, and just want to settle down with their husband in a very tastefully decorated house. This ignores the “little things” that Panti Bliss talks so evocatively about that frame how non-heterosexual people experience the world. Yes, we have seen the declining significance of homophobia in our society, but as a non-heterosexual you still find yourself censoring your behaviour; or feel that lump of fear in your throat when you reveal the gender of your partner to a relative stranger. To presume that non-straight households are always gentrification pioneers, or increasingly second-wave gentrifiers, is to ignore diversity within the non-straight population, and impose a heteronormativity upon non-heterosexual people. If data on sexual orientation at a neighbourhood level is available for other countries, I would strongly encourage others to repeat our analysis to see if this is a Scottish phenomenon, or a broader one.

The second issue is one of the policy implications of recognising that the lives of non-heterosexual people might be difficult and therefore they find themselves living in socially-rented housing in deprived neighbourhoods. As we stated in our original Hard to Reach report it is all too easy to presume Scotland’s deprived neighbourhoods are homogenous, white, heterosexual working class areas. We have shown they are not. Our finding might be a geographic fluke because the non-heterosexual population is so small, although tests of statistical significance show it is not. That this non-straight population living in deprived neighbourhoods in Scotland is comparatively older, does give credence to the description an older LGBT-identifying friend described, of lots of older non-straight people who had pretty difficult lives, living in social housing in the west of Scotland. If we accept this, then we need to consider whether services for non-heterosexual people need to move out of inner-city locations, or that mainstream services in deprived neighbourhoods need greater skills and training around helping a non-heterosexual population that might have multiple problems. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Why I'm voting no

No this isn't about Indyref. This is about the University Superannuation Scheme. And I'm angry. I've voted to reject the latest proposals and I just wanted to state why:

The accrual rate is bloody awful. Even the 1/75ths is far worse than other schemes. I could get a lower paid job in a school or a Scottish local authority and retire on a higher pension. The argument is "well at least we still get a lump sum". Yes, but that lump sum starts being devalued the moment you get it, while accrued pension gives you guaranteed income for the rest of your life.

The cap at £55,000 on defined benefit is grossly unfair, especially if you have a) any desire to ever be promoted or b) hope that your wage will rise faster than CPI inflation (which the £55k cap will be linked to). People who earn more get a hell of a lot more out of final salary schemes and defined benefit schemes and live longer. This is unfair and unaffordable, the but the way you deal with that is through graduated contributions - the more you earn, the more as a percentage you pay in.

The cap is also divide and rule. Once this is introduced all those on salaries over £55k (the bosses) will not give a shit about the DB scheme as it will provide such a pittance of their pension. The shift to FS and and CARE schemes in USS was already divide and rule, but the way to overcome this is to move us all onto a more generous CARE scheme. And remember, that VC with his tax-free pension pot on his salary of £250k won't need to worry about investing it in an annuity with a decent return. All the other sources of private income will mean he will be able to splash out on a Lamborghini with his pension pot.

We have not been told what other options there are to close the deficit. I want to know: what employer and employee contributions will have to increase to in an alternative recovery plan maintaining final salary; and what they would have to increase by to maintain defined benefit.

Pensions policy in the UK has been a complete mess for the past 60 years and we're all paying the price for this. However, workers should not shoulder the entire burden as we are increasingly doing. Employers have to shoulder their responsibility, and cough-up when they've done things like take contribution holidays. We also need long-term sustainable solutions, not knee-jerk reactions to current market conditions.

Returns on annuities, particularly gilts, are very low at the moment, so schemes are spiraling into deficit. However, globally the returns to capital are increasingly massively. All those headlines about "growing inequality" - that is because the returns to capital are increase and the returns to labour (wages) are being eroded. Pensions are deferred wages. We need to fight for organised labour. So vote no. Defend USS.

(apologies for any factual errors on accrual rates etc; pensions are complicated; I only have so much blogging time)

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Top five posts of 2014

So, I'm watching Mary Poppins on the telly so I thought I'd jump on a bandwagon and do a quick post of my most popular posts of 2014. In fact the top two for 2014 are the number two and three for most hits this blog has received ever. My rant about the sheer stupidity of 2013's Niceway Code 'I am not a horse' still holds the record for most hits at 1664, although my top post of 2014 (see below) overtook it briefly in November.

Anyway, in reverse order we have:
5. Why the Improvement Service is Wrong on This One - where yet again, I felt I had to make some pretty basic statements about how to interpret indices of multiple deprivation.

4. Why I am not a Planner nor Proud of Planning - where I gave up on the planning profession because the outcomes I see in terms of development are just so poor and decision-making is just dominated by a desire to see development happen no matter what the cost.

3. Making Peace with Cambridge - a very personal post, reflecting on student mental health, social class, and my own experience of attending an elite university. 

2. Why I'm a Swithering Yes Voter - where I outlined some of the reasons why I voted Yes in the referendum for Scottish Independence.

1. Scotland Decides - where, two months later, after I'd voted Yes, I eventually got sick of the nationalist campaign and ranted about how ridiculous the whole thing was. I now wish I'd voted no (and really want to know how many people there are out there like me). I'm very glad this has managed to get (substantially) more hits than my Yes post. 

Suffice to say that this blog gets most traffic when I don't blog about my research. The only reason why the fifth most popular post got so many hits was because it was responding to a piece in Holyrood magazine and the journalist was kind enough to retweet it and engage me in twitter chat about it. At this rate I might as well give up on here and stick to A Lidl Bit of Middle Class Pleasure.