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I have been thinking about the comments the Prime Minster made at a question and answer session with the public this week, in the West Midlands.

I have been thinking about the comments the Prime Minster made at a question and answer session with the public this week, in the West Midlands.

In case you missed it, he said “should we be asking, actually, when you are given a council home, is it for a fixed period”.

There is a debate to be had on the rights and wrongs of this proposal in terms of whether it will help solve housing problems such as overcrowding.

What I started to think about, though, was the phenomena of “churn”. If the Prime Minster’s ideas were comprehensively implemented (a big if), areas with a large amount of social housing would start to experience a rapid change in their population.

Picture of an old fashioned butter churner from Wikimedia Commons

People would be moving in and moving out at quite a pace. Areas such as Tower Hamlets already have a large number of people moving in and out, a situation which these proposals would intensify.

I think there is a separate debate to be had about whether or not this would be beneficial to community life.

On the one hand we might argue that a stable population is necessary for people to get to know their neighbours and to build trust and a sense of belonging.

On the other hand, perhaps it is good for communities to have some new blood, bringing in people with different perspectives and resources.

A recent American study found that high levels of population churn were linked with lower levels of political activism and with improved academic performance. A mixed bag.

As I started to think about these issues, my mind drew me back to Young and Willmott’s seminal work on the East End of London. The picture they paint of the move from the tight knit communities of Bethnal Green to the newer estates in Essex, is a rich and complex one.

The old East End they present is one in which everyone knows everyone. People are in and out of each other’s houses the whole time, borrowing sugar and gossiping. However, those who moved out to Essex were glad of the green spaces and new schools as much as they regret not being able to call on neighbours when they are sick. Again, a mixed bag.

At present many people are concerned about how quickly their communities are changing. They can feel a lack of control and a sense of bewilderment and loss. But what is the alternative? We cannot expect to stop people moving house!

As much as we are social animals I think we can be nostalgic animals, longing for a time of stability and calm which, perhaps, never existed. As someone once cautioned us, we should not let the dead bury the living.

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