This week it was estimated that construction in Qatar ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup could cost 4,000 lives. A Guardian investigation suggested squalid conditions and dangerous labour practices in the Qatari building industry are already killing one person a day, with men sleeping ten to a room and often working without water in 50C heat. Once building for the World Cup starts the problem will worsen considerably, with the workforce expected to double.
Qatar, the world’s richest country per capita, is paying £62m to host the tournament. Those building the infrastructure will see little of this. The country currently has 1.2 million migrant workers, mostly from Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. Thanks to government ‘sponsorship’ they are shipped from the Indian subcontinent, often working unpaid or against their will, in a scheme described by many as modern slavery.
Having myself worked to tackle trafficking (in my case that of women in the sex industry) I know international cooperation and pressure is the only solution. Indeed, one of the strongest arguments in favour of the EU is that its entry requirements lift the standards of Member States’ human and employment rights.
It strikes me, looking at the situation in Qatar, that sport should do something similar. Like the EU, the World Cup brings a stamp of international approval which lifts a country’s status. For Qatar, a small country without a footballing tradition, this is particularly true. In future bodies like FIFA should ensure, when choosing a host nation, that the cachet of the tournament comes with more responsibilities.
Closer to home, meanwhile, the Government was criticised for its surprise decision to bring forward Help-to-Buy. The scheme had been due to enter its second phase in January. However, David Cameron said on Sunday that it will now start in October. Following Cameron’s announcement mortgage brokers expressed alarm that they will not cope with the expected stampede of applicants.
There was widespread suspicion that the decision is political rather than economic. Help-to-Buy applies to houses as expensive as £600,000. Under Phase Two the Government will guarantee 15% of a mortgage’s value, letting applicants buy houses with a deposit of 5%. Earlier in the week Osborne was forced to ask Bank of England Chairman Mark Carney to monitor the £600,000 cap, after property experts voiced fears of a bubble. “£600,000 is too high – I don’t understand why we’d support people at that level,” said analyst Kate Faulkner, who favours a £300,000 limit.
As MEP for London, a city with a property microclimate at odds with the other regions, I see the housing emergency first hand speaking to constituents. Our problem is simple: not enough houses. This was exacerbated – some would say caused – by the Help-to-Buy’s mother-policy, the Thatcherite Right-to-Buy scheme.
Osborne’s diagnosis – that the issue today is it’s too difficult to buy half million pound houses – is terrifyingly wide of the mark. Help-to-Buy is a populist gimmick which tinkers with the demand end while failing to address the lack of supply. It is likely to escalate the current crisis. The Government must now, as a matter of urgency, abandon sticking plaster solutions and start to build.