“Desert” in social housing: Does non-consequentialist moral assessment of an applicant’s past have a legitimate role in the allocation of social housing assistance?

Dissertation, Keele University (2004)
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After three decades in which needs, rights and egalitarianism have dominated the moral agenda among supporters of social housing, desert is making a controversial come-back. I argue that desert as a moral concept is useful but is secondary to other moral forces, rather than being a primary driving force itself. Its job is to allow us to factor responsibility into our moral interactions with others. Desert suffers from having kept bad company, and I outline the still resonant history of the abuse of the concept when it was dominant in housing and other “poor relief”, but argue this should not blind us to its force. If we have a moral duty to provide social housing assistance, whether on the basis of need, rights or egalitarianism (but not pure utilitarianism), I argue that desert does have a legitimate limited role to play in adjusting the primary duty governing the allocation of that assistance. There are practical difficulties of restraining abuse of the concept of desert. But these are outweighed by the practical problems in ignoring it, as that can bring an allocation system into disrepute as well as leaving us unable to argue convincingly for appropriate restraint, rather than eradication, of the use of desert.


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