George Osborne doesn't like it if your blinds are down in the morning

Other Tory initiatives include "fold your clothes better", "tidy your room" and "call your grandmother more often, she likes to talk to you."

George Osborne told the Today programme that:

It is unfair that [a] person leaves their home early in the morning and they pull the door behind them and they are going to do their job and they look at their next-door neighbour, the blinds are down and that family is living a life on benefits. That is unfair as well and we are going to tackle that as part of tackling this country's economic problems.

The rhetoric has moved beyond simple scapegoating of the poor, and on to silliness. For the benefit of Osborne, here are other reasons why your neighbour may have their blinds down while you head to work:

  • They may leave their blinds down for security reasons
  • They may leave their blinds down because they leave home before it gets light
  • They may leave their blinds down because they leave home before their children wake up
  • They may leave their blinds down because they don't want light in their house
  • They may leave their blinds down because they work from home and don't need to take a punishing commute
  • They may leave their blinds down because they work a night shift and only just got back home before you left for work
  • They may leave their blinds down because their disability means they require more sleep than people who have the good fortune to be healthy
  • They may leave their blinds down because they don't want to raise them and don't really understand why that is now the test of whether or not they are thought of as "living a life on benefits"

If you're wondering why Osborne decided to pick on that particular example, well. Just look at his neighbour's house:

Blinds. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.