Category Archives: Housing
We don’t think enough about local government, one of whose jobs it is to mend potholes. When in our own lives our nearside front tyre is shredded, the pothole, Parris believes, represents “a momentary twitching-back of one tiny corner of a great curtain, behind which lie, no, not potholes, but a million anxious human stories, caused in part by cuts in public spending”.
He adds that accidents due to potholes are usually relatively trivial compared with cuts which for others may have meant:
- the loss of social care in dementia,
- no Sure Start centre for a child,
- the closure of a small local hospital
- or the end of a vital local bus service.
Potholes are a parable for others that matter even more. Unfilled potholes put lives at risk and have become a symbol of the damage done to every walk of life by spending cuts.
All the pressures on those who run government, local and central, are to worry about the short-term. it is usually possible to leave issues like road maintenance, decaying school buildings, rotting prisons, social care for the elderly, Britain’s military preparedness or a cash-strapped health service, to tread water for years or even decades. “They’ll get by,” say fiscal hawks, and in the short-term they’re often right.
- Nobody’s likely to invade us;
- the NHS is used to squeezing slightly more out of not enough;
- cutting pre-school provision is hardly the Slaughter of the Innocents;
- the elderly won’t all get dementia at once;
- there’s little public sympathy for prisoners;
- teachers can place a bucket under the hole in the roof
- and road users can dodge potholes.
Parris continues: “But beneath the surface problems build up. The old get older, and more numerous. Potholes start breaking cyclists’ necks. Care homes start going under. The Crown Prosecution Service begins to flounder. We run out of social housing. Prisoners riot. And is there really no link between things like pre-schooling, sports and leisure centres and local outreach work, and the discouragement of knife crime?”
“When New Labour was elected in 1997 we Tories groaned as it tipper-trucked money into the NHS, school building and other public services. Thirteen years later when Labour left office the undersupply was monetary, the red ink all too visible”.
Parris asks: “Must we forever oscillate like this?
One answer: Green & Labour Party leaders would meet these needs and avoid red ink by redirecting the money raised by quantitative easing.
Inside Housing reports that the government has approved upgrades to parliament, including sprinklers, despite turning down requests from councils for cash to fund fire safety works on tower blocks.
Councils which hoped to install sprinklers following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June which killed 71 people have received no commitment from government on funding.
Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for housing at Nottingham City Council, said: “The government has found the resources necessary to install sprinklers in the Houses of Parliament as a sensible fire safety precaution for the safety of those who work and visit there. It does seem strange that, at the same time, the housing minister deems sprinklers in social housing tower blocks not to be essential to ensure the safety of our tenants”. Alison Butler, cabinet member for housing at the council, said:
“Parliament is a historic building and it is a place where people work, but protecting people’s lives and their homes should be a higher priority”.
The Times reports that David Stewart, a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, is bringing in a member’s bill which would place a duty on councils and registered social landlords to fit automatic fire suppression systems in all new social housing. He said that sprinkler systems were so effective at preventing the spread of fires that there had been no instances of multiple fire deaths when a working sprinkler system was in place.
“This simple change in law is a practical step that will save lives. Councils in Angus, Fife and Dundee already install sprinklers into their new developments as standard and I want to see this approach extended.”
As Alison Butler said, protecting people’s lives and their homes should be given priority.
In an earlier post it was noted that “Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor” (John Grisham) 2.6 million women born in the 1950s will ‘lose out’ because of changes to pension law: “while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks”.
Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, wrote earlier this month:
“Across Britain some 3.8 million women are affected by the increase to the state pension age. Though there is a good deal of sympathy for the aim of equalising the retirement age, what has taken place in practice has been appallingly unjust. Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) agrees with equalisation, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice (1995/2011 Pension Acts), faster than promised (2011 Pension Act), and no time to make alternative plans”.
Guy Opperman, work and pensions minister with responsibility for financial exclusion, failed to reassure women in their 60s, hit by changes to their pension, by advising them to get a job or take up “extended apprenticeship opportunities”.
“Raising the pension age for women, often with little notice and sometimes failing to notify people of the changes at all, is a recipe for disaster.
“Many Waspi women affected by state pension inequality have been working full time and paying national insurance since the age of 15 or 16. In my constituency of Easington, the government’s changes to the state pension age will harm some 4,542 women.
“The OECD has recently ranked Britain’s pensions system as the worst in the developed world – yet the Tories are attempting to deny Waspi women even a basic state pension” . . .
“Excluded from the winter fuel allowance, from the free bus pass and now from the state pension, this generation of women are now in numerous cases having to sell their homes, take on precarious poverty-wage jobs or rely on foodbanks . . .
“The government’s given reason for failing these 3.8 million women is that to give them their pensions would cost as much as £30bn – for six years of pensions.
“Yet research from Landman Economics suggests the cost of helping Waspi women would likely be a more modest £8bn”. Morris lists the wider context:
- Refurbishing Westminster will cost the taxpayer some £7bn,
- Britain’s airstrikes in Syria are estimated to reach a cost of around £10bn.
- Increased privatisation of the national health service is estimated to cost at least an extra £4.5-£10bn each year.
- There have been billions of pounds of needless tax cuts to the bank levy.
“In this context finding the money for Waspi women seems a sensible price to pay to give these women justice and stop poverty from rising to ever more tragic levels. We know and we can see that it isn’t equal, it isn’t fair and it isn’t justifiable – it’s driving down the incomes and the quality of life of countless women.
Morris: “The prime minister is herself a Waspi woman but I doubt she ever has or ever will be faced with a choice between heating or eating. Yet this doesn’t mean it is too late for the government to do the right thing”.
“The parliamentary ombudsman is currently investigating the Department for Work and Pensions for maladministration, by failing to notify women of the changes to their state pension age. If the ombudsman finds in favour of the Waspi women the government could have to pay compensation to the tune of billions of pounds”
The Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and 50 Tory MPs support the Waspi campaign.
“100 tenants a day lose homes as rising rents and benefit freeze hit” – The Observer July 2017.
In the same month, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study attributed 80% of the recent rise in evictions to the “no fault” process under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.
Two months’ written notice is all that private landlords need to do: they don’t need to give any reason when they ask tenants to leave.
It allows the worst landlords to ignore disrepair – tenants who complain are given notice – a process officially recognised under the name ‘retaliatory eviction’.
Read more about retaliatory eviction’ – the subject of Commons Briefing paper SN07015 by Wendy Wilson – published on June 13, 2017.
Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue forcefully in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions
Mr Corbyn reviewed the government’s record:
- Homelessness is up by 50% and rough sleeping has doubled. Homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every single year since 2010.
- Evictions by private landlords have quadrupled since 2010. There is no security in the private rented sector.
- One-for-one replacement of council housing sold off through the right to buy was promised, but just one in five council homes have been replaced.
- Hundreds of thousands of people are on housing waiting lists.
Campbell Robb, chief executive, said: “With the possibility of eviction with just two months’ notice, and constant worries about when the next rent rise will hit, the current rental market isn’t giving people – particularly families – the stability they need to put down roots. The stable rental contract offers renters a five-year tenancy and gives landlords more confidence in a steady income, all within the existing legal framework”.
Scotland for best practice to date: the Scottish secure tenancy
In Scotland, under Jack McConnell’s Labour government, by an order under section 11 of the 2001 the Housing (Scotland) Act tenants of local authorities, housing associations & tenants who are members of fully mutual co-operative housing associations, from 30 September 2002, became Scottish secure tenants.
Read the excellent terms here. Will a Labour government in this country adopt this Rolls Royce standard model and also introduce a stable rental contract for those in private accommodation? Or will the profit motive win the day?
Theresa May: “the government wants people to be able to manage their own (universal credit) budgets”
Yet again, the vulnerable suffer. Due to successive governments many now in need have been ill-educated, ill-nourished and under stress because they could not find work. In similar circumstances Mrs May and few of her colleagues would be managing their budgets well.
The introduction of universally paying housing benefit direct to landlord (stopped in 2008) was extremely helpful to those not able (or willing) to budget. It has been retained under universal credit and actually adds to the problems of landlords and tenants alike.
Quoting from a letter circulated by GAP Property during PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn said: “Will the prime minister pause universal credit so it can be fixed? Or does she think it is right to put thousands of families through Christmas in the trauma of knowing they are about to be evicted because they are in rent arrears because of universal credit?”
GAP Property said the introduction of universal credit would affect the vast majority of its tenants and it needed to take action to avoid a slew of rent arrears, which could put it out of business.
The company’s owner, Guy Piggott, said the letter was not intended to be threatening and he was pleased it had been highlighted by Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
“We are not planning to throw people out, but the prime minister should read this and recognise the problems . . . the majority of his tenants were on an average household income of about £17,000 a year. “People are already living hand to mouth . . . At best, if they need to wait six weeks to be paid, it will be the end of February before it comes, and by then they might have spent the money they had on feeding their families or heating their homes”.
Paragraphs from a snapshot of the letter:
Piggott said many landlords would soon refuse to take people who were on universal credit. “A lot of landlords are now saying enough is enough”.
Jeremy Corbyn said: “Will the prime minister pause universal credit so it can be fixed? Or does she think it is right to put thousands of families through Christmas in the trauma of knowing they are about to be evicted because they are in rent arrears because of universal credit?”
Mrs May replied that she wanted to “look at the issue of this particular case” but said the government wanted people to be able to manage their own budgets and expressed less than impressive hopes that the government could act next week to cut the six-week wait for payments to five.
The presenter of this BBC radio programme, Adrian Goldberg, grew up on the Druids Heath council estate in Birmingham, the home of the ‘municipalism’ pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham – summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:
“A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself … in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery.”
Adrian is described as being an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council, because when he and his family moved there the local authority:
- built properties and
- collected the rent.
- Adrian took a council-subsidised bus service to
- the secondary school run by his local education authority.
- On the way home he’d drop into his council-run library to pick up some books
- or take a swim in the council run pool.
He comments, “Today the situation is much more complex”
Adrian considered the effect of austerity on the role of councils today. Birmingham council has almost halved its staff since 2008, from around 24,000 to 12,500. Last year another £28m was cut from Birmingham’s adult care budget of £230m. 2017/18 – the seventh year of cuts – is predicted to be the toughest year yet with expected reductions of £113m to the council’s overall budget, on top of £650m already cut since 2010.
Local government grants and powers have been greatly reduced in several areas, including education and housing. Read more about the following cases here.
- The fate of the formerly successful council-run Baverstock Secondary School in Druids Heath
- The group of residents who set up the Friends of Walkers Heath Park in November 2011
- The volunteers who are helping to run the library
- Druids Heath’s handsome and historic Bells Farm community centre (below), with its food bank and other services, also kept going by local volunteers.
The link also leads to news of high-rise tower blocks in the area; dilapidation, damp and fire hazards go unremedied, the splendid concierge system was abandoned and full time neighbourhood office advice centres, closed in 2006, were replaced by a private call service which was expensive, often not answering, with staff unable to supply the information needed.
In Birmingham there was a move under John Clancy’s leadership to take back ‘in-house’ the services currently undertaken by profit-making private companies, deciding not to renew one Capita contract and considering the future of refuse collection in the city. This, because the ‘market place’ economy which has developed, privatising refuse collection, road maintenance and ‘back office’ functions in Birmingham, has proved to be more expensive and often less efficient. This hope is fading as Richard Hatcher reports on the new regime: Birmingham Council Children’s Services contracted out, Children’s Centres closed.
The health and safety of council tenants is evidently not a government priority
Inside Housing reports the housing minister’s description of sprinkler systems for high rise blocks as “additional rather than essential” and refusing a council’s request for funding promised after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Strangely, the conservative Prime Minister expresses admiration for Joseph Chamberlain
Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, city MP in 1876, Joseph Chamberlain directed the construction of good housing for the poorest, libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. Unlike Ms May and colleagues, he was not in favour of a market economy, arguing for tariffs on goods from countries outside the British Empire. He was also an ‘economic interventionist’ (see Lewis Goodall, Newsnight), described as a “gas and water socialist”. He took profit-making private enterprises into public hands, declaring that “profit was irrelevant”.
Ms May’s government continues to implement a series of cuts affecting the lives of the country’s poorest and most disabled with might and main.
Ironically the contemporary politician sharing Chamberlain’s principles is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she echoes but does not implement.
On Nicky Campbell’s Radio 5 phone-in a listener described a city where – at one extreme – her care-worker son earns £17,000 a year, whilst George Osborne gets £200,000 for delivering one speech.
“In Harrods they have sprinklers to protect china dogs”
Noting the lack of attention to the repeated and recorded complaints made by the Grenfell Tower residents she asserted that had they come from the affluent area of Kensington they would have been quickly addressed and added a searing afterthought: “In Harrods they have sprinklers to protect china dogs” – but as London MP Harriet Harmon noted, the government has been cutting the money to councils. If you cut money to councils, you can’t put in sprinklers
Campbell’s caller also denounced the proposals made by developers referring to the burnt tower as being a orime brownfield site, insisting that the residents should be rehoused in the same area during the rebuilding process instead of being sent to outlying areas or even different parts of the country; as they work hard in lowly paid jobs they should not also have to spend time and money travelling long distances to work.
Following a link sent by Felicity Arbuthnot we read the words of Jeremy Corbyn, (seen here with a local resident seeking a 12-year-old girl missing after the Grenfell Tower blaze): “Kensington is a tale of two cities – it is among the wealthiest parts of this country but the ward where this took place is one of the poorest”.
Like the Radio 5 caller he emphasised that residents must be re-housed, using requisition of empty properties if necessary, in the same neighbourhood, adding:
“The judge-led public inquiry must be speedy and all residents should have access to legal aid and the support they need”.
Christine Parkinson has drawn attention to an article in the Guardian, in which MPs Clive Lewis and Caroline Lucas express a profound sense of frustration and dismay about the Conservative victories won by narrow margins in places such as St Ives, Richmond Park and Hastings. They pointed out that if every progressive voter had placed their X tactically, Jeremy Corbyn would now be prime minister with a majority of over 100.
Highlights from their article
The regressive alliance we see forming before our eyes between the Conservatives and the DUP can only be fully countered by a progressive alliance on the opposition benches and if we work together there is nothing progressives can’t achieve. The limits of the old politics are there for everyone to see – the limitlessness of the new we are just starting to explore.
More than 40 electoral alliances, in which people across parties cooperated on tickets including support for proportional representation and the common goal of preventing Conservative candidates winning, were pulled together quickly for the snap election. People from different parties worked together to ‘do politics differently’ and there was a sense that politics has become hopeful and positive again.
We shouldn’t forget the challenges we face:
- markets that are too free,
- a state that can be too remote,
- a democracy that still leaves so many voices unheard
- and change on a scale our people and our planet can’t cope with.
It is going to take a politics that is social, liberal and green to overcome these challenges. No single party or movement has all the answers. We are going to have to learn to cooperate as well as compete to build the society of which we dream. And we are going to have to recognise that the future is not a two-party system but one in which smaller parties grow – both in influence and in their electoral representation.
Colin Hines adds detail: also advocating a progressive alliance of Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid and the Greens he says that they will need to get their ‘policy ducks in a row’ to win it. He continues:“Firstly, these must provide hope, not just for the young, but for every community in the country.
“To do this Jeremy Corbyn must revisit and vigorously shake his people’s QE “money tree”. This could pay for real economic activity on the ground via decentralised infrastructure projects to make the nation’s 30 million buildings energy efficient, ensure a shift to localised renewable energy, and the building of local transport systems.
“Secondly, the divide between young and old must be bridged by policies fostering intergenerational solidarity. Older people with significant saving should be offered “housing bonds”, paying, say, 3% interest to help fund a massive council and affordable homes programme.Tuition fees would be scrapped, but so too must be the threat of having to lose a home to pay for care, or having to scrabble for means-tested benefits such as heating allowances.
“Financed by progressive and fairer wealth and income taxes, and a clampdown on tax dodging, this should have an election-winning appeal to the majority of grandparents, parents and their young relatives”.
Having seen the beneficial effect of this computer game on a six-year old, a teacher advocates placing it on the national curriculum.
In every different edition of SimCity, the player is given the task of founding and developing a city from a patch of green land, defining what buildings are constructed via development zones – residential zones for Sims to live in; commercial zones for Sims to shop and have offices within; industrial zones to provide work through factories, laboratories and farms – as well as ensuring their citizens are kept happy through establishing various services and amenities, all while keeping a stable budget.
People report problems and the mayor addresses them – his objective: to keep as many people happy as possible.
SimCity 3000: (the environment and localisation now come into the equation); by allowing certain structures to be built within the city, the player could receive a substantial amount of funds from them. The four business deal structures are the maximum security prison, casino, toxic waste conversion plant, and the Gigamall (a large shopping center). Business deal structures however have serious negative effects on a city. The toxic waste dump lowers both the land value and residential desirability in the area surrounding it and produces massive pollution. The prison dramatically decreases land value. The casino increases citywide crime and the Gigamall weakens demand for local commerce.
Too late now – but if the young Michael Fallon, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa Brasier had been educated by the SimCity ’game’ (now used in urban planning offices!), Michael might well have grown up less willing to play real-life war-games, Jeremy could be ensuring good care for all the sick and frail and Theresa might be putting into practice her rhetorical concern for the less fortunate in our society.