Category Archives: Housing
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.
A reader from Bournville draws attention to an article by Jules Birch in Inside Housing, a weekly magazine for housing professionals. He focusses on a recent TV Panorama programme about the benefit cap that now leaves thousands of people with 50p a week towards their rent.
He noticed that roughly 95% of tweets with the hashtag #benefitcap (scroll down to April 7) were hostile to the people featured in the programme rather than the policy. The majority of people commenting on Twitter were seeing the undeserving individual instead: the stroppy single mother with a mobile phone and the couple with many children. He notes that exactly the same thing happened with Benefits Street, How to Get a Council House and a Dispatches documentary on the cap last month.
Part of the problem, he believes, lay with the way Panorama framed the issue. As Joe Halewood was quick to point out, the programme and its advance publicity seemed to assume that most people capped are unemployed and on Jobseeker’s Allowance, when in fact just 13% are.
The fact that the vast majority of people capped are either unable to work or not required to work was only raised tentatively halfway through the programme. Most of those capped are lone parents with young children who are not required to look for work, or people on Employment and Support Allowance who do not qualify for an exemption but are still not fit for work.
David Pipe explained the effects in a piece following the Dispatches documentary last month. 7,500 households across 370 local authority areas have lost their housing benefit and are now receiving just 50p a week to pay their rent. The cap leaves a nominal amount for housing benefit or Universal Credit once someone’s benefits total more than £20,000 (£23,000 in London). In effect it is imposed on top of the rest of the benefits system.
The latest budget highlighted cuts for the poorest 18-21-year-olds, who will no longer be entitled to help with their rent through Universal Credit from April 1.
For many, Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are the only thing keeping them in their home and the effect over time will be rising rent arrears and evictions and allocations policies that make it less likely that people on benefits will get a tenancy in the first place. So where and how can the poorest people live? Even people in caravans are being capped, and what will the knock-on costs be in terms of homelessness and the impact on the children?
Meanwhile in Broken Britain, the May government continues the policies of its predecessors and makes decisions which seriously afflict the poorest and greatly benefit the richest: the arms traders, Big Pharma, the privatised utilities, large developers, car manufacturers, private health companies and expensive, inefficient outsourcers – Serco, G4s and Capita.
Housing minister: executive homes built in the countryside are profitable but don’t keep villages alive
Alice Thomson reports that more than 1,300 villages have disappeared in the first decade of this century, according to figures recently released by the Office for National Statistics: “Their greens, meadows, churches, war memorials and pubs have been subsumed into towns and cities, their identities eroded”. This land was used predominantly for more concrete jungle of warehouses, car parks, offices and supermarkets.
By the 1920s twentytwo organisations were lobbying parliament over our landscape and together they formed what is now the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which championed green belts. Alice calls for us to devote as much of our imagination to preserving our villages and countryside as did those Victorian artists, poets, architects, writers and businessmen, commenting: “If organisations such as the CPRE hadn’t been set up and we had followed the relaxed planning laws of the US, London could now look like Los Angeles and would reach Brighton”.
Urban councils receive 40% more funding than those in rural areas, but seaside, market and country towns need to be rejuvenated, with more bus routes, better broadband and more sensitive, innovative building projects.
Under the National Planning Policy Framework, councils must have a “local plan” limiting housing developments to land specifically allocated for it. But 40% of councils haven’t completed their plans, mostly because of legal objections from developers and, despite the increasing population, fewer houses were built in the last decade than in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. Ms Thomson and many others agree that urban housebuilding should predominantly once more be on brownfield sites. High streets and out-of-town shopping centres can be turned back into housing as we increasingly buy goods online.
One commentator added: “Villages need affordable rented housing, once called council housing, to give people a stable home life where children can go to the local school and use local services. Executive homes built in the countryside are very profitable but don’t enhance a stable community. Let’s build in villages and keep them alive. It used to be like that until council houses were sold off”.
Alice continues: After Brexit there is a chance to redefine our relationship with the countryside.
How can MPs earning more than double the national average – plus allowances, directorships and expenses – find it in their heart to vote to sentence the poor and disabled (without influence) to increased hardship?
The relatively prosperous look on aghast as support for those who have least is cut but the prosperous are voted tax breaks and other concessions. How far will this government be allowed to go?
It is no coincidence that around the country groups are gathering to promote showings of the latest Ken Loach film and citing his Question Time video clip:
A Bournville reader points out that “the tragedy is that (the long-term homeless) are going to be joined by many more who have had a home. See what is going to come into play with effect from Monday 7th November” and sends a link to an article about a cut in housing benefit from Nov 7th.
He asks: “Where are all these extra homeless people and families to go? And at what cost?”
Tomorrow more than 100,000 households will be materially worse off. Some households will lose as much as £115 a week.
The idea of tightening their belt and reducing household spending assumes that energy and food are expendable luxuries.
In the Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty stresses the costs of the lost income, the long-term psychological harm to tenants, the deteriorating health of households in temporary accommodation and the exorbitant cost of temporary accommodation for those evicted.
Every day in England and Wales, 170 tenants are evicted.
Evictions have increased by 53% in the past five years. Around 80% of these are carried out by social landlords, and a further 20% by private landlords.
Those who are being swayed by the PM’s rhetoric should look at her previous actions in office as Minister for Women and Equality, when her edicts downgraded the provision for carers, children in need and vulnerable people. She:
- suspended the registration scheme for carers of children and vulnerable people.
- scrapped the former Labour Government’s proposed “go orders” scheme to protect women from domestic violence by banning abusers from the victim’s home.
- closed the previous Government’s “ContactPoint” database of 11 million under-18-year olds designed to protect children in the wake of the Victoria Climbié child abuse scandal and
- removed a clause from the Equality Act which would have required public bodies to consider how they can reduce socio-economic inequalities when making decisions about spending and services.
Welfare payments are designed to act as a safety net to stop people in the fifth-richest economy in the world being hungry or homeless.
Where will the cuts inflicted on the poorest end, and wherever is Ms May’s compassionate conservatism in action?