Sunday, 10 January 2016

An Ideological And Planned Attack On Housing

The importance of the coming year for housing cannot be overstated or exaggerated: So much now hangs in the balance with untold and dire consequences for many tens of thousands and generations to come  as parliament and the Tory government rearrange in the interests of the marketplace our social housing   

Experts in housing law, academia and the housing sector now almost a majority, agree that this week's passage of the government's controversial Housing & Planning bill if nothing else drives in that old favorite Tory rusty nail a little further into that same coffin first used by Margaret Thatcher, to berry and bring to an end, the provision of social and in particular the end of the council home. The right-to-buy was a flagship policy of the Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who launched it in 1980 to allow so it was claimed at the time, that social tenants would be able to own their own homes. In the first three decades about 2m council properties were sold, but during the financial crisis, the figure fell to less than 2,500 a year. Let's never forget; that many former council properties ended up on the books and portfolios of private landlords the real beneficiaries of the right to buy.

“Sometimes one turns over a stone in a garden or field and sees the slimy creatures which live under its protection. This is what has happened in these past weeks”.  Harold Wilson on private landlords 1963

An Ideological And Planned Attack

The end of lifetime tenancies for people living in what remains of council housing is deliberately ideological and an attack on secure and affordable homes, not to mention the forced sale of high-value council homes once tenants move on or die will further deplete stock. The focus on starter homes shows that those in government are refusing to heed warnings about our affordability crisis in renting and ownership, pretending and claiming that the only problem is simply supply.

The Fight For Social Housing Lost.

Is the fight for social housing as we consider it to have been in the past and present tense, now lost?     

This was indeed a question, that has been and I dare say, possibly, running around many a housing activists head following last Tuesday's debate and vote, incidentally, the first time that Scotlands MPs were prohibited from voting on an English-only bill of legislation in this parliament.  Just to also add that the right to buy having been abolished in Scotland, in fact, the 'Right to Buy' will end for all council and housing association tenants in Scotland on 1 August 2016. Tenants with a right to buy that they are allowed to use will have until 31 July 2016.

Speaking for only myself and as a housing activist of over 30 years standing, I felt physical, mentally flattened and devastated at the news that the bill was supported with what some would describe; as a healthy government majority. The third reading began controversially enough, just before 9 pm on 5 January, with shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour MP for the City of Durham, questioning why the bill had been brought back for debate on 5 January when it had to be fitted around four statements.

Blackman-Woods expressed concern regarding the little time available to discuss the contentious parts of the bill.

“Never in my experience of many bills in this House have I witnessed 65 pages of government new clauses and amendments being produced at the last minute for a bill that is 145 pages long. That is simply appalling and means that there will be no proper scrutiny in this House of almost a third of the bill.”

Whether to continue with the reading was then put to a vote, with MPs voting 303 to 195 in favour of doing so. The government used Labour turmoil and a Corbyn style reshuffle, along with the tactic of staged timing, starting late and debating into the early hours of the following day to force the bill onto the Lords.

Of Labour, it has to be said; the opposition was very piss poor and this is reflected no more so than in the government’s housing and planning bill  when it  reached report stage and was debated in the Commons, whilst the Labour front bench gave very little and emitted to put up a good enough convincing defence, even though Corbyn and McDonnald attend an evening meeting with activists in the commons.

The Labour Party never forget; initially proposed the idea of the right of tenants to own the house they live in, in its manifesto for the 1959 General Election which it subsequently went on and lost.

The Protest

On Tuesday amid protest, from many housing activists and concern from social housing professionals. A small well-meaning protest took place on the other side of the road from the House of Lords. In the range of about 400 people from across the housing spectrum and orbit; we came together in an attempt to protest and draw some attention, in fact, this self-serving piece of legislation by the most odious and revolting bastards in the Tory Party will probably just worsen these already sickening statistics.

Home Ownership Dream

The “Home Ownership Dream” is just one big con to increase the wealth of the richest in society. Extending the right to buy to housing association properties is an unashamedly dangerous policy, showing no care for the 1.3 million households it may prove disastrous for.

And none of this addresses two of the biggest disgraces’ of our age – the number of households on social housing waiting lists (1.4 million in 2014, while only 43,000 new homes were built), and the shocking 55% increase in homelessness since David Cameron assumed office in 2010.

Evicts The Pensioner And Kills Sheltered Housing

This Government in its infinite lack of anything approaching wisdom has decided to evict thousands of pensioners in Liverpool who live in sheltered housing – and in almost every other area of the country too – apart from London.

The housing benefit paid to sheltered housing social tenants in Liverpool is around £50 per week higher at £140 than the housing benefit paid to a private tenant, called LHA, in a 1-bed property broadly equating to sheltered housing and which is set at a maximum of £90.90 per week.

The Government has decided to limit the maximum housing benefit paid to this LHA maximum of £90 per week from 2018 and this will affect all new sheltered tenants from April 2016 who will then have to find the £50 per week difference from their state pension, other income or savings else be evicted for arrears.

Homeless Hostels Will Close

Liverpool will also soon have no hostels or shelter for those who are homeless because of Government policy first mentioned in the Autumn Statement in November 2015.

Liverpool will soon have no refuge shelters as they too along with sheltered housing, homeless services and all existing provision will close and can never re-open and note well the same will happen nationally in every town and city as figures elsewhere will be and are similar.

Liverpool homeless hostels HB figures are in the public domain and the Conservative’s new policy will see a number of housing benefits fall from £5 million per year to £2 million per year – A £3 million and 60% cut in housing benefits funding which means the absolute closure of homeless provision. We have used Liverpool as an example here but this is set to happen all around the country, the result of which will see many more people driven onto our streets with no provision whatsoever for the homeless now amassing.

During The Last Year, The Homeless Start To Hit Back

From small beginnings grow mighty oak trees - That's how we see a fightback coming and developing in the next year. In some respects, that fightback may have already started to feel for a firmer stronger footing, if we take the examples recently of homeless people challenging local authorities by campaigning to open empty buildings during the winter months such as in Liverpool, Manchester and now Nottingham, and of course, in many other places with the help of many supporters that runs right across any divide, I say that because having read many a local newspaper who commit inches and inches of print to painting the homeless as the problem and focusing on building, on the dark art of stereotyping wrongly the average homeless person.

As a homeless person, as a group of homeless people who run this page on facebook, we intend to be part of that fight and play our part in building it and we hope to look at the possibilities that exist in part 2.

Norbert Lawrie

Friday, 1 January 2016

A Pivotal Moment In Housing - When The Tories Take Our Homes

Aylesbury Estate, Occupation 2015

A place to live is one of the most basic of human needs, next to taking food that is. Unfortunately, housing has now become a source of income for those who can afford to ‘buy to let’ or ‘buy to sit’ (buy and then leave empty). Using housing as a way to make money has meant that rents and house prices are ever increasing, spiralling out of control in places like London.

Therefore, for the most of us, paying for housing has become an increasingly difficult situation.

In London, people spend on average more than 50% of their income on rent or mortgage payments and rising. Together with low wages and benefit cuts, the cost of housing is yet another attack on the working class, as the government, banks and corporations make us pay for their never ending crisis.

The Housing Crisis

In many towns and cities, the housing crisis has given rise to a host of campaigns that are challenging the current situation. Some campaigns focus on anti-eviction work, for example, the E15 mothers who successfully stopped the relocation of the young mothers out of London. They continue to campaign against individual evictions and against social cleansing. Others are fighting the demolition of whole estates as housing associations and councils sell their properties to private developers. A pivotal moment has now been reached in the history and long story of social housing provision in this country.

Squatters On The Front Line

Then at the other end of the housing spectrum, but not at the end of the rainbow, there are the many homeless people and, in particular, the squatters and crews who have become increasingly vocal and active during the course of this last year: the Aylesbury estate squatters, squatted Elephant and Castle Social Centre and the many anonymous homeless people who have been illegally squatting residential properties. Squatters and Homeless Autonomy (SHA), my own crew, have endeavored to do whatever we could to force the issue of housing up the agenda, the lack of it, the homeless crisis, at a time of intense difficulty for many, including children of which there were 100,000 without family homes this Christmas just gone. We Know of two cases where children, innocent and blameless have sadly died this year because they and their families were homeless.

This From The Tory Daily Express

“The boy, known as Donald, was born prematurely on July 6 in Poole, Dorset, where his mother had escaped to from Kent to flee an abusive ex-partner.

Donald’s destitute parents were evicted from the house they were renting and couldn’t scrape together enough money for a deposit for a new place, forcing them to rough it in their car.

But Poole Borough Council were unable to support the mother, who is known only as Jane because she was not from the borough.”

Historically Council Housing

Historically council housing is public housing rented to households who are unable to afford to rent from the private sector or buy their own home. It has been called council housing due to the role of district and borough councils managing the housing with a record second and next to none other. More recently Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), including semi-independent and not-for-profit housing associations, have played a larger role in providing and managing housing, consequently council and RSL housing is collectively known as ‘social housing’.

The underlying principle of council house provision is that the private sector was deemed unable to provide adequate housing for all and so state intervention was required to ensure there was good quality affordable housing for low-income households.

We have no intention to write a definitive history of social housing in this post, but merely to highlight what is going to be lost if the crooks who run government manage to make the last push through the lobbies of the commons to the Housing and Planning Bill and make it law.

The bill will extend the Right to Buy scheme to housing association homes, oblige local powers to sell ‘high-value housing stock’ and phase out secure tenancies for council tenants. Acting both as tool of division between housing association tenants and legal groundwork for the mass privatisation of council housing, the Housing and Planning Bill is worrying, malicious and vindictive in equal measure.

What’s To Be Done?

It’s quarter to twelve - or I should say, we have just 5 days before we are robbed of the social housing that generations before us fought and supposedly won for working people. To take away such a resource as public housing when there are so many in need is like breaking someone's leg and then saying, make your own way to accident and emergency - only on arrival you discover they have sold off the health service. If you can’t pay you don’t get cured - or housed.

We are under no illusion. If they can do this to our housing, then they will privatise without hesitation the NHS and any other loose and dangling parts of our welfare system.

Now, more than ever, we need to fight back. It has already started.  Just look at what a group of young mothers have done, the E15 mothers, or all the other examples given - squatting is breaking the political silence. SHA has taken if you like a leaf out their healthy book and we will stand with anyone who is prepared to take whatever actions are necessary, including direct actions and any other activities that put roofs over people's heads - and enable them to house themselves.

There Is No Time To Lose

The People's Assembly, the TUC, can have all the marching around our capital city they like. And to be fair to them we have to say, they have had some Humdingers when anarchists, youngsters or squatters are involved, but marching from A to B, just what has it achieved - if anything positive, beyond hollow “movement-building”, please let us know.

Making the newspapers, refining the art of doing that, playing at being a spin-doctor may have a place in some scrapbooks, but it’s not the same as addressing a crisis of homelessness. It has its place, so we are not knocking that - far from it  as suffering and resistance must be made known, love and compassion will always have a place in a civilized system and society.

In the new year, we all have to do some thinking. We have to have discussions whilst at the same time waging that fight back. It is very necessary - now more than ever - to carry on and wage a war that destroys our class enemies.

For our part as homeless squatters, we will continue to fight gentrification, we will continue to stand up for the street homeless - where it is possible we bring them in from the cold as we believe that it's better to give them the skills to squat. We will continue to have contact and support the working class communities where we live and encourage others to stand up...Together we can put the meat on the bones!

In The New Year

For the new year, we are making plans already. These include getting out and about amongst the homeless community and carrying regular reports on this page. Homeless London is an effort by SHA members to directly facilitate the self-empowerment of the homeless. We are currently working on spreading squatting skills, legal information and the ways in which street homeless people can stay in close and quick communication with one another. We want to support the collective action of street homeless people to defend, house and protect themselves.

We will be supporting the Demonstration On January 5th, Against The Housing and Planning Bill.

Finally, our apologies for the length of this post, and a very big thank you to all our friends who have joined us on this Homeless London Facebook page, such support means so much to us.

Out with the old, in with the new: may you be happy the whole year through. Happy New Year Comrades and friends all!

The Homeless London Team - members of SHA.

The Socialist Way

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