Tag Archives: John Moss

Housing, the 1968 Rent Strike and What We Face Today

Can’t pay your rent? Then we’ll come for your children.

When the Tory-led government announced that social rents should rise to market levels, there was anger but nothing happened. That anger wasn’t channelled; forged into a weapon to attack the government and the local authorities and greedy Housing Associations. Instead, people just rolled over and took it.

When the same thing was proposed by Wilson’s Labour government (a LABOUR GOVERNMENT) in 1968, there was righteous indignation.  But instead of sitting and fuming, people actually did something about it. They organized rent strikes. So far, few people have advocated rent strikes and, as far as I know, I am one of those few.

In London, the Greater London Council (GLC), which was controlled by the Tories (hard to believe but the Tories only liked the GLC when it was run by their fellow travellers), was particularly zealous in implementing the rent increases. I found this article by Ian Macdonald on marxists.org in which he says:

The Greater London Council is Britain’s biggest landlord. There are about 242,000 tenants involved. On 7 December last year, the chairman of the GLC Housing Committee announced the Tories’ new rent scheme. Under the scheme, GLC tenants can expect their rents to increase by 5s in the £ in October 1968, a further 5s in the £ in October 1969, and an extra 4s in 1970. A tenant now paying £4 per week, will be paying £6 16s in 1970, and tenants in some of the newer flats will be paying as much as £10 per week. In addition, lodger charges are to rise, and central heating and car parking will be more expensive.

That is not all. In future, less money is to be spent on repairs, and tenants will have to do their own interior decorating. In this way, the Council hopes to save £850,000 on repairs, and £500,000 on decorating. It also means the sack for some of the Council’s 6,000 electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and other maintenance men.

The GLC have made much of their intended rebate scheme. But the only way to get a rebate will be to go through a means test; no tenant, say the GLC, need disclose his income to the Council unless he is applying for a rebate. In fact, very few of the 240,000 GLC tenants will benefit. Here is an example of a family which will not benefit. The tenant earns £12 per week, and his wife £5. They have a child and a lodger, both over 21, and now pay a rent of £2 16s 8d per week. In 1970, they will pay £4 16s 4d and get no rebate.

You can see this happening right now. All Housing Associations have increased their rents above the rate of inflation and, furthermore, they have duly bowed to the government’s diktats and are letting out properties for market rents. Local authorities, too, have increased their rents. One of those councils is Hammersmith and Fulham – Cameron and Pickles’s favourite council – which has palmed off the management of its stock to Pinnacle and placed income restrictions on those people applying for or living in one of their properties.

Last year Hammersmith & Fulham announced:

Trailblazing Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council is to be the first local authority in the country to simultaneously introduce fixed term social housing tenancies and a maximum income cap for people wishing to access the housing register.

The flagship council will be ripping up the social housing rule book from April 2013 when it will introduce a number of radical policies which seek to increase low-cost homeownership, tackle the social and economic divide in the borough and give a far greater priority for council housing to people who are making a community contribution.

H&F, has the fourth highest property prices in the UK and one of the highest proportions of social housing in London as a proportion of total housing, with around 34 per cent social rented.

That compares to a London average of 25 per cent and a West London average of 21.5 per cent. Just over two per cent of the borough’s housing is intermediate.

H&F is also one of the first councils in the country to get back into building homes, after a 30 year absence. These properties are sold at a discounted market rate to those on low to middle incomes who live or work in the borough and might struggle otherwise to get onto the property ladder.

Notice how this article tells us that the council is “trailblazing”. As for its claim that it’s “building homes”, it is building homes but not for those on low incomes.  Last year the council announced  that it would be building 25 new (yes, 25) homes for those foolish enough to buy them. But there’s worse to come in this article:

Those households earning above £40,200 will generally not be eligible to access the housing register. Instead, they will be offered advice on other housing options including joining the Council’s HomeBuy Register.

This new way of working will replace an antiquated and inefficient system that created false hopes and expectations.

The council and the government’s solution to the housing crisis (and let’s face, it is a crisis) is to stimulate a potentially disastrous property bubble. The HomeBuy scheme aims to achieve this, in spite of the council’s denial. Ian Macdonald:

Instead of directly attacking this problem, the GLC and the Government talk rubbish about ‘well-off Council tenants’ being subsidised. In fact, every penny that is contributed to housing out of rates or from the Government goes straight into the pockets of the money lenders, landowners and builders. If this element were removed, Council rents would be cut to less than a quarter of their present levels without anything coming from the ratepayers or the Government.

Who says history doesn’t repeat itself? H&F Council wants to go further and bases its approach on the widely-discredited and evidence free report produced by its former leader, Stephen Greenhalgh and his partner John Moss:

Currently most social housing tenants have the right to stay for life unless the tenancy is brought to an end because of a breach. Once the tenant passes away, the right of succession passes onto a family member even if the housing need of the individual is less than other potential applicants.

The council believes that this does not promote personal aspiration or provide tenants with any incentive to try to move into home-ownership and fails to take into account the fact that a household’s need for social housing may be temporary.

From next year, the council will issue fixed-term tenancies of five years for new social housing lettings. This would be reduced to two years in certain cases.

Existing tenants will be unaffected by the new proposals. New tenancies in sheltered accommodation and for those with special housing or health needs will still be on a secure basis.

Two year tenancies will be issued for those with a history of antisocial behaviour and for those between the ages of 18 to 25.

So what Wilson’s Labour government failed to achieve in 1968 has now been enthusiastically adopted by the Tories. The only real difference between then and now is that the classism is turbo-charged and more blatant than ever.

As for those who doubt the effectiveness of rent strikes, Macdonald writes:

It is true that badly organised or isolated rent strikes are usually defeated. But where the tenants are properly organised and show determination, they have in the past succeeded. In Glasgow in 1915, the strike was completely successful. In 1938-9, there were over 30 strikes in the East End of London demanding cuts in rents. All were successful. In 1939, 50,000 Birmingham municipal tenants defeated a differential rent scheme similar to the present GLC scheme after a 10-week strike. In the 1950s, Luton tenants managed to defeat a similar scheme. The GLC tenants can do the same, but there is no doubt that the battle will be tougher than anything in the past, since the Government’s whole prices and incomes policy is at stake.

The key, as always, is organization. These days, organizing rent strikes may be harder because of Housing Benefit. Yet, these payments have been replaced by something called the ‘Local Housing Allowance’. The Tories also want people on low incomes to pay Council Tax. This is nothing less than a form of economic feudalism, in which the poor, the vulnerable and those earning less than £40,000 are forced into a 21st century version of serfdom.

John Grayson, writing for Inside Housing says:

The campaigning of tenants between 1968 and 1973 had an effect. Many councils began negotiating with tenants’ organisations for the first time. The Association of London Housing Estates drafted the first tenants’ charter in 1970. Three years later Dick Leonard, a Labour MP, introduced (unsuccessfully) the Council Housing (Tenants’ Representation) Bill.

Unfortunately the proto-neoliberal Labour government of Wilson and Callaghan decided to have another stab at crushing council tenants:

Between 1974 and 1979 the Labour government continued a policy of cuts in housing. There were often confrontations with councils and the National Co-ordinating Committee Against Housing Cuts organised a national campaign in 1975. In Liverpool the Tenants’ Co-ordinating Committee emerged as a federation for tenants and rent strikes were organised in protest at the council’s policies. The tenants were excluded from all council meetings.

Rents are increased, people are threatened with having their children taken from them and there’s the Bedroom Tax, another half-baked government idea to ‘solve’ the housing crisis. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that such a draconian measure will do anything other than hammer those who are already being squeezed by a high cost of living and stagnating incomes.

We want homes, not property ladders.

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Why do Tories think that we will accept reports that have not been based on research?

The Tories are fond of writing reports but few are based on any form of research. Moreover, the lack of research points to a deep-seated hatred of anything that bears even the slightest resemblance to evidence.  Even when they do conduct research, it is so compromised that they need not have bothered (have a look at some of the Centre for Social Justice’s ‘research’ if you don’t believe me). Such disregard for the intellectual rigours of research and producing evidence in the form of data is nothing less than a form of anti-intellectualism.

In the last week we’ve had the Beecroft Report, which was not only written by a venture capitalist and donor to the Conservative Party, it was produced without a single shred of evidence.  In 2009, right-wing think-tank Localis produced a report titled “The Principles for Social Housing Reform”. Written by  Stephen Greenhalgh and John Moss, the darlings of Tory local government,  they asserted that “social housing is welfare housing”. Looking through their report, one thing was noticeably absent: research. Yet this ‘report’ and the Beecroft Report are held up by the Tories as some form of unassailable truth. This is a logical fallacy (argumentum ad verecundiam).

I can tell you  that as a PhD student, if I were to make the similar assertions about my field of study without conducting any research or any providing any evidence to support my assertions, I would be told, in no uncertain terms, that my report was flawed and that I would have to go away and come back with some hard facts. Not for out Tory friends it seems.

The reasons why Tories think that their reports don’t require research or evidence that has been derived from empirical study is because they are arrogant and intellectually bankrupt. I often think the reason why James Delingpole regularly dismisses empirical evidence out of hand is because it conflicts with his weird belief that pollution is good for us. Jokes aside, this attitude is rooted firmly in the way in which this country has been governed since time immemorial. Parliament was once the preserve of the aristocracy. Even after the Reform Acts, the House of Commons has remained persistently upper middle class and semi-aristocratic save for the years between 1920 and 1989. The Conservative Party believes that it is the natural party of government and its place as a governing party is divinely ordained. Therefore should anyone demand proof, they are met with abuse.  To demand evidence is to question the existence of God Himself.

Like the Localis report, the Beecroft Report is predicated on one thing: class hatred. Beecroft is an unreconstructed Social Darwinist. As a venture (for that read “rentier”) capitalist, he produces nothing. Yet he feels that he has some kind of authority to produce a report that has no findings whatsoever. You can read his report here.

Yesterday,  the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, made a few noises about the report. Beecroft labelled him a “socialist”. This tells us something else: the right are not interested in debates or discussions and would much prefer to hurl insults at anyone who dares to criticise them (have a look at the comments left on this blog if you don’t believe me). Of course Cable is no socialist; he’s a market liberal who has one or two social impulses. He was once a member of the SDP. So he’s hardly a Trot.

The Tories have never liked employment laws and this is demonstrated by their desire to tear up legislation that protects workers from dangerous or unsanitary conditions. The Tories were also implacably opposed to the National Minimum Wage (NMW), some have even demanded that the NMW be scrapped for workers who are under the age of 25.

The Beecroft Report whose author claims it is a strategy to improve economic performance and reduce unemployment has produced a report so full of class prejudice that he should be clapped in irons and dragged by a donkey through the city streets, while the people pelt him with ordure.

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H&F Council, the riots and the knee jerk call for council house evictions

The Tories have made their feelings clear about council housing. It’s a “benefit” and it’s “subsidized” or “it should only be for the poor”. In the wake of the recent riots, the Tories have all been screaming for council tenants arrested for rioting or looting to be evicted from their homes – even if the tenancy holder was not involved.

Tory-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham is no different. Following the lead of Wandsworth Council, it also declared that anyone arrested for looting could face eviction.  On its website, the Council says,

Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council has said it will seek to evict any council tenant who is proved guilty of being involved in criminal acts following the riots in London.

H&F Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Andrew Johnson, has joined colleagues in condemning the images of destruction and looting from across the capital and vowed that any H&F tenant that is found to be involved will be ‘robustly pursued’.

But my local MP, Andy Slaughter has opposed these proposals. As far as I know he is the only member of the shadow cabinet to take this line. Writing for Shepherds Bush blog he says,

This is Government by PR and gimmickry. Poor at any time, positively dangerous at present.

Iain Duncan Smith is on the lookout for evil people who, bereft of moral values, are hiding in dark corners of society. I doubt he will find any but it is an excuse to evict families from secure homes and to deduct benefits from poor families. How punishing a household for the actions of an individual is either equitable or rational, I don’t know, but it has been repeated by politicians seeking soundbites and at a loss for real answers from Nick Clegg to Tory councillors in H&F.

Promising to evict families from council homes if a member of the family is convicted of an offence implies council tenants are more prone to criminal behaviour and that they should have a greater punishment than others committing similar crimes. Of course, the Council has no power to evict in most cases, that is a matter for the courts and this is gesture politics, but if families are evicted and on the streets how is that going to aid social cohesion?

Making people homeless and taking away their benefits will only make things worse. These people will be forced into crime. But that doesn’t matter to the Tories who only want knee-jerk solutions.  I’m only surprised that the more barmy of the Tory backbenchers didn’t call for the re-introduction of transportation to the colonies.  But there aren’t many of colonies left (they’re referred to as British Overseas Territories). I do suspect that they will call for more private prisons to be built and all of those prisons will be built by companies that donate money to the party.

The H&F Tories responded in the usual fashion on its website by claiming to be part of a consensus,

His views are at odds with most voters, including most Labour supporters, as well as several Labour councils including Barking and Dagenham, Brent, Greenwich, Manchester, Nottingham, Salford, Southwark and Waltham Forest.

Are they? How many voters have H&F Tories actually spoken to? They don’t say. Here they repeat a by now familiar lie,

His stance offers little hope for decent Council tenants who want to see neighbours from hell removed. Also what sort of position would that leave the thousands of law abiding families who are on the waiting list for a Council home while stuck in overcrowded conditions? They would see the rioters allowed get away with retaining the privilege of subsidised, secure, Council housing.

But council housing is not subsidized. Notice how they throw in the word “privilege” too. This goes with the narrative of council housing as housing for the ‘deserving’ poor.  This article appeared in the London Review of Books. It says,

Labelling council housing as ‘subsidised’ is part of a wider ideological attack in which it is being redefined as welfare housing, from which people who can afford to should be quickly moved on.

This phrase “welfare housing” first appeared in a Localis report written by H&F Council leader, Stephen Greenhalgh and chartered surveyor, John Moss. It’ s deliberately misleading and misrepresents the nature of council housing. These attacks on council housing and the people who live in such properties is nothing short of ideological. The class disgust expressed by these Tories is barely concealed and couched in the matter-of-fact language of business.

The only time council housing has been subsidized was during the Right to Buy rush when the properties were deliberately sold at discounted rates to encourage people to buy them.

Perhaps the authoritarians who run my local council would like to read this report.

But I know that they won’t; Tories hate things like facts and evidence. All you need to do is look at some of the ‘research’ done by Policy Exchange and Localis to see that what I’m saying is true.

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Localis and Policy Exchange – two think-tanks and one mission

I first became aware of Localis when I encountered this report written by the Dear Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council,  Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh and his wingman-in-letters, John Moss. After following the trail from the report to the website, it became patently obvious that this was another right wing think-tank churning out counter-factual reports and chunks of ideologically-slanted research under a nominal cloak of independence.

It’s a game.

Localis, like other think-tanks of its kind, have to compete with like-minded groups of researchers who rival one another to catch the eye of a minister or two. They want to influence the direction of both the party and government.  Sometimes they exist to perform cosmetic surgery on the face of the party. They’re often formed by serving MPs and it is within these think-tanks that they groom the next generation of  the dominant political caste. These are literally the factories of false consciousness.

But it’s a market out there.

Localis is a brand name. It’s as if its founders, who were probably stumped for a name and just lopped the “m” off “Localism” or the “t” off “Localist”. There, that was simple, it even looks like a word from a dead language that only Old Etonians would know! Like it’s part of your “Grecian”. It’s ‘our’ little secret. But it isn’t. It’s like the name “Consignia”. Remember that?  It was dreamt up by the Royal Mail as its new brand name – just add “ia” to the word “Consign”. Piece of piss.   They thought it sounded like a real word but it meant nothing. The public knew it meant nothing.  The name was dropped. Localis have no such problem. Most people don’t even know who they are or what they do. But this is to the advantage of think-tanks. The media can call upon them as ‘experts’ to dispense large helpings of ‘blue-sky’ thinking and ‘common sense’. If you aren’t aware of them, they can appear to be reasonable…

It’s all a mirage.

Face it, you’re being conned.

Localis say they are

dedicated to issues related to local government and localism. Since our formation we have produced research on a variety of issues including housing, the reform of regional government, innovation in services and local government finance.

That’s all right, then… or is it?

Localis was set up in 2001 by Lord Hanningfield, Colin Barrow and Paul Bettison. Hang on… Rewind…  Stop. Lord Hanningfield? Wasn’t he recently sentenced to prison for claiming nearly £14,000 worth of parliamentary expenses? Yes, he was. He was also the leader of Essex County Council from 2001 to 2010 when he, er, resigned. Apparently there are also serious questions over his use of the Council credit card. By the way, his real name is Paul White and he used to be a pig farmer. Well, you know what they say about snouts and troughs…  nudge, nudge.  According to the Localis website, Hanningfield White is still a director. It’s going to be a little difficult to work as a director of a think-tank from a prison cell. No ?

Radix malorum est cupiditas.

That’s from a real dead language.

Latin.

It means “greed is the root of all evil”.

Localis and Policy Exchange have something in common. They share board members. For example, Nick Boles and Neil O’Brien are members of both think-tanks. One could argue that in the case of Localis and Policy Exchange that “one hand washes the other”. They are, for all intents and purposes, the same think-tank with two different names. This probably means that they conduct their ‘research’ in the same slipshod fashion. In 2008, Policy Exchange published a report titled  Cities Unlimited in which its authors recommended that northern industrial towns and cities be abandoned and their inhabitants moved south to take up jobs (that did not exist). It’s one-dimensional thinking of the worst kind: it assumes that people can simply uproot themselves from their communities and transplant themselves into the Oxfordshire countryside.  In 2007 Policy Exchange’s report, The Hijacking of British Islam was revealed by Newsnight to had been based on fabricated evidence. Policy Exchange took umbrage and threatened to sue Newsnight’s editor, Peter Barron but later withdrew its threat. I wonder why? Could be because their evidence was actually made up? This raises questions about the work of Localis.

When all else fails, make it up.

Localis’s best known report was written by Greenhalgh and Moss and titled Principles for Social Housing Reform. The word “reform” should set off alarm bells because it always means “cuts”. The report appears to have been based on nothing more than broad brush assumptions and ritualized class prejudice. Moreover, at no point in the report is  proper research even mentioned. On Page 62 of the report, the authors claimed to have been “peer-reviewed”. The first ‘peer’ to review the report is Philip Callan of the estate agent Savill. Wandsworth Council’s Edward Lister also chips in with his ‘peer review’ but these reviews are not academically rigorous and are arranged to suit the ‘thesis’ put forward by the authors, who believe that social housing is “welfare housing”. The ‘report’ calls for the abolition of Housing Benefit. It also demands that local authorities be freed from the responsibility of housing homeless people in their areas. This already happens in Hammersmith and Fulham where shelters have been closed and the homeless have been displaced elsewhere. Last year, a homeless, pregnant woman was forced to sleep on benches in the borough because the coucnil refused to house her.

The Ombudsman said the standard of record-keeping by housing officers in the case “was so poor that it hindered the Ombudsman’s investigation of the complaint and fell so far below acceptable standards that it amounts to maladministration”.

He added: “It has not been possible to resolve some conflicts of evidence because of the absence of detailed contemporaneous notes recording housing officers’ contact with Ms Kenza, voluntary caseworkers and other professionals.”

Redmond said the council had applied too strict a test when deciding whether to provide Ms Kenza with temporary accommodation “by insisting she provide proof of homelessness first”. It also failed to follow its own procedures for referring victims of domestic violence to a specialist domestic violence housing advocate. Liaison between officers in different departments of the council was also labelled “ineffective”.

Priorities?

A borough for the rich.

Localis is well-supported by the Tories in Hammersmith and Fulham. On Conservative Home, Foghorn Phibbs wrote,

The paper is more outlining a general approach than offering a shopping list of examples. But it suggests that swimming pools, libraries and other oublic amenities could often be provided “more effectively by businesses, charities, social providers or a combination of providers.” Rather than the lazy assumption that they have to be the service provider themselves the Council should see itself as becoming “a commissioning and procurement hub.” Sometimes a service that it “identified as marginally beneficial” should not be provided at all – whether by the Council directly or by the Council paying someone to provide it.

On the same site, Localis tells us that the coalition has adopted many of their policies. One of which is to end council tenancies for life and treat those homes solely as housing for the poor. It would seem that Localis, like many of their supporters at Hammersmith and Fulham and in government, are about to create the very thing they want to abolish: namely ‘ghettoes for the poor’.

Localis’s website has a rather amusing Testimonials page. All the testimony comes from those who either work for Localis or those who have written reports for them. Here is three of them,

“Localis is not afraid of nurturing the big ideas that lead to radical reform”

(Stephen Greenhalgh, Leader of London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham).

“Localis is a driving force for change within the localist agenda. Their research is innovative and thought provoking”

(Eric Pickles MP, Conservative Party Chairman)

“Localis is moving from strength to strength with their ambitious project”

(Merrick Cockell, Leader of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea)

These aren’t testimonials in the accepted sense of the word. This is praise-song and it all comes from people who are either board members of Localis or who are otherwise associated with it.

Far from being independent, Localis and Policy Exchange are very close to the Conservative Party.  Both think-tanks are separate for the sake of convenience: Policy Exchange is a registered charity and Localis is not but money flows from Policy Exchange into Localis’s coffers. Colin Barrow, who sits on the board of both think-tanks, donates large sums of money to both. He can afford to, he’s a millionaire.

This is the rationale of Localis and Policy Exchange: to find ways to justify and rationalise the selfishness and cupidity that lies at the heart of Tory thinking.

UPDATE 3/10/11 @ 1221

I’ve noticed that Localis has added more “testimonials” to its Testimonials Page and just to make it look as though it isn’t Tory-led and funded, it’s included Richard Kemp who it describes as a “former Liberal Democrat LGA group leader”.

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