Tag Archives: social housing

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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Filed under Hammersmith & Fulham, London, riots, Society & culture

The government presses ahead with plans to make more people homeless

Rat Boy wants to take your home away

I see the Tory-led coalition are to press ahead with their plan to force new social housing tenants to accept 2 year contracts. Social landlords will be able to check the financial status of their tenants and if they are earning too much, they will be evicted after 6 months.

I listened with bemusement as I heard Grant Shapps refer to social housing as “subsidized housing” on BBC News this morning. It is obvious what Shapps and the others mean when they refer to “subsidized housing”:  social tenants are “scroungers”.

In the Telegraph, Andrew Porter writes,

The Coalition has countered criticism by pointing to the five million people waiting for a home.

That isn’t a real counter-argument yet the government thinks that by simply saying there are” 5 million waiting for a home” it will magically divert attention from the fact that no social housing was built to replace those properties that were sold under Right To Buy. There is no logic either to the plan or their thinking. But this isn’t about addressing the housing shortage as the government claims. It’s  all about punishing the poor, the low-waged and the vulnerable for the excesses of the banks.

The Right To Buy scheme was the first attempt by the Conservatives to destroy working class communities and thus have the effect of reducing the Labour vote in areas with large numbers of social tenants. This can be seen in two ways: first, it’s social engineering and second, it’s a form of gerrymandering. In the 1990’s, Wandsworth and Westminster City councils both sold off council estates in order to create obedient Tory-voting wards.

Instead of allowing councils to build more homes, their solution is to ignore the housing shortage. It’s not much of a solution when you think about it.

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Filed under Big Society, Comprehensive Spending Review, Government & politics, Society & culture

Boris Johnson: the fallout

Yesterday Boris Johnson claimed that he was against any “Kosovo style” social cleansing of London. His words immediately found their way to their intended target: David Cameron who was out of the country on business. His choice of words was also seized upon by Nick Clegg who described them as “outrageous” while Vince Cable, the pre-election hero, accused him of  being “ludicrously inflammatory”. Yet the government has failed to present a decent counter-argument to the charge that their proposed cap on housing benefit won’t force many people out of London to the periphery. The Housng Minister, Grant Shapps was in denial,

“Just because you are on housing benefit, that shouldn’t give you the ability to live somewhere, where if you are working and not on benefit you can’t. We’d all love to live in different areas, but I can’t afford to live on x street in y location. The housing benefit system has almost created an expectation that you could almost live anywhere, and that’s what has to stop.”

Myths and tropes.

The Leader of Westminster City Council, Cllr Colin Barrow, claimed on the BBC that people from lower incomes deliberately target his borough because of its stylish properties. Oddly enough he provided no evidence for this assertion. Remember this is the same council that sold off loads of council homes in order to gerrymander certain wards. It also sold off 3 cemeteries for 5p each.

But has Bojo gone all One Nation on the Tory Party? When someone like Johnson comes out with a statement like the one he did yesterday, you have to spend time looking for the reasons behind it. First, the mayoral elections take place in 2 years time.  He has Ken Livingstone snapping at his heels and he wants to try and steal as much thunder from his as he can. Secondly, he is well aware that London relies on a lot of cheap labour and he wants to ensure that there is a massive pool of cheap labour for London’s businesses to draw from. He isn’t doing this for altruistic reasons; his reasons are the same as any other capitalist exploiter of labour.

The press have taken up differing positions: much of the right wing press is reporting how Johnson has been slapped down by Downing Street. Others tell of how Cameron and Johnson are on a collision course over benefits. Kennite claims that his hero has recanted his words. He says “I confess, however, to less sympathy for the capital’s unemployed”.  Alors, quelle surprise! He then goes on to repeat every single right wing cliché in order to bolster his case, like this one,

Of course, everyone has the right to live where they choose. But nobody has the right to require the rest of us to pay for their choice. And on the whole, the real losers will be not the poor, but the private landlords who have bought up council houses and made fortunes from the taxpayer. As the state is by far the biggest customer in their market, they’ll have to cut their rents, helping every tenant – subsidised or not – and further reducing the number who lose their homes.

Maybe he didn’t see the Panorama programme about the dodgy landlords who make a fortune out of Housing Benefit? When have private landlords ever reduced their rents? Someone is being a little naïve here.

Meanwhile the Hon Tobes and The Independent point to the rivalry between Cameron and Johnson that dates back to their time at Eton and Oxford.

One final word: to say that the government’s proposals don’t represent a form of social cleansing would be dishonest. But for the government and its apologists to deny that the effect of the Housing Benefit cap will not force those on low incomes to move elsewhere is equally dishonest.

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Filed under Big Society, Comprehensive Spending Review, ConDem Budget 2010, Conservative Party, Government & politics, Public spending

Fairness? I don’t see that in the Spending Review

I remember reading something on a pro-free market website a few years ago where a neoliberal apologist  claimed that “capitalism is a moral system” and that it was “the greatest system ever invented”. I am not quite sure what he meant by the word “moral” nor am I certain if capitalism is the “greatest system ever invented”. In terms of its apparent ‘morals’, this is something of a chimera: morality is subjective: the legendary libertinous activities of the Marquis de Sade, for example, would be described as immoral, possibly amoral by many. That would be a majoritarian position. Others would describe de Sade as an extreme libertarian; a libertine in every sense of the word. They may argue that de Sade had his own morality but it was not a morality that any of us would understand but it was a morality nonetheless.

Today the Hon Gid announced the long-awaited Comprehensive Spending Review. There were no surprises: we knew that the Tory-led coalition was going to punish the poor. We also knew that they had laid, at least partial blame for the recession (and by extension the banking crisis that led to the recession), at the door of those on benefits, who have all been tacitly accused of ‘dragging the country down’. The Guardian said this,

To gasps from the Labour benches, the chancellor announced “tough but fair” reforms that will lead to extra changes for housing benefit and on the rules for the mobility and care arrangements for disability living allowance.

There’s that word “fair” again; this time tied to the word “tough”. Changes to Housing Benefit will result in more homelessness. Many families will not be able to afford to live in places like London and will be forced to leave their communities behind.  Yesterday the the media announced that the government was going to end “council house tenancies for life”. What I’ve read so far doesn’t suggest that this is going to happen…yet…they’re just going to make more difficult to afford. However, because of the 60% cut in the social housing budget,

…new tenants will be offered intermediate rents at around 80% of the market rent. The age at which people are allowed to claim housing benefit for a flat, rather than only a room in a shared house, will rise from 25 to 35, “so that housing benefit rules reflect the housing expectations of people of a similar age not on benefits”, said Osborne

So that’s more people out on the street then? Who is going to be able to afford 80% of a market rent in a place like the Tories’ model Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham? This article from Inside Housing tells us that social landlords will be able to increase their rents in line with local market rents,

The CSR document is less explicit, stating: ‘Social landlords will be able to offer a growing proportion of new social tenants new intermediate rental contracts that are more flexible, at rent levels between current market and social rents.’

It adds: ‘The government wants to make social housing more responsive, flexible and fair so that more people can access social housing in ways that better reflect their needs.’

This means that a social landlord like Peabody (they dropped the word “Trust” from their name some time ago to reflect their new neoliberal direction) will now be able to force out tenants in the more well-heeled boroughs -like Hammersmith & Fulham –  by increasing their rents. This is ironic given that the Peabody Trust was originally created to house London’s poor.

Also announced was the predicted loss of 500,000 public sector jobs. Hon Gid and the Hole-in-the Wall Gang tell us that jobs will be created in the private sector but where will these jobs actually come from?

The Marquis de Sade lent his name to the practice of sadism and is with a sadistic pleasure that this government has announced these swingeing cuts. We have been told on an almost daily basis that ‘”we are all in this together” but it is clear from what has been announced that rich are not standing shoulder to shoulder in a Spirit-of-the-Blitz fashion. The neoliberalism that began in Pinochet’s Chile was imported to Britain in the 1980’s by Margaret Thatcher. Privatizations, cuts and a reduction in the size of the state (its repressive apparatuses were left intact, of course) were all part of the drive for ‘greater efficiency’. Under this new regime, working class Chileans suffered terribly and the anti-working class policies of the Pinochet regime continue to this day. The Latin American Herald Tribune says that today, 80,000 public sector employees went on a one day strike,

President Sebastian Piñera’s right-wing government has dismissed more than 2,500 public sector workers since taking office in March, Raul de la Puente said.

The ANEF protest enjoys support from Chile’s biggest labor organization, the CUT, as well as from teachers and associations representing high school and college students.

Contrary to what the government says, the layoffs have affected not just positions traditionally filled by political appointees, but people at all levels, including “clerks, messengers, drivers, technicians and professionals,” De la Puente said.

Sebastian Piñera visited Britain this week to take tea with Lord Snooty. He brought with him a few lumps of rock from the San Jose mine as gifts. He was also here to give a speech to the London School of Economics on “The Chilean Way of Development”.

There is no question that this government is using the budget deficit as an excuse to further socially engineer Britain. The sadism of its anti-working class policies are designed to destroy communities and associations under the guise of fiscal prudence.

UPDATE:

I remember who said “capitalism is a moral system”. It was Ayn Rand. In fact, she said it was “the only moral system”.  She also took a lot of amphetamines.

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Filed under Comprehensive Spending Review, Government & politics, Neoliberalism

Heard the Tory joke about social mobility?

I is biggin' up my estate and my bloods, innit?

Yesterday, David Cameron announced that council homes should not be for life. It’s fine for him to say this, he is the illegitimate descendant of royalty and, like his toff pals in the cabinet,  has never had any need for social housing (or welfare benefits). But the question remains, why force people into buying property when they clearly cannot afford to do so? There is no logic and no sense to this announcement. Why am I not surprised?

Earlier on BBC Breakfast, the Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, attempted to soften his leader’s line by saying “If you live in a council house now, this won’t affect you”. I’m not sure what’s going on here. First Cameron says that the security of tenure will be removed from social housing tenants, then his minister says that it isn’t.

Shapps also said that the government would make it possible for council tenants to swap homes. I hate to burst your bubble, Grant but this already exists and it has existed for some time. I understand he’s talking about a “wider swap choice” but what does he mean by “choice” anyway? Is this a sugar coating?

“That’s why I’m putting tenants in the driving seat, with a new opportunity to see people like them looking to exchange social homes not just in their area but across the country, through a new National Home Swap Scheme.”

Ah, yes…the old canard of devolving power from the centre. So how will this new National Home Swap Scheme differ from those schemes already in place? Offering ‘choice’ of swap schemes will not solve the housing crisis.

Cameron has admitted that there will be a ‘big argument’ (I think that’s an understatement). The Independent notes that,

The “big argument” that the Prime Minister foresaw began almost as soon as he had spoken, with critics pointing out that his government plans to push house building down to its lowest level in almost a century, when there are already 4.5 million on housing waiting lists. Next year, it is expected that fewer than 100,000 new homes will be built, for the first time since 1923, because of cuts in public spending. The National Housing Federation has forecast that the cuts will add 350,000 to the already swollen waiting lists.

A comment on this article reveals some shocking ignorance about council house allocation.

The reality is that people who have just arrived in this country are often pushed to the front of the queue.

Wrong, there is no active policy among local authorities that discriminates foreigners over those who have lived here all their lives.  This kind of myth feeds into the governments opposition to social housing.

A spokesperson for Shelter said,

“We do not believe the big question in housing policy is security of tenure for new tenants. The prime minister has sidestepped the fundamental cause of our housing crisis – the desperate lack of affordable housing supply.”

Quite, the housing shortage is not being addressed. It is being sidestepped, ignored and dismissed.

Nick Clegg, take note: there are rumblings of disquiet in your party, as this blogger argues,

It’s not simply the homeless or those in desperate need of a decent home. Many families will never be able to afford to buy their own home, yet face many years in unsuitable and overcrowded accommodation because of a shortage of affordable homes to rent.

As this blog points out, things would be no better under Labour.

We knew we were in trouble no matter who won the last election.

Another four years of New Labour and the injust and intrusive ‘Big Brother’ state and the continuation of the destruction of the Labour movement, or the toffs of the Conservative party with their sole interest, the propping up of the rich to the detriment of the poor in our society…

This blogger reminds us of where it all started

The Conservatives have always hated this, thinking that tenants in council housing always favour Labour. Thatcher tried to get around this by offering council tenants the right to buy their own homes. And those tenants living in very nice council estates snapped the offer up, but millions of others, living in less desirable housing, did not. Indeed, all Thatcher really achieved was in trapping those at the very bottom of the social housing ladder where they were forever. Because, having sold off the desirable council properties, her government stopped building any new council housing.

Of course the real rationale behind this is to create more Tory voters, this is what Thatcher thought when she introduced Right to Buy. The same blogger notes what Shapps said in defence of this new announcement,

“It is time to consider whether our affordable housing system can be better used and whether one of the benefits would be greater social mobility.”

This is not designed to create social mobility at all. That is a myth and smacks of Orwellian doublespeak but then, I have already identified two recent examples of the Conservative penchant for Orwellian language.

Let’s remind ourselves where the current mood for ending social housing comes from: the Tory-controlled London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. Johann Hari writes,

People who took this at face value were startled by the first act of the Conservatives on assuming power – a crackdown on the homeless. They immediately sold off 12 homeless shelters, handing them to large property developers. The horrified charity Crisis was offered premises by the BBC to house the abandoned in a shelter over the Christmas period at least. The council refused permission. They said the homeless were a “law and order issue”, and a shelter would attract undesirables to the area. With this in mind, they changed the rules so that the homeless had to “prove” to a sceptical bureaucracy that they had nowhere else to go – and if they failed, they were turned away.

There is no such thing as ‘caring conservatism’; it is, like so many other slogans, a meaningless coupling of words.

I found this riposte to Hari from Hammersmith & Fulham councillor, Harry Phibbs (Phibbs by name…).

The reduction in the number of homeless hostels reflects anachievement in reducing the numbers in temporary accommodation. This is in line with the “good practice” objective the Government has set for Councils to stop using hostels. Does Hari think families should languish in hostels?

Nonsense, you’ve simply displaced the homeless to neighbouring boroughs by reducing the number of homeless hostels.

Here’s Phibbs in another blog

Would it be politically acceptable to end the security of tenure for Council tenants? The moral case that help should go to those in greatest need is strong. But what of the politics? I think the crucial point is for the changes to apply to new tenancies.

I find it amusing the way in which Tories will talk about ‘morality’ as though they had a monopoly on the word. But, as Nietzsche reminds us, when people talk about morality, they’re referring to their morality (or their own amorality) which they try to will force on others.

Phibbs again,

Hari’s claim that holding polo in Hurlingham Park has been at the expense of facilities there is the opposite of the truth. The deal with the World Polo Association is bringing in £170,000 in revenue to the Council over three years plus projects to improve the park and the opportunity for children from local primary schools to have free tickets to the tournament and attend sessions to learn polo themselves. The Labour councillors have just responded with a lot of ignorant class prejudice but the open minded can see the benefits.

I find the use of the phrase “ignorant class prejudice” ironic given the fact that this government is now engaged in an ideological battle to destroy the working class and remove from them any dignity or self-respect that they have. The desire to forge new model Tory voters out of working class people can only end in catastrophe.

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Filed under Big Society, Government & politics, Housing crisis

The Welsh Assembly government suspends Right to Buy

The Welsh Assembly government has followed the Scottish Executive’s lead and suspended the Right to Buy buy council homes. However it is unlikely that England will follow suit.

Right to Buy (RTB) was a key plank in the Conservative Election manifesto of 1979 and was introduced by the Thatcher government in the form of the Housing Act of 1980. RTB led to the sale of hundreds of thousands of council homes, none of which were replaced. Local authorities were prohibited from spending capital receipts on building new homes. This policy is directly responsible for the housing crisis that we are witnessing today.

This blogger recognizes the hidden financial cost of RTB but also warns that

…this change in policy might be a little too late since many local authorities have already undertaken (or plan to undertake) housing stock transfers to other agencies. In 1980, there were around 300,000 homes in council ownership, now, that is down to around 156,000. Thus the impact of the policy might not be as great as desired.

Inside Housing, on the other hand is pleased and tells us that this legislation will apply to areas of “high housing need”. Though it comes as no surprise to learn that the Westminster government was against this. I think we know why.

In London, as in the rest of England, there is a huge housing shortage. But the government appears to have set its face against building new social housing here, which it wrongly blames for all manner of social ills.  But wouldn’t a program of house-building benefit the economy in the long term? Pity the government doesn’t see it that way.

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