Castles in the air: Labour’s social housing policy review

Protesters march against Labour social cleansing

The housing crisis is one of the biggest issues facing the working class in Britain today. Social housing has been decimated over the last 50 years by the policies of Conservative and Labour governments alike. The dearth of affordable and secure housing has driven millions of people into the private rented sector, where one in five homes is unfit for human habitation and soaring rents force those on low incomes into ever-deeper poverty. Private rents average 35% of take-home pay. Evictions and homelessness are on the rise.

 

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Fight social cleansing by Manchester City Council

Labour-controlled Manchester City Council is actively promoting a city-wide policy of social cleansing. Its complicity in allowing developers to shrug off affordable and social housing commitments was recently profiled by The Guardian (‘The 0% city: how Manchester developers dodge affordable housing’, 6 March 2018). The article details how between 2016 and 2017, of 61 housing developments approved by the council – totalling 14,667 flats, apartments and houses – none will contain any social housing or even any units available at the more expensive ‘affordable’ level. Just 62 properties will fall under the ‘shared-ownership’ scheme – but these will be well away from the city centre. Twenty-seven will be in Openshaw – Manchester’s most deprived ward and in the top 1% of deprived areas in England, with others located in Gorton (where the Channel 4 series Shameless was filmed) and Moss Side. Meanwhile, the council itself is developing nearly 700 apartments in partnership with the wealthy Abu Dhabi United Group: all will be for sale or rent at market rates.

 

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Housing in briefs - FRFI 263 April/May 2018

24 March 2018: Focus E15 celebrate on the streets of Newham after Robin Wales is deselected as the Labour candidate for Mayor of Newham

Newham People’s Charter holds council candidates to account

So farewell then, Robin Wales… On 16 March, after 23 years in power, first as Labour leader of the council and then as Mayor of Newham in east London, Robin Wales is finally being forced out of office. He lost to Labour’s alternative mayoral candidate, Rokhsana Fiaz, by 503 votes to 861.

The next day, RCG comrades joined jubilant members of the Focus E15 campaign on a victory tour of Newham aboard an open-topped bus, despite the snow. Focus E15 campaigners have particular reasons to celebrate Wales’ ignominious downfall. This is the Labour leader who dismissed the young mothers who came to him in 2013 when they faced eviction from their hostel with a contemptuous: ‘Well, if you can’t afford to live in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham’. This is the Labour leader who attempted to physically assault one of the young women campaigning at the Newham Mayor’s Show, and set his goons on activists handing out leaflets. This is a victory for all those who have campaigned for so long to get him out.

 

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‘Neglected, isolated, abandoned’: Grenfell survivors still failed by rotten state

The RCG demonstrates outside the Grenfell Public Inquiry hearings at Holborn Bars on 21 March 2018

Yo, Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?

What, you thought we just forgot about Grenfell? You criminals,

and you got the cheek to call us savages,

you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages,

we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.

- Stormzy at the Brit Awards, February 2018

On 22 March, the Housing and Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, admitted that the government would fail to meet its pledge to permanently rehouse all the survivors of Grenfell Tower within a year of the fire that killed at least 72 people on 14 June 2017. He blamed the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) for ‘unacceptable delays’. Nine months after the fire, of 209 households made homeless, only 62 have been moved into permanent accommodation. 82 households, including 39 children, are still living in inadequate and often unsafe emergency accommodation. It has emerged that the council has spent nearly £21m on hotel bills for survivors since June 2017 – three times what it cost to build Grenfell Tower in the first place. Will Harney and Fred Carlton report.

 

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London’s housing crisis – a handbook for the petit bourgeoisie

minton

Big Capital: who is London for? Anna Minton, Penguin Books 2017, £8.99

‘If the price of food had increased at the same rate as house prices in the UK over the last 40 years, then today a chicken would cost more than £50 – or £100 in London.’

Anna Minton’s description of the housing crisis gripping Britain, and particularly its epicentre, in London, is punchy and comprehensive, bringing together a wealth of existing research, punctuated with her own interviews and anecdotes in a short and affordable paperback.

 

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Housing in briefs - FRFI 262 February/March 2018

SouthwarkLatinx

Elephant & Castle: the fight against social cleansing

On 16 January, community organisers, traders and residents of Elephant & Castle in south London won a signficant victory as Southwark council’s planning committee voted 4-3 against accepting redevelopment plans that included demolishing the shopping centre and London College of Communications campus. The vote came after a seven-hour debate late into the night, as more than 200 objections to the application by offshore developer Delancey were put forward; outside the meeting, protesters who had marched to the town hall from the Elephant occupied the foyer making their opposition to the plans equally clear.

 

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Grenfell Fire: The fight for justice must intensify

grenfell silent march feb 2018
Grenfell silent march, 14 February 2018

Over seven months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, there is still an appalling lack of progress in achieving justice for its survivors, and in addressing the vital questions the disaster raises. The vast majority of households made homeless by the fire are still yet to be rehoused in permanent accommodation. No criminal charges have been brought against the local council, the Kensington & Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) board, or Rydon, the contractor awarded £8.7m to carry out the lethal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. The Public Inquiry has been delayed again, its legitimacy in tatters. Jack Lukacs reports.

 

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Why housebuilders make extortionate profits

extortionate profit 

Governments have repeatedly looked to housebuilding firms to solve the housing crisis in Britain. They are part of the crisis and profit from it; they are not the solution. Average house prices in Britain have doubled since 2000. Eight developers build over half of the country’s houses. A study by Sheffield Hallam University found that in 2012-2015, the biggest private housebuilders increased construction by a third, but tripled their profits. The four biggest housebuilding firms in Britain are Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey, Barratt Developments and the Berkeley Group. The returns made on the capital they invested in 2016 were Persimmon 39.4%; Taylor Wimpey 30%; Barratts 27.1% and the Berkeley Group 41.1%. These are relatively high rates of return. Together, the four chief executives of these companies paid themselves over £30m in 2016. In 2017, five directors of Berkeley Group got over £3m each; Persimmon’s chief executive is in line to receive a bonus of over £100m. Trevor Rayne reports.

 

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The New Poverty – a return to the old poverty

9781786634634 6095f49959df24b4e75f0344fe705a8a
The New PovertyStephen Armstrong, Verso 2016, 242pp, £12.99

By 2020 18% of children in Britain will live in absolute poverty. Two thirds of families living in poverty are in work. Nearly one million people work on zero-hour contracts. These are the facts that are printed on the front cover of the book The New Poverty by Stephen Armstrong, who has gathered data from various studies and reports and integrated this with the real-life stories of people living through this ‘new poverty’.

 

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Action in solidarity with Grenfell survivors

On 22 November, the Revolutionary Communist Group held its third public meeting since the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in June this year. The meeting was held at the Maxilla Social Club in north Kensington. This venue has opened its doors to every kind of gathering for the last six months and we would like to thank Joe Walsh for his kindness and support.

Of course, this is not the only meeting place. Notting Hill Methodist Church is a centre of support for the neighbourhood. So too is a large area under the railway bridge and Westway overpass, opposite the burnt-out Grenfell Tower. This has been cleaned and furnished as a permanent social space. It was established by local people as an area of remembrance and for candle-lit vigils. It has a huge Wall of Truth with statements from the community, a Garden of Remembrance, refreshments, seating, warm clothes, pianos and a library as well as an altar and several large and beautifully painted murals.

 

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Haringey Labour ‘left’ fails to dent progress of HDV

hdv haringey

The judicial review of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) started on 26 October 2017. HDV is a private joint venture between Haringey Council in north London and Australian developers Lendlease to parcel up vast tracts of council-owned land and assets worth £2bn for private development. A final ruling is expected before the end of the 2017.

The local StopHDV campaign initiated the judicial review, questioning the way that the HDV was set up. Thousands of council homes and public resources, including Wood Green library, would be lost under the plan. There has been no meaningful consultation with local residents: the Labour council has made it clear it will ignore Jeremy Corbyn’s call for them to be balloted over redevelopment plans.

 

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Racism permeates housing at every level

racism letting agencies

The systemic racism which Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people1 face throughout the housing sector in Britain is typically not reported. When racism does receive media attention, it is often only the prejudices of private landlords which are judged to be of public interest. Media outlets followed the story of the notorious Fergus Wilson, owner of hundreds of properties in Kent, who recently lost his court case against the Equality and Human Rights Commission for instructing his letting agents not to accept Indian or Pakistani applicants (Sky News, 8 November 2017). A three-year injunction was handed down – a slap on the wrist. But discrimination by landlords is only part of the story, as shown by the government's own Race Disparity Audit, published in October 2017.

 

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Rotten Boroughs - Newham Labour council leads the way

rotten boroughs

Newham Council in east London – where the Focus E15 campaign is based – has been run by Labour for the last 50 years, since the borough was formed. It is now, according to Debt Resistance UK, the ‘debt capital’ of Britain.

Research published by Debt Resistance UK shows that in the last five years, total financial council reserves have risen 67% across the capital. Meanwhile, the number of people forced off housing benefit has risen by 20%, and there has been a rise of 250% of people being placed out of borough for housing and a 230% increase in street homelessness.

 

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Grenfell Fire - Getting away with murder

grenfell council

On 6 November 2017 the task force set up by the government in the wake of the appalling fire at Grenfell Tower in west London published its interim report. It is scathing in its criticism of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) which, it says, completely ‘failed its community on the night of 14 June and the months following’. It describes a historic relationship between the council and the working class community of north Kensington as at best ‘distant’ and at worst one of neglect, and says that this is reflected in the continuing poor treatment of survivors and the wider community. Most of all, the report lambasts the ‘painfully slow’ rate at which survivors of the Grenfell fire have been rehoused. By the beginning of November – nearly five months after the fire – just 26 households had been found permanent homes. The vast majority of the remaining 177 households, including 226 children, are still stuck in woefully inadequate emergency accommodation – B&Bs, hostels and hotels; a few dozen are in temporary housing. Jack Lukacs reports.

RBKC still has most of its near £300m reserves in the bank. No criminal charges have been brought against any member of the council or the management organisation that oversaw the cut-price and lethal refurbishment of the tower, and the public inquiry into the disaster has pushed back the date at which it expects to publish an interim report still further into 2018. Any form of justice for the Grenfell survivors seems as far away as ever. The local community has from day one been just about the only force to organise consistent support, counselling, art projects and legal assistance for survivors – but political support for their demands seems to have melted away. Kensington and Chelsea council and the KCTMO are being allowed, quite literally, to get away with murder.

 

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Universal Credit - bleeding the poor

universal credit

Universal Credit (UC), the government’s flagship welfare reform, is now being rolled out to over 105 local council areas, roughly a quarter of local authorities – hitting all new claimants with a minimum five-week waiting period for any pay out, reduced from six weeks by the Autumn Budget. This not only affects those leaving school or work who require a new payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance, but people who have been receiving benefits to subsidise their poor wages and extortionate housing costs, who have or will be transferred onto the new welfare regime. For these people, all of the benefits they were previously entitled to – including housing benefit – will be suspended until their new UC claim is validated. LUKE MEEHAN reports.

This gap in payments has already led to a marked increase in food poverty and mounting rent arrears – with research by the Trussell Trust reporting an unprecedented surge in the use of foodbanks in areas where UC has been implemented, and Freedom of Information requests in September 2017 revealing that roughly half of claimants were at least a month behind with their rent, and thus at risk of eviction. Further research by the Resolution Foundation has indicated that 57% of claimants have been forced to borrow money while waiting for their payments to come through, meaning that repaying interest on loans will join rent arrears in eating into the little money they eventually receive.

 

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Why we must fight to save Ledbury Estate

Ledbury Estate

The Ledbury Estate consists of four 14-storey towers, and some low-rise housing, on the Old Kent Road in Southwark, south London. The blocks are made of large concrete panels faced with Norfolk flint and were built between 1968 and 1970 in a style known as ‘brutalist’. Most of the flats and houses are council tenancies, with a few leasehold properties. The estate is in the middle of an area designated for regeneration by Southwark Labour council, dependent on the extension of the underground in the next 20 years: Ledbury Estate will be next to a tube station. This will make the estate very attractive to private developers, keen to attract investors and to house middle-class Londoners who can’t quite afford to live in central London. Its present working class residents will have to move out.

Southwark is notorious, along with many other London councils, for its programme of destruction of council estates. Large estates, for example Heygate and Aylesbury estates at Elephant and Castle, have been sold for private development at bargain basement prices. The demolished council homes are replaced by ‘luxury’ accommodation unaffordable to local people. This is the latest form of social cleansing favoured by London Labour councils. The north of the borough, already served by underground stations and closest to central London, has become a developers’ paradise. Local people, shops and traders have been driven out. The Ledbury Estate, now occupying a ‘prime site’, is the latest estate to come under threat and will be a testing ground for Jeremy Corbyn’s radical promises on housing made at the Labour Party Conference.

 

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Salford Labour council – public cuts, private profits

Salford’s Labour council presides over a city of ever increasing disparity. While it touts projects such as Media City UK as glittering jewels, a combination of a lack of social housing provision and cuts to public services have left 25% of children living in poverty, and 70% of the population living in areas that are classified as ‘highly deprived’.

Rather than tackle these issues, the council has continued at full pace with the demolition of affordable housing to make way for private developments. A publicly-subsidised development in Pendleton has demolished 800 social homes to make way for a 1,500-home construction of which only 500 are categorised as ‘affordable’; this will place an additional 300 households on Salford’s waiting list, which stood at 14,000 households at the start of 2017. Meanwhile £22.5m from the Greater Manchester Housing Fund - government funds intended to ease the housing crisis – have been used in the Black Friar construction which is now being touted to private property developers.

 

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Young workers bear the brunt of capitalist crisis

Many working parents aren't earning enough to support their families adequately
Many working parents aren't earning enough to support their families adequately

Ten years after the global financial crash, capitalism is proving incapable of providing adequate living standards for the mass of the working class in Britain. An annual report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that the burden of the crisis has been heaped onto the poor, and young workers in particular. In contrast, the amount of national income taken home by the top 1%, or households with annual incomes of £275,000 or more, has risen from 7% to 8.5%, meaning they have recovered the ground they lost in the aftermath of the last recession. According to Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2017, median incomes are at record levels; the ONS says the wealthiest tenth of households in Britain own 45% of the nation’s wealth – the poorest half just 8.7%. This vast inequality accompanies stagnant poverty rates; relative poverty* is 22%, representing no improvement since 2000-01. Matt Glass reports.

On 22 September, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May boasted that ‘employment – people in work; people taking home a wage, a salary, to support their family – is at record levels, the highest levels since records began’. With unemployment at 4.3% in May-July 2017, this is technically true, but in-work poverty is also at a record high. In 1995-96 45% of non-pensioners in relative poverty were in a working household. This has risen to two thirds. In 1990, 20% of children in working families were in poverty. That figure stands at 24% for 2015-16.

 

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No more Grenfells - Fight for social housing

justice for grenfell demo

The narrow terms of reference for the Public Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, and the attempts to sideline and intimidate survivors, reveal that the government has no intention of seeking justice for those who have lost everything. As ever, those with wealth and power will continue to protect their own interests no matter the cost to the working class. The result of their tireless pursuit of profit will be further insecurity, poverty, homelessness and death. The public inquiry is designed simply to demoralise, demobilise and exhaust those fighting for justice, against austerity, and for social housing. Jack Lukacs reports.

 

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Housing In Briefs

Scotland Housing
Glasgow TAG members stand up for tenants' rights

MANCHESTER

At the end of June, housing association One Manchester announced it would remove potentially lethal cladding from its tower blocks after 16 of them failed fire tests following the Grenfell fire. However so far only five have had any serious work done. There are also further issues in its buildings with poor stairwell exits and doubts as to whether a fire horn blown by fire wardens would be heard in the higher flats.

At Bikerdike Court in Longsight, One Manchester has simply put up a notice on the ground floor stating that the cladding had been widely adopted in schools, hospitals and other tower blocks, and was therefore assumed to be safe!

 

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Birmingham’s Labour councillors cut vital services

protest agaings buget cut birminham
Protest against buget cuts, February 2017

Rather than offer any opposition to continual reductions in its central government grant, Birmingham’s Labour-run council has imposed cuts totalling £650m since 2010, with a further £100m due in 2017/18.

Schools have had £108m slashed from their budgets, the equivalent of 3,000 teacher’s salaries, with a further £94m of cuts to come. Teaching assistants have been the first to lose their jobs, but teaching jobs will also be lost and class sizes will rise. As a typical example, Erdington Academy has lost nearly £500,000, £576 per pupil. Many schools are asking parents to donate to school funds. This means that schools in working class areas are affected even more severely because parents there have less money to donate.

 

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Grenfell Tower: Condemn capitalism!

justice for grenfell

Capitalism is in deep and unending crisis. Profit increasingly takes a parasitic and criminal form: interest, speculation, tax havens, money laundering, organised crime, financial fraud, rigged markets. These are the means by which capitalists retain their profits as they are compelled to battle with each other for a share of the surplus value. Cheating and corruption become necessary to monopoly capitalism in crisis and is invaluable to the ruling class. Trevor Rayne reports.

The fire at Grenfell Tower exposes the scale of corruption that permeates authority in Britain. It is driven by corporations scrambling for profits, bending rules and regulations and breaking them to do so. In these calculations, human beings must yield profits and they are disposable. This crime was years in the making and the guilty hands are many, but the names will be few. The culprits hide behind masks of respectability and are protected by the narrow terms of reference of the public inquiry.

 

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Grenfell fire: social murder

grenfell riot

The fire that devastated Grenfell Tower on 14 June, leaving a yet unknown number of people dead and hundreds homeless, was not some terrible accident, but rather the culmination of a housing policy marked by decades of deliberate degradation of social housing. It could have happened on almost any council estate in the country, where what is left of publicly-owned housing is systematically sold off by Conservative and Labour councils alike, or left to rot as a prelude to demolition and ‘regeneration’ as profitable private assets. Successive governments have turned their backs on the housing needs of the working class. The residents of Grenfell Tower were murdered by a barbaric and crisis-ridden capitalist system that carelessly sacrifices human need to its relentless drive for profits. The Grenfell fire was what Aditya Chakraborrty, writing in The Guardian (20 June 2017) and citing Engels, rightly describes as social murder. CAT WIENER reports.

 

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Justice for Grenfell! Housing for all! Criminal charges now!

grenfell 2

A month after the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower that killed so many people and devastated the lives of hundreds more, survivors and local residents continue to be failed by the local council, by the government, by support services and by national agencies. It is an outrage that only a handful of families have so far been offered adequate and safe accommodation in the borough; that many are still being moved around from hotel to hotel; that those who have refused unsafe and unacceptable temporary accommodation are told they will be classified as ‘intentionally homeless’. It is completely unacceptable that despite Kensington and Chelsea council and KCTMO signing off on shoddy, cheap and unsafe refurbishment at Grenfell that did not meet fire regulations, no criminal charges have been brought against anyone for the social murder of men, women and children. The disaster at Grenfell was a direct result of negligence, incompetence and contempt for working class people living in the borough.

 

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Overall benefit cap 11 families evicted in Edinburgh

cap rents not benefits

Eleven families, with 42 children between them, have been evicted from their privately-rented homes in north Edinburgh. They had built up rent arrears as a result of the recent reduction in the overall benefit cap from £26,000pa to £20,000. The families had applied to the city council for Discretionary Housing Payments to cover the rent shortfall, but their applications had either been turned down or were insufficient. Some of them have now been split up or sent to temporary hostels, while others have been moved to accommodation in Bathgate and Broxburn in West Lothian, causing additional stress due to the distance from the children’s schools.

 

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Theresa May’s dementia tax

BBBo7wH

The fiasco over the so-called dementia tax announced in the Tory party manifesto expressed not just May’s incompetence but also a real problem facing the ruling class: that the depth of the crisis is now such that it has to attack sections of the middle class who are traditional Tory supporters.

The proposal, that pensioners would have to pay for their social care until their assets were reduced to £100,000, would replace the current system under which £23,000 of personal assets are protected. However, the manifesto proposals would include the value of the pensioner’s home in the asset calculation, when currently it is not. The measure would have hit those who require lengthy periods of social rather than hospital care, in particular those suffering from mobility problems including those with dementia – hence the name.

 

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The fight for decent housing in Manchester

housing campain2

FRFI comrades in Manchester and Salford have been organising under the banner of ‘Manchester Fight for Housing!’ to encourage people to get active in the face of the ever worsening housing situation.

We launched a ‘YES TO DSS’ campaign in South Manchester, with bi-weekly pickets of letting agents identified as promoting the discriminatory practice of barring welfare recipients from rental properties. This comes on the back of a series of public meetings and regular street stalls in Chorlton, Hulme, Moss Side and Salford highlighting the issue.

 

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Benefit Cap ruling: ‘Real misery is caused to no good purpose’

cap rents not benefits

On 20 June, High Court judge Mr Justice Collins ruled that the reduced Overall Benefit Cap (OBC) is discriminatory against single parents with children under two years of age, stating that as a result of the reduction, ‘real misery is caused to no good purpose’. The reduction, from £26,000 to £23,000 a year for families living in London and to £20,000 a year for those outside, which came into effect from November 2016, has hit 68,000 families, including 200,000 children. They are among the poorest working class families in Britain, and they will face homelessness in the coming months because the resultant cut in housing benefit – on average £58 per week – will leave them unable to pay their rent. Already 11 families in Edinburgh have been evicted as a direct result of the measure; there will be many more such cases which have not yet been reported.

Over three-quarters of families now hit by the benefit cap are single-parent; although the government said it could not provide current figures for the proportion of single-parent families with children under the age of two, it was 16% under the initial £26,000 benefit cap. Under Department for Work and Pensions rules, parents with children under two are not obliged to show that they are actively seeking work. It was this that formed one of the bases of appeal against the benefit cap, as single parents would be exempt from the cap if they were working more than 16 hours a week.

 

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Revolutionary Communist Group statement on Grenfell Tower

justice for Grenfell

Justice for Grenfell! Safe and secure housing for all!

(updated 19:06, 17/06/17)

The Revolutionary Communist Group stands in solidarity with the residents of Grenfell Tower following the devastating fire that destroyed so many lives, loved ones, homes and possessions. The ‘official’ death toll is so far confirmed at over 50, but it is clear that the real figure could be anything up to 200. There are no words to express our sympathy and horror at what has happened.

 

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State of the working class

focus e15 campaing

This year’s Sunday Times Rich List revealed that there are now 134 billionaires in Britain. Fifteen years ago, there were only 21. At the same time – as capitalism sinks into its deepest crisis in a century – the mass of the working class is being forced into insecure, low-paid employment in the sixth richest country in the world.

Work

● In-work poverty has reached a record high at 7.4 million workers, a million more than in 2010.

● 905,000 people were on zero-hours contracts in December 2016, a 13% year-on-year rise.

● 4.8 million people are now considered self-employed and the majority of them are in precarious work.

● 1.56 million people are unemployed.

 

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Fighting ‘No DSS’

no dss

A recent investigation by the BBC found that just 2% of all rental properties listed on the website SpareRoom.com were available without a ‘no DSS’ clause. ‘No DSS’ is a dated term which refers to the old Department of Social Security, now replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP); it bars anyone claiming housing benefit from being able to even apply for a private rental. The BBC figure tallies with the experience of FRFI comrades in Manchester: we have found one private letting agent listing 57 of its 58 properties as ‘no housing benefit, no DSS’. The problem is not new: in 2012, the Manchester Evening News reported people claiming some form of benefit were excluded from four in five rentals in the region. The degree of exclusion is growing: membership surveys by the National Landlords Association reveal that the numbers willing to let properties to recipients of Universal Credit (UC) or Local Housing Allowance (LHA) has fallen from 46% in 2010 to 18% today.

 

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