Housing Nightmare

Housing NightmareIn London average private sector rents are now £1,038 per month (46% above the UK average) and the average rental price of a three-bedroom home in London is over £20,000 per year. The average London house price is £388,000 (72% higher than the UK average). In the last ten years, house prices have increased by 94%, while wages have only risen by 29%.

In all but two of London's 33 boroughs at least 1 in 20 people are on council housing waiting lists, and across London as a whole more than 1 in 10 Londoners are on waiting lists. In Newham the crisis is most severe with nearly 1 in 4 residents on the council's housing waiting list.

Nationally there are just over 1.8 million households (4.5 million people) on waiting lists. London accounts for 354,000 and 886,000 of those respective figures. The government is cutting and capping benefits, while preventing significant minimum wage increases (just 1.8% in October and a freeze for workers aged under 21).


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Counihan family campaign: angry scenes at Glenda Jackson meeting as South Kilburn residents speak out – 29 august 2012

Supporters of the Counihan family from the South Kilburn Estate were out in force on 29 August to let Glenda Jackson MP know how angry they were about her telling Isabel Counihan that she and her husband and 5 children, who have been made homeless by Brent Council, should move to Wales.


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Poverty and inequality in Britain

On 14 June Coalition Secretary for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith issued a stern warning to the poor: get a job. This millionaire minister ignores the fact that more than 3.6 million children live in poverty in households where at least one adult is working and that on average there are 23 applicants for every job vacancy. This is the reality of poverty and inequality in Britain today.


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London Games 2012 - The Olympic legacy

Vitai Lampada

(‘They Pass On The Torch of Life’)

There’s a breathless hush in the Close tonight –

Ten to make and the match to win –

A bumping pitch and a blinding light,

An hour to play and the last man in.

And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,

Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,

But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote –

‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’

Sir Henry Newbolt 1862-1938

Sir Henry, a minor English poet, expresses the lofty ideals of imperialist Britain. It is a propaganda poem. The later verses move on from the cricket pitch to the battlefield where the doughty British soldier is urged to fight the good fight by killing native Sudanese at the behest of his valiant Captain. In an imperialist world, this is sport.


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Housing crisis: Move along, get along, go! Move! Shift!

In the shadow of the Olympic dream in the London Borough of Newham, the nightmare of austerity and the housing crisis continue. The Leader of Newham Council which has 20,000 people on its housing waiting list, faced with massive cuts to Local Housing Allowance (a cap of £250 for a two-bed flat), wrote to a housing association in Stoke-on-Trent to ask if they could accommodate 500 families from Newham. As the Olympic bandwagon moves in, local people are forced out. Chances are they won’t be able to afford tickets for the greatest show on earth either. On top of bad housing conditions, overcrowding and extortionate rents, private tenants on Housing Benefit (HB) now face transfer, which for Newham tenants would mean 160 miles away from friends, family, school, services and potential jobs. BARNABY MITCHEL reports.

According to the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), 1,500 families in Newham will be immediately affected by the HB cuts and people who were already struggling to make ends meet have been informed by letter of how big the shortfall in their HB is and how much more rent they will have to pay or face eviction. Westminster Council predicts that 2,000 people will not be able to afford their new rent and as one housing officer stated, ‘Westminster has accepted that there will be a 20% reduction of the school population across the borough as a result of these changes. It is a drastic change. We have been visiting schools and nurseries to get that message out. The changes are huge, they are going to have a huge impact.’ The CIH has predicted the creation of ‘benefit ghettoes’ in areas outside London.


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ATOS declared unfit for work

ATOS declared unfit for workATOS declared unfit for work

On 26th April 2012 FRFI supporters joined activists from Occupy Newcastle to occupy Arden House, an ATOS health assessment centre, to protest against work capability assessments.

They performed street theatre inside the waiting area, at Regent Centre Newcastle, to an audience of claimants in order to highlight the unfair and profit orientated nature of the assessments.

One activist commented:

“The protest highlighted the demoralising and dehumanising process which the ATOS assessment puts people through. In effect the most disadvantaged in society are attacked and alienated because of policies which allow for profit making companies to take control of ordinary people’s lives. Within the performance Jim’s metaphorical suicide is a true reflection of reality.”


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Return to the slums

Previous issues of FRFI have covered the death of council housing, the result of decades of sell-offs, privatisation, stock transfers and a lack of new building. The resulting housing crisis, characterised by rising homelessness, overcrowding and sub-standard conditions, will worsen with the government’s most recent proposals. BARNABY MITCHEL reports.

In his October 2010 spending review, Chancellor George Osborne announced that the housing budget for England would be slashed from £8.4bn a year to £4.4bn, with new ‘social’ homes building funded through increasing housing association rents to 80% of market rents. He also announced the end of life-long security of tenure for council tenants. Two new measures in particular will transform council housing, a pillar of the system of state welfare established after the Second World War, into unaffordable and insecure housing: extending the right to buy to housing association properties, and cutting Housing Benefit* (HB) and Local Housing Allowance (LHA).


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Unequal Britain

We live in a massively divided society. Britain today has the highest level of income inequality for 60 years, with the household wealth of the top 10% of the population 100 times greater than that of the poorest 10%. 30% of children in Britain live in poverty. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African men earn around 20% less than white men and nearly half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani households live in poverty. NICKI JAMESON reports.

On 11 October 2010, Equality and Human Rights Commissioner Trevor Phillips (salary £112,000 for a three and a half day week) launched the report of the first Triennial Review of equality in Britain. How fair is Britain? Equality, Human Rights and Good Relations in 2010* a massive piece of work amalgamating detailed research on inequality and discrimination on grounds of race, gender, disability, sexuality, religion and social class. Fact after fact, statistic after statistic hammer home the realities of unequal Britain; yet Phillips fantastically managed to introduce the report with the statement that: ‘Britain is a country where we despise prejudice, embrace equality and believe in the fundamental right of the individual to make the most of his or her talents in a free society. We are increasingly at ease with diversity of all kinds, and intolerant of discrimination of any kind.’


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Labour’s new Poor Law

Labour’s draconian Welfare Reform Bill became law on 12 November 2009. The Act scraps entitlement to benefits based on need, forcing those aged 16-24 and people who have been unemployed for two years or more onto a workfare scheme. If you are not able to find employment you will be forced to work for 30 hours and take part in ‘work-related activity’ for 10 hours a week, all at the equivalent of £1.60 an hour for six months. Labour classes this as ‘intense work experience’ to ‘improve employability’. Work-related activity can include compiling CVs, doing countless job searches, attending work-focused interviews and being made to work in the worst, often temporary, jobs with bad pay and conditions. This is despite the fact that there were only 428,000 job vacancies during the three months to October 2009 whilst unemployment stood at 2.47 million by the end of September 2009. Failure to comply with the workfare regime can lead to benefit sanctions, tipping people who already have to struggle to survive on Jobseeker’s Allowance (£50.90 per week if you are under 24 or £64.30 per week if you are over) into destitution.

These workfare schemes will be piloted in Greater Manchester, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk from October 2010 and will be run by private companies. One such company is Action 4 Employment (A4E), whose owner Emma Harrison is worth £55m (Sunday Times Rich List). A4E already runs similar contracts; one, aimed at getting people back to work under the ‘Benefit Busters’ programme, is worth £700 million over five years. This has helped A4E become worth £145m, a value which Harrison expects to reach £500m by 2014.


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Report on increasing inequality in Britain

Further graphic evidence of Labour’s prosecution of the interests of the rich against the poor was revealed in a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released on 17 June which showed how inequality had grown over the 20 years from 1980 to 2000. The proportion of ‘non-poor, non-wealthy’ households fell from 66.1% in 1980 to 55.7% by 1990, and to 50.4% by 2000. Those defined as either ‘core’ or ‘breadline poor’ increased from 17.1% to 21.3% in 1990 and then to 27% by 2000. Those defined as ‘wealthy’ increased from 16.8% to 22.6%. Between 1990 and 2000 the proportion of ‘exclusively wealthy’ rose from 3.5% to 5.6%. This is consistent with the fact that the wealthiest 1% increased their share of national wealth from 20% to 23% between 1996 and 2002, whilst that of the poorest 50 % shrank from 7% to 5%. This trend has continued.


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Housing: Labour sets racist agenda

As the economic crisis intensifies, the Labour government is stoking the fires of racism. In a sinister echo of his call for ‘British jobs for British workers’, on 29 June  Prime Minister Gordon Brown demanded ‘British homes for British families’. BARNABY MITCHELL reports.

The Labour Party’s relaunch document, Building Britain’s Future, says the government will ‘change the current rules for allocating council and other social housing, enabling local authorities to give more priority to local people and those who have spent a long time on a waiting list’, fuelling the lie that ‘local [ie white] people’ are being forced out of social rented housing by migrants, asylum seekers and others. In reality, local authority waiting lists already prioritise people with a local connection. Brown’s announcement is a piece of classic Labour demagoguery, pandering to racist concerns about immigration that was seized on with glee by sections of the media: Writing in the Daily Mail on 30 June, Andrew Green, chair of the racist think tank Migration Watch, claimed that ‘white working class people were indeed being leapfrogged by new arrivals with large families’. On 2 July, the Daily Express ranted about the ‘socialists’’ long-held discrimination in housing against ‘the indigenous population’.


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Poverty and inequality in Blair's Britain


FRFI 147 February / March 1999

New Labour, proclaims Blair, is directing a 'middle class revolution' to transform Britain. Labour's 10-year programme to tackle poverty and social exclusion will result in 'an expanded middle class, with ladders of opportunity for those of all backgrounds'. This ever-expanding middle class will 'include millions of people who traditionally see themselves as working class', laying the foundations for a new centre-left consensus that will keep New Labour governments in power for many years. Such is the propaganda. The social and economic reality, however, is very different, as DAVID YAFFE shows below.


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Poverty, inequality and unemployment

FRFI 172 April / May 2003

Last year the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone commissioned a special report on poverty in the city. The results, which came out in November show that while inner London has the highest per capita income in the European Union together with the most millionaires and the most expensive properties, the flipside of this typical capitalist coin is that inequalities are so great that London is also the child poverty capital of Britain.

Child poverty is defined as children in households living on less than 50% of the national mean average income before housing costs. In 2001/2002 the threshold weekly income was £280.50 for a couple with two children and £205.50 for a lone parent with two children; for a single person the poverty line was £117 and for a couple with no children it was £192.


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The death of council housing

FRFI 177 February / March 2004

In January, council tenants in Camden, north London, dealt a blow to the Labour government’s housing policy by voting unanimously against the proposed transfer of their homes to a new-style housing corporation called an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO). The ‘no’ vote is the first time tenants have rejected an ALMO. What is most significant is that tenants in Camden have realised that the ALMO is nothing more than privatisation by the back door, as BARNABY MITCHEL reports.

Council tenants in Britain who desperately need repairs to their homes have only three options: stock transfer, Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and ALMOs. Ministers have made it clear that councils which fail to adopt one or a combination of these options will be denied resources. What all three ‘options’ have in common is that they are all part of the Labour government’s agenda of privatisation.


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Housing crisis hits most vulnerable

Today six million people live in roughly 2.5 million council homes. Half of the five million council homes that existed 20 years ago have been sold off thanks to the Right to Buy scheme introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government and continued under Labour. In 1970 172,000 council homes were built for working class people in Britain. In 2001 only 487 council homes were built. The number of newly-built social houses for rent has fallen from 42,700 in 1994-1995 to around 21,000 in 2002-2003. This desperate shortage of affordable housing for the poorest people in Britain is forcing ever more people into temporary housing or homelessness.

In FRFI 177 we reported on the council housing crisis. The government continues to blackmail council tenants all over Britain to ‘choose’ to have their homes sold off to private companies, offering just three options: to sell their home to a housing association (RSL) or a private finance consortia or to set up an Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO).


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Housing crisis hits minority ethnic families hardest

In the last two issues of FRFI we reported on how the government’s war on council housing is attacking the basic right of working class people to affordable and secure housing. The Labour government is refusing to allow local authorities to invest directly in council homes, despite this being the democratic choice of many communities, and is using blackmail and dirty tricks to force through its ideological commitment to privatisation.

Black and minority ethnic people are at the frontline of this war. The 2001 census revealed that black and minority ethnic households make up 7% of England’s population. In the year ending June 2004 such households accounted for 20% of those accepted as homeless by local authorities. Black African/Caribbean households make up 10% of homeless acceptances despite accounting for only 2% of England’s population. They also represent just under half (45%) of all black and minority ethnic homeless households (Shelter, The black and minority ethnic housing crisis, September 2004)


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Defend council housing

The struggle against the privatisation of council housing won several major victories in the run up to Christmas. Several attempts by local councils to blackmail tenants to vote to transfer their homes have been defeated. Despite facing expensive propaganda campaigns that promise much needed improvements and threaten the withholding of investment if tenants say no, local communities and grassroots campaigns have stood firm. Through local campaigning the motives and corruption of local councils and the Labour government have been exposed. Tenants understand that replacing their landlord will result in higher rents, less secure tenancies, a less accountable landlord and an uncertain future.

In Edinburgh 53% of council tenants voted against attempts to sell off their homes to a housing association. This was one of the biggest sell-off attempts with 23,000 homes affected. The tenants now face the battle to get the direct investment they need from central government to make their homes decent.


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Back to the workhouse

In a virulent attack on the poorest sections of the working class, housing minister Caroline Flint suggested that unemployed people in council housing could risk losing their homes if they don’t prove that they are looking for work. In a Guardian interview on 5 February Flint claimed she was ‘surprised’ to learn the statistics about unemployment among social tenants. She said that the government wanted to tackle the culture of ‘no one works round here’, arguing that unemployment is ‘a form of peer pressure’ within the community itself: ‘If you are in a family, an estate or a neighbourhood where nobody works that impacts on your own aspiration.’

Both in the interview and in a speech the next day to the Fabian Society, she stated that housing should be seen as a privilege: new council tenants should have to sign ‘commitment contracts’ agreeing to look for work in order to be eligible. If they failed to show their commitment to find a job and to the principle of ‘something for something’, they could lose their council homes. This could be extended in future to include existing tenants. Unemployed tenants would also be made to do skills ‘audits’, giving the state more power to force people into low paid, temporary and insecure jobs.


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Defend council housing

Housing is becoming the bellwether of economic recession in Britain as well as in the United States. In Britain, the number of repossessions of privately-owned houses is rising rapidly as unemployment grows and falling house prices leave owners with negative equity. The already massive shortage of council housing is fast becoming a desperate crisis for working class people who have the choice of poor quality, often overcrowded conditions at inflated prices in the private sector or homelessness. Now is the time to invest massively in council housing and affordable good quality private housing to meet the needs of the working class. Instead the Labour government is, at best, dragging its feet, looking for more ways to ration council housing and ignoring the needs of millions of badly housed and homeless families.

In the lead-up to the issuing of a government Green Paper on housing, promised for early 2009, Housing Minister Margaret Beckett has been considering proposals from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH, representing housing officials) which argue for an end to security of tenure for council tenants. This right to stay in your own home was won in 1979 through national campaigning by council tenants following reforms in the private sector. The CIH report Rethinking Housing suggests that there should be means tests for council tenants, and periodic reviews of tenants’ financial situations. Should their income exceed a certain level, they should either pay a higher rent or be ‘encouraged’ to move into the private sector. Another report by the New Local Government Network (NLGN), a New Labour think tank, also recommends putting an end to secure tenancies, setting market-level rents and even proposes forcing elderly council tenants to leave their homes once their children have grown up.


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The end of council housing

housing campain2

Whichever party wins the General Election, all the remaining 4.5 million council houses will be sold off. The Tories talk of a ‘private sector solution’ whilst Labour prefers private-public ‘partnerships’, but the end is the same: £58 billion worth of council stock will end up in private hands, much of it given away. The new private companies will raise money for the estimated £20 billion backlog of repairs by using the housing stock as a collateral. The effect will be to send rents soaring. One study has shown that where housing associations have refurbished council houses, rents were between 25 and 75 higher than equivalent, modernised local authority homes. Labour’s Sandwell Council is taking the lead in this and will privatise its 8,500 houses by next year. Rent increases will be 5 per cent higher than the rate of inflation in the first five years. This is a foretaste of what is to come.



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