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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