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Social dumping won't solve the housing crisis
Labour-run Newham council in east London decided recently to try to uproot 500 local families and dump them in Stoke, 160 miles away! Tory Westminster council also wants to kick out poor tenants. Britain's housing crisis is getting deeper. Andy Bentley of Stoke Socialist Party comments.
Newham is one of London's poorest boroughs. 25% of its children live in poverty, according to Save the Children, while billions of pounds are being spent on the nearby Olympic Park.
Newham council asked Brighter Futures Housing Association in Stoke-on-Trent to find homes for up to 500 families who are suffering from the housing benefit cap imposed by the government. But if government cuts continue. these families would find no 'brighter future' in Stoke or any other part of Britain.
Officially Stoke has over 3,000 individuals or families waiting for social housing but the real figure is much higher. Youth unemployment is at 22% and child poverty stands at 19%.
Stoke's Labour council demolished hundreds of good homes but the money has run out to build the replacement homes they promised. The council has built just 17 council bungalows since 1987! £35 million of cuts to jobs and services were carried out last year with another £24 million both this year and next.
The government cuts housing benefit and tries to blame tenants for claiming more to pay their rent! But it's only the landlords charging high rents that gain. Cutting housing benefit hits not just unemployed people - 80% of those claiming housing benefit in London are working.
The number of people officially registered as homeless rose by at least 14% in the last year. Nationally five million people, two million households, are desperate for social housing. Homelessness, high rents and lack of decent affordable social housing is a national problem that can't be solved by 'social dumping'. What is needed is a mass building programme of high quality, affordable council houses.
From 1949 to 1954, 230,000 council houses were built on average every year. A similar building programme today would provide work for hundreds of thousands of unemployed building workers, and also immediately cut the amount of money paid to private landlords in housing benefit.
It could also provide proper apprenticeships for thousands of unemployed young people to train as the next generation of bricklayers, joiners, electricians, plumbers etc. It could be paid for by collecting the £120 billion unpaid corporation tax that big business don't pay every year!
In the past even Tory governments, under mass pressure from the working class, supported a mass house building programme. Instead of trying to 'export' a 'local problem' to another area, Newham Labour council's time would be better spent linking with such a fightback and calling on other Labour councils like Stoke's to do the same.
Spectacular 'free market' failure
Private rents in Newham rose by over 150% over the last five years and one in three households in the borough is on the council house waiting list. In 2009, 28,629 households were on the waiting list. The charity Shelter said this would take 24 years to clear so long as no one else was added to it!
Since then the housing situation has got worse, ironically after the council's clampdown on slum landlords who had profited from renting out garden sheds and ramshackle buildings to poor people.
Newham council, like other local authorities, is not building new homes for affordable rents. And with the construction industry in a slump, neither is the private sector. The number of new housing starts in Britain is the lowest since the 1920s.
Relying for housing on the 'free market' has been championed by successive governments since Thatcher's days. Clearly, it has spectacularly failed working class people.
Simon Carter, Newham
Are we living in the 19th century?
I am a candidate for TUSC in Winchester and a working class mother of three children. I am on less than income support every week to feed my children and recently due to a major accident my son has had I have to spend over £30 of this amount a week to go to hospital and back.
Tonight I read the ideas of the other parties standing in Winchester. The one that hit me most was the Labour candidate who suggested we deal with the homeless problem by putting families in spare attics in the city.
Are we living in the 19th century? Let's just put people in cellars, several families to a room! Do they really expect the working class to believe this hype or are they preaching to rich people who would like to see the poor disappear so they do not have to deal with them anymore?
Needed - new and affordable homes now!
A London housing worker
Newham council's proposals highlight the severe lack of reasonably priced housing in London. Many councils enthusiastically promoted the Tories' so-called 'Right to Buy' laws; all of them failed to build new homes. So now they all rely substantially on the private sector to meet housing need. Newham shows that this approach has failed.
In April 2011 the Con-Dems introduced Local Housing Allowance (LHA - private sector housing benefit) caps of £250 a week (1 bed), £290 (2 bed), £340 (3 bed) and £400 (4 bed or more). They also reduced the benchmark for LHA from average rents to the bottom 30% of rents.
London workers on average wages find it impossible to obtain housing in many parts of the city. In particular, households who are forced out of more central areas put pressure on the supply of private sector rented housing in many outlying areas.
With thousands in temporary accommodation, councils such as Newham are reduced to desperate measures. Newham did not just approach a landlord in Stoke, they approached 1,178 others!
To make matters worse, the Con-Dems nationally, with local councils' cooperation, are raising council and housing association (HA) rents to close to market rents. They also intend only to increase LHA once a year, in line with the Consumer Prices Index, so when private rents increase LHA will not keep up and low paid workers will have to make up the shortfall.
The Con-Dems also intend to introduce a Universal Credit Cap on benefits at £500 which will reduce the money many households who lose employment have for rent to well below market rents. Labour supports the principle of caps on benefits.
Divide and rule
Young people fare even worse. Single under-35s will be expected to share accommodation. A new 'bedroom tax', being introduced shortly, will penalise council and HA tenants who have a spare bedroom through a cut in housing benefit.
Rather than face up to this crisis of their own making, right-wing politicians seek to divide and rule by making false claims about priority being given to new immigrants to obtain council and HA tenancies.
In reality these tenancies are severely rationed for all applicants and almost all will be on waiting lists for years without being successful. Only eligible applicants in severest need will succeed. So people are forced to rely on the perils of private landlords - an option which the Con-Dems are even trying to deny them.
Nancy Taaffe, a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate in the London elections has pointed out that if the Olympic village was used for social housing after the election it would be more than big enough to house the people Newham want to move to Stoke. But no establishment parties have any answer to the housing crisis.
Rent caps should be introduced immediately to make private sector properties affordable. Councils should give their environmental health sections the resources to take action against landlords of dangerous properties. Legal aid should be available to help tenants enforce their rights. Council and HA rents should be no more than £100 a week.
Most importantly a large programme of new building of genuinely affordable housing is needed urgently. Trade unions should actively campaign on housing issues. A good first step would be to support the Londoners Forced Out campaign (website londonersforcedout.com) just launched by Youth Fight for Jobs.
In The Socialist 2 May 2012:
Fighting the government attacks
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party workplace news
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition feature
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Environment and socialism