Archives For Housing

Rent Freedom Day

kamsandhu —  February 4, 2015 — Leave a comment

Today a free event is taking place at Central Hall Westminster: ‘Rent Freedom Day’

There are many ways you can take part if you are not attending, find out more here.

RFD_WebBanner

From http://www.rentfreedomday.org/:

If you rent from a private landlord, you’re probably under pressure. You spend on average two days wages every week on rent, you have a one in three chance of living in squalor and you have very little protection if the landlord wants their property back.

The good news is you’re in good company. There are now ten million private renters in Britain and for the first time we have enough votes to decide the next election. Politicians can no longer ignore us.

That’s why on Wednesday 4th February, Generation Rent is hosting Rent Freedom Day. A day for ordinary private renters and their allies to hammer home the message to Westminster – that we are angry, organised and ready to evict any MP who doesn’t tackle the serious issues facing private renters today.

Over the course of the day, you can:

  • Lobby your MP
  • Hear the main political parties debate the housing crisis
  • Learn how to organise your own local renters group
  • Enjoy some stand-up comedy
  • Find out your rights as a renter
  • Register to vote
  • Develop policies that will improve the lives of renters

Together we can make Rent Freedom Day the day that private renting changes forever. To book your place or for more information email info@generationrent.org or call 02037525535.

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On 31.01.15 people are meeting in South London and East London to march on Boris in City Hall to demand better homes for Londoners and an end to the housing crisis:

Control rents
Hands off council housing
Stop demolition of quality council homes
Affordable and secure homes for all
Cut rents not benefits
No Scapegoating Immigrants
No Racist Landlord Checks
End Bedroom Tax and welfare caps
Build new council houses
Better pay & conditions, better housing services

Called by Defend Council Housing and South London People’s Assembly. (Unite Housing Workers is supporting & assisting in the organising).
The March for Homes is supported by hundreds of groups and individuals:www.marchforhomes.org/sponsors

For details of the East London march see: https://www.facebook.com/events/1584117861819976/

Please visit www.marchforhomes.org or https://www.facebook.com/MarchforHomes for updates.

By Michael Crick

At the centre of Old Mill Street stands Ancoats Dispensary. Once the ‘beating heart’ of the community, making up one section of the historic Ancoats Hospital, the building now lies empty and abandoned. Broken windows and the absence of a roof leave it exposed to the elements, while scaffolding surrounds the crumbling facade. But a collection of placards hanging at each corner of the building displaying defiant messages – ‘Save Our Heritage’, ‘Say No to Demolition’, ‘Is this the Way to Treat a Listed Building?’ – reveal the efforts of a group of local residents and activists fighting to restore the ruined building and reunite a fragmented community.

Image: Guardian

Image: Guardian

The Ancoats Dispensary Trust began their campaign to save the Grade II listed building in 2011 after discovering that its owners, property developers Urban Splash, were planning to demolish it. The mere mention of demolition could have sounded the death knell for the dispensary if it weren’t for the efforts of the Trust. Inspired into action, a group of Ancoats residents quickly organised and established a grassroots campaign, relentlessly opposing the destruction of the iconic building. Since then, the movement has been gaining momentum as local residents have employed a range of tactics, presenting their case to the local MP, collecting five thousand signatures of support and appearing on BBC radio. The activists even held a daily vigil outside the derelict dispensary for two years, their physical presence acting as a constant reminder of the threat to the cherished building and the residents’ determination to save it. The Trust’s unwavering oppositional stance gave them a taste of victory in 2013 when Urban Splash bowed to popular pressure, putting their plans for demolition on hold. But having successfully deferred the destruction of the building, the group are now continuing the fight to restore the dispensary and reclaim it for the Ancoats community.

The strength of feeling for the dispensary is unsurprising given its central position in the industrial heritage of Ancoats. After standing at two different locations in the area, the dispensary moved to its current position on Old Mill Street in 1874 and has been a vital part of the community ever since. As a ‘voluntary hospital’, the dispensary offered free healthcare to poor workers from the mills, foundries and factories of Ancoats. Driven by a requirement to meet the needs of an overcrowded and underprivileged industrial area, the dispensary saw innovations in the treatment of infectious diseases and physical injuries, notably opening the world’s first fracture clinic in 1914. However, the dispensary’s prominence gradually faded throughout the twentieth century, before it was eventually closed in 1989.

The Trust are now aiming to release the potential of the dormant dispensary with a plan to transform the building into a public space that can be used to promote creativity, cultural diversity and community cohesion. This renovation would potentially include art studios, meeting rooms, spaces for local social enterprise groups to operate and a community cafe. Describing themselves as a group that ‘represents a community that sees a future in the successes of their past’, it is clear that the Trust’s restoration plans deliberately draw on the institution’s history of healing. In the early twentieth century, the dispensary pioneered the treatment of broken bones. Now, the Trust are determined to reignite this reconstructive spirit to repair a community still bearing the scars of post-industrial decline.

“If you look back over the last 50 or 60 years, maybe even longer, the Ancoats area, including the hospital, was a thriving, busy community jam-packed with lots of social agencies in terms of community work going on”, recalls Linda Carver, Ancoats resident and co-ordinator of the Trust. “There was a sense that everybody was looking out for everybody else.” Changes to the community, however, caused by deindustrialisation and the demolition and relocation of housing, led to the rapid erosion of this network of social support in the second half of the twentieth century. “Nothing was happening in Ancoats. Where did people go? How did they get together and meet?”

Though recent regeneration schemes, led primarily by Urban Splash, ostensibly sought to reinvigorate the Ancoats area, they seem to have only exacerbated existing issues of disconnection in the community. “There is this feeling that there is a gentrification taking place”, notes Carver, acknowledging the concern felt by local residents about the new developments in the area, “particularly when they know that it’s almost as if no-one can get access to these apartments.” Indeed, as Urban Splash have overhauled the area with their ‘New Islington’ regeneration project,  the open arrangement of the council estate has largely been replaced by the imposing and isolating architecture of the luxury apartment block. It’s not hard to see why residents might feel they are being excluded.

It is unity, however, that is at the heart of the Trust’s vision and, for Carver, that includes the residents of the new flats. She envisages the restored dispensary as a catalyst for community activity, a centre around which Ancoats residents, both old and new, can converge. By transforming the building into a space to promote the arts, Carver hopes to “challenge the perception” that recent arrivals may have of Ancoats and encourage them to engage with the community. But this focus on art and culture is also intended to inspire the existing community, as Carver emphasises the empowering potential of creative activity: “Creativity is the key to Ancoats Dispensary. The creativity that in turn creates a sense of wellbeing, which in turn creates a feeling of hope and optimism that has the power to change people’s lives.”

Highlighting the success of recent projects run at Bridge-5 Mill, 42nd Street and Hope Mill, Carver points out that the Ancoats area is seeing a resurgence of cultural and community activity, noting that the Trust hope to contribute to this increasingly cohesive network of organisations. For Carver, this transformation represents a reclamation of power for the Ancoats community after years of seeing their neighbourhood altered by private developers and the City Council: “It’s about local people feeling that they are in control of things that are happening in their area, that something isn’t being imposed on them.” With this assertion, Carver reveals the radical core of the campaign. No longer content to simply resist demolition, the group are now actively attempting to restructure the community; the Trust have progressed from a group with primarily defensive ambitions, to one that is demanding an alternative through collective grassroots action.

But the building is still not safe. Having partnered with property developers, Igloo Regeneration, the Trust have formally drawn up their restoration plan and applied for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. While their initial application has been approved and the group have been awarded a provisional round of funding, the Trust still need to raise £55,000 by February 2015 in order to secure the full grant, take ownership of the building and fully realise their vision for the dispensary. The group are now engaged in a huge fundraising effort, seeking help wherever they can find it by applying for extra grants, running a ‘Night of Art’ benefit event and holding an online crowdfunding campaign at Spacehive.com. “I’m convinced we will get it”, asserts Carver, who remains optimistic despite the formidable nature of the task ahead. “When people realise what they are about to lose, I think they’ll step up.”

“People have always described it as our Ancoats – it’s our hospital”, notes Carver, returning again to the sense of community entrenched in the area. If the Trust can continue to inspire and empower the residents of Ancoats, then perhaps in their effort to preserve their past, they will be able to reclaim and reshape their future.

You can support the campaign and find out more here.

The Truth About Housing Benefit

kamsandhu —  November 11, 2014 — 6 Comments

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

In a climate of unrepentant cuts and increasing poverty, bureaucracy and discrimination for benefit claimants, one group of individuals are seemingly unscathed recipients of growing welfare payments: landlords. In the decade up to 2012/13 housing benefit payments doubled from £12bn to £24bn currently reaching the bloated heights of over £25bn. How has this area of welfare spending remained out of the spotlight in the welfare and claimant bashing trends of the last few years?

Image: capita Software

Image: capita Software

Housing benefits go entirely to landlords or housing associations. Claimants do not gain or cream some profit off the top as many politicians and media would like to insinuate. And according to Danny Dorling, author of ‘All That Is Solid’, the aim of housing benefit always was to line the pockets of landlords:

 

‘None of this new red-tape was the product of a left-wing created bureaucracy. The current housing benefit system was set up by the Conservatives in the 1980’s: they wanted rents to be able to rise freely to encourage private landlords.’

Danny Dorling, All That Is Solid

 

Indeed, the housing crisis we are currently in is one pushed along with intent by the Conservative party.

Thatcher’s sell-off of social housing through ‘Right To Buy’ with no intention of replenishment, increased the number of claimants forced to use private landlords, who are estimated to make £9.2bn from housing benefit this year.

Now with 5 million people on social housing waiting lists, a dwindling social stock, and a lack of guarantees for long-term tenancies, the desperation of tenants are further exploited through poor housing standards for top rates of benefit payments. 

 

“Private landlords are being asked what the rent is and some will take whatever housing benefit will pay. What we are talking about now is the old style Rachmanism, in particular. He was famous in the sixties for being a slum landlord who made huge profits but did absolutely nothing to the private rented accommodation that he owned. And he could chuck people out willy-nilly. What came out of that was all the fair rent campaigns and huge changes to the housing sector.”

Housing Support Officer Speaking To RealFare

 

Housing charity, Shelter, say that bad housing conditions are particularly ‘acute’ in the private rented sector with 40% of tenants in bad housing (‘Bad housing’ is defined by overcrowding or failure to meet the ‘Decent Homes Standard’ – click here for more details). Shelter also cite new powers to ‘discharge their homelessness duty into the private sector’ as a contributing factor to poor housing, accountability and increasing poverty for tenants in the private rented sector. In 2001, 10% of tenants in the private rented sector were living in poverty. In 2011, this had increased to 18%.

In contrast, landlords like Richard Benyon – the UK’s richest MP, receive thousands of pounds a year in housing benefit whilst at the same time, slamming welfare claimants and the ‘something for nothing’ culture. As claimants live in abject poverty, under threats of sanction and villifying in the press, Benyon quietly profits £120,000 in housing benefit in a year.

Or perhaps see the millionaire Kent tycoons Fergus and Judith Wilson, a couple who came out in the press last year to say they had no problem evicting tenants, and wanted to replace benefit claimants with working people in all of their 1,000 homes (yes, 1,000). The couple, as Benyon did, outwardly slammed claimants insisting ‘people should get off their backsides and work.’

Interestingly enough, the couple only became vocal about their supposedly ‘lazy’ tenants when the housing benefit cap was being introduced, and people started falling into arrears (even knowing that many were falling into arrears didn’t stop the couple upping the rent prices regularly either). In other words, when housing benefit would not cover any price they saw fit, suddenly the Wilsons were up in arms about the laziness of benefit claimants. The issue did not bother them when their rent payment was being covered. In the last line of this video, Fergus says ‘Gone are the days when you could rely on housing benefit’ which seems a statement more relevant to his bank balance rather than claimants.

 

 

The Benefit Cap

Whilst the benefit cap is a way of cutting the allowance a tenant may have to pay a landlord, it is a cowardly tactic to avoid interception of housing prices and rents.

We spoke before about Why the government doesn’t want to solve the housing crisis, and essentially this means that government will do all they can to avoid controlling or disturbing house prices, as they benefit Tory voters and provide some growth – even if this growth is only good for 1% of the population and detrimental to the rest.

 

Even in the ‘Help To Buy’ scheme, people are given aid by the government to get on the ladder, but nothing is done to abate the extreme pressures and prices involved. Instead, the government underwrites risk for the bank to sell to someone who has not got enough money. This is neither a long term solution nor a way of dealing with the heart of the problem.

Similarly, the benefit cap combined with moves to pay housing benefits to the claimant and not the landlord, means the government have weaseled their way out of dealing with prices. Simply suggesting that claimants could look for cheaper property while government fuels a housing crisis, record numbers of people are on low pay, poverty is rising and 80% of new jobs are in London, is patronising to say the least.

What the government has done by creating a benefit cap, allowing housing costs to soar, and paying benefits straight to the claimant is dissolve their responsibility in knowing how much that claimant needs for housing and living costs. If a parent is pushed into poverty, skipping meals and so on (of which we hear more and more stories) because the benefit cap leaves them little after paying an extortionate rent, then it just means they are left to suffer alone.

 

“They have brought in the benefit cap and now landlords are putting rent at the top of the benefit cap. So for single homeless people, a majority have very few skills, they are now stuck in a cycle of poverty because they cannot afford to pay £200-250 a week, and these are rooms – these are not studio flats. These are very depressing environments where people wil either relapse or fall into depression. I certainly would.”

Housing Support Officer Speaking To RealFare

 

In crueller intentions still, Danny Dorling explains how the housing benefit cap is not a new thing and its results are not unforeseen:

“The housing benefit cap is not a particularly new scheme when it comes to attempts to move poorer people away from richer areas. A generation ago the Conservative party tried to achieve the same outcome, but more subtly. In 1986 the Conservative controlled Westminster Council decided that the number of council house sales should be accelerated so that ‘a natural and permanent majority could be manufactured in Westminster.’ Some 10,000 council homes were earmarked to be sold privately when the tenants in them either moved on or died. In other words, those tenants were not to be replaced with people from a similar demographic; Westminster was to be gentrified and the political balance shifted by selling homes that were located mainly eight marginal wards. Eventually the policy was found to be illegal, but not until January 1994, long after it had its desired effects.”

 

Last week it was reported that a single mother of five, Titina Nzolamesa, was being made homeless because of the benefits cap. She is looking to the Supreme Court to appeal against the social cleansing of Westminster. While papers and media fill themselves with property adverts and opportunities for new developments, social cleansing is hardly mentioned, but it is happening. The difference between Danny Dorling’s example and now is that social cleansing is happening on a far greater scale, uprooting families not just to a neighbouring borough but to towns and cities across England. These impacts are neither unpredictable nor unknown by our government.

Boris was even pushed to comment that he would not allow a ‘Kosovo-style’ social cleansing to happen as a result of welfare reforms because these effects are so obvious. Nonetheless, his words are empty, no effort has been made to stop this happening.

 

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

There are around 5 million people on social housing waiting lists. 48,000 people are homeless. In 2012/13, house building rates were at their lowest for 100 years. Rents have increased 35% in the last five years and 1 million homes lie empty in the UK. So why is the government not doing anything about the housing crisis?

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Image: Focus E15 Mothers Facebook

The ‘bubble’ of growth taking place in the UK is a FIRE bubble – built on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate.

It is not being created by jobs, widespread spending or increase in trade.

The bubble is instead, for it’s meagre count and vast ineffect on a majority of the country, built largely on rich people buying expensive houses in London. It is unsustainable and does not mean growth for anyone but the already well off, as the have-nots are priced out of housing, either as mortgages or rent.

Any growth is not good growth

We are lead to believe that growth is in and of itself ‘good’ but the factors that are making up a sorry blip in change is actually increasing the wealth gap, increasing poverty and driving further division. It is also wildly unstable and cannot be sustained.

Overseas in America, the same thing is happening, and stock brokers who predicted the 2008 crash, including Warren Buffet are preparing for a plummet in prices.

“We are in a gigantic financial asset bubble,” warns Swiss adviser and fund manager Marc Faber. “It could burst any day.”

Moneynews, June 2014

Growth like this is not helping most people. But the government are keen to keep things as they are.

Why?

We are less than 12 months from a General Election, cue the end of ‘tough’ decision announcements and the beginning of blanket rejoice in the late, inadequate and entirely over-estimated change in the economy.

“We are pointing at a patient on a life support machine and claiming that he is physically well and able. Which as far as I know isn’t something that economists do. It’s something that only ATOS do. 

“But that is what we are doing when we call this a recovery.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, May 2014, Novara Media Podcast

The government would like us to believe they have fixed the economy in the lead up to the national election. And ‘fixed,’ it is.

A ‘fixed’ economy – The strangleholds

More than maintaining things as they are, government actions are increasing the effects of the housing crisis. Here’s how:

Low Building Rates

Building rates last year were the lowest for 100 years, and while the speed of building has picked up in 2014, we are running far behind the required need.

Around a quarter of a million new houses are needed every year, and we struggle to meet even half that.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

To add to this, the amount spent on housing benefit has doubled in the last decade to around £24bn as a shortage of council owned property forces social housing tenants to use private landlords who are continuing to push up rent.

Figures released last week, show that 93% of new housing benefit claimants are in work, demonstrating the pressure on wages as rents still soar.

It would be a win-win to create more social housing, giving councils more assets and power to control rents. However, local councils have a tight borrowing cap that should be lifted in favour of creating desperately needed housing as Owen Jones explained in an article for the Independent in 2013:

“Local authorities currently have a tight borrowing cap on them imposed by the Treasury. It urgently needs to be lifted, allowing them to build a new generation of high-quality homes that families can afford to live in. It’s not like borrowing for, say, housing benefit or cutting taxes: it pays for itself as councils gain a new income stream from rents. Indeed, just by falling into line with the borrowing rules of other Western nations, Britain would have an extra £20bn to throw at housing.”

Denial of the cost of living crisis        

Let me repeat an important figure. 93% of NEW housing benefit claimants are in work. The recovery is not happening if an increasing number of people in work cannot afford to live.

During the recession, the government have repeatedly denied the extent of the cost of living crisis, in ways ranging from Michael Gove’s suggestion that food banks are used because poor people don’t know how to manage their money, to the government report to the UN stating welfare reforms were helping the poorest children out of poverty. In fact, it is estimated that 5 million children are being sentenced to a life of poverty as a result of welfare reforms.

Affordability is not affordable

Boris Johnson said the rate of affordability in London is 70-80% of market rent. In a bloated housing crisis, a figure like this which has NOTHING to do with median income, results in affordability meaning little in the way of affordable.

But it does allow politicians to use the term ‘affordable’ in public to look like they are doing something.

This further dilutes argument of the crisis. The meagre minimum affordable housing rates the government promise are not affordable. And they are also, not the minimum, as we saw with the regeneration of the Heygate estate. Southwark council insist on a minimum of 35% affordable housing units in new builds, but when Lend Lease completed the Heygate re-build, their lowest price unit was a one bed flat at £310,000. Instead, they told Southwark Council to build elsewhere:

“None of these 284 homes, currently priced between £350,000 and £1.1m, will be offered at a discount. Instead, Lend Lease has given Southwark £3.5m to spend on social housing elsewhere and will contribute to a new leisure centre.

A report by council officers said Lend Lease baulked at providing social units as this would require a second lobby and lift shaft to separate the two types of resident, adding: “Not doing so would have significant implications on the values of the private residential properties.”

Ian Steadman, November 2013, New Statesman

 

Help To Buy

Could there be a better way to push along a housing crisis than by using the same tactics that lost us all our social housing?

Help to Buy is helping people onto the property ladder in a time of need, but it is temporary and the effect of increased interest rates is yet to be seen as they remain frozen for the time being. But they must go up eventually and now that there is some ‘growth’ that time is coming ever nearer.

Still, ‘Help To Buy’ is conducive to getting a few more votes in the pot before election time from new home owners. But this will do nothing for their children and younger siblings when they want to enter the market.

The Consequences – division, disassociation, displacement

Division

The current maintenance of unsustainable and unstable growth is increasing the wealth gap between rich and poor, increasing rents far quicker than wage increases and as highlighted by Lend Lease themselves, furthering a system of social cleansing which forces out the poor from their areas (as they couldn’t possible share a lift with the new upmarket inhabitants). And the Heygate estate is just one example of the type of cushty sounding ‘regeneration’ taking place all over London and some other parts of the UK.

Image: Lubke.com

Image: Lubke.com

Disassociation

People are becoming disassociated from themselves as a result of the fierce denial by government of the cost of living crisis and the aggressive nature of their ‘scrounger’ rhetoric.

Aditya Chakrabortty noted in his investigation into the housing crisis that people felt they needed to justify or validate themselves for a being in a position that is not their fault, and was tantamount to the strength of the rhetoric which has become part of the public language:

“We met a woman who lives in a flat, one of the old council flats [Wood Berry Downs Estate], and her walls are completely decorated in black mould. She works two jobs, so it was very difficult to pin her down. One of the first things she says upon meeting is “I’m not on Benefits Street. I don’t claim any benefits”…..The pensioner said “I don’t claim any benefits.” She’s on pensions and disabled benefits but that’s it….Turkish guy [we met, said] “I’m not an illegal immigrant. I pay taxes. I work.”

“This regeneration fits into an entire backdrop of these people feeling as though they’ve been dispossessed from their own lives. And not just in terms of their own housing, but in terms of who they are. Who they’re allowed to be when they walk down the street. They MUST either be the victims, or they MUST be the villains. They can’t be anything else.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, May 2014, Novara Media

Another example of this experience is explained in this Vice article about Britain’s Hidden Homeless:

“Homeless people live on the street, beg for small change at cash points and try to flog you a copy of the Big Issue you didn’t want. That’s what I thought before last June, when I became homeless myself, as my family and I got chucked out of our home.

“I don’t fit the stereotype, striding into work every morning with my fur coat, red lipstick and sassitude. I’d also like to think I don’t fit in at the dull, stale hostel I wake up in and walk out of every morning. When I strut into work I’m one person and when I fall asleep in the same bed as my 14-year-old sister every night, I’m an entirely different one. Hidden homelessness is a strange struggle between wanting to seem normal on the outside and dealing with the daily anxieties of living without a home on the inside.”

Daisy May Hudson, May 2014, Vice

As austerity and cuts deepen and extend into the lives and finances of a growing number of people, who may at once have been able to get by or survive, the denial of the cost of living crisis as well as the suggestion that poverty is some personal failure rather than quite rigorous engineering in policy, more people are facing homelessness and poverty that wouldn’t once ‘fit the bill’. As the government continue to deny this crisis is happening and tell us that we are out of the recession, these people increasingly don’t know where to put themselves physically and mentally, and the government are making no provisions to help. The good times are here for political discourse until the election whether you like it or not.

Displacement

Uprooting communities and dispersing them to other places across the UK can be severely damaging to people’s health, particularly when you note that the long-term unemployed, the old and the disabled make up a huge part of these communities. As we saw with the bedroom tax, this is often most costly to the most vulnerable.

Mental health problems will soar as well as increases in isolation and withdrawal. Forcing people already on the fringes of society, to leave the places they know, where their families reside and where they have built a routine and contacts is a dangerous and under-reported problem that continues as we speak.

———————

A fierce maintenance of public face and PR means that the housing crisis is deepening, and will continue to do so at peril, as the unsustainable housing boom gets free reign in the run up to the General Election 2015.

We are now even seeing desperate attempts to suggest that the people desperately in need of homes as a result of this, don’t exist.

New policies to remove people from social housing waiting lists don’t stop them needing homes. And anti-homeless spikes don’t stop people being homeless. But image is greater than need to a government in the run up to the election. Despite how fatal this is for our housing needs.

Image: Ipsos Mori

Image: Ipsos Mori

Many people in Britain believe that immigration is our biggest problem. In politics and media, it is certainly highly reported – which plays into our attention and the amount of importance we attach to a subject. By much of the coverage, immigration has become a word onto which the country is able to blame all it’s ills – housing, education, jobs, healthcare – problems in all of these areas have come to be blamed in part, or in large, on immigration.

This is due to an ever-flowing cycle of media and political debate, that continues stoking anti-immigration rhetoric, keeping it at the forefront and centre of debate, at the expense of other important issues.

“Media outlets often inflate or speculate about numbers of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. Newspaper and TV images play into the dominant stereotype of the young dangerous man breaking into Britain and threatening ‘our’ communities. 31 percent of headlines and 53 percent of text about asylum across all newspapers has negative connotations. Language used to describe immigration is highly hostile across all newspaper types, with ‘illegal’ and ‘bogus’ the most commonly used terms to describe immigrants and asylum seekers.

In addition to mis-reporting, there is also ‘over-reporting’. In 2002, for example, 25 percent of Daily Mail and 24 percent of Daily Express articles were about asylum.”

This extract is from the brilliant ‘How Politicians and the Media Made Us Hate Immigrants’ and explains how immigration is presented as an ‘uncomfortable truth’ and ‘what the public is really thinking’ despite politicians and the media being the perpetrators of the language, stereotypes and rhetoric used.

This leads to a back and forth between parties who then attempt to demonstrate they are taking a harder line against the immigration issue which they themselves have talked into high importance. An example of this being the ‘Go Home’ vans – an idea thrown up in the haste and fire of anti-immigration policy tennis between UKIP and the coalition. The move proved a step too far for the public, and the idea was dropped soon after it came into existence, but immigration remains at the centre of debate.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

And while it continues to swamp the conversation, the issue is never really approached in a way that can allow analysis, or progressive debate. It remains unfettered with true statistics and facts, or long-term planned policy. Instead, the loaded language takes centre stage and is used as fact. The veil of ‘uncomfortable truth’ allows the politicians and media to remain vague about the factual aspect, yet weighted in their anti-immigration slant.

Create a problem, fix a problem

This maintains a steady air of anger and discrimination towards immigrants in the public sphere, and allows anti-immigration policy to be pushed through, despite it potentially being severely discriminatory. For example, the proposal to restrict healthcare to migrants for the first year of residency could be life-threatening should someone come to need it when falling ill unexpectedly or after an accident. But honing in on the effects in this way is left out of the political debate, due to risk of elevating immigrants to levels of human compassion and understanding. Instead, as a vague, negative sub-human force they are much more easily legislated against and blamed.

The rhetoric has also lead to huge amounts of time devoted to implementing ‘solutions’ to ‘problems’ that have been created through political and media conversation. For example, before Christmas the government promised to push ahead with plans to restrict other access to benefits for EU immigrants, such as housing benefits and employment allowances. The press and politicians vowed to fight ‘benefits tourism,’ and the extent of the coverage combined with continued speeches from politicians seemed to suggest that this was a huge issue that was bleeding the system dry. Yet, the EU released a report revealing that in most EU countries, the portion of EU migrants amongst welfare recipients was below 5%, as most migrants came to work or for family. Other research and fact-checks supported this:

“We found little empirical evidence that the problem existed.

But ministers continued to sound the alarm. Last year Chris Grayling warned that Britain’s welfare state could be “a magnet for other parts of the world”.

Again, we found that the facts didn’t support his case.”

 C4, Factcheck

Research has found that immigrants contribute £25bn to the UK economy. Yet legislation and media debate continues to attack immigrants, and politicians search for praise for doing it.

Similar problems have been created within the benefits system itself, with another law passing last year to increase penalties to a maximum jail term of ten years for those committing benefit fraud. Benefit fraud accounts for 0.7% of welfare spending – a level that has remained the same for a decade or so, yet the media campaigns and government rhetoric on ‘benefits cheats’ has created the idea that there is a more serious and growing problem. Around a quarter of all media coverage on welfare is about fraud, and this over-reporting leads to the creation of a problem in the public sphere, which does not exist in these proportions in reality. But policies are created to then deal with these ‘problems’ and the government receive praise for doing so, while other serious and damaging issues are once again left out of the limelight.

Image: Anorak.co.uk

Image: Anorak.co.uk

The impact of this kind of treatment of the immigration debate keeps an air of racism present in politics and amongst the public. The depictions in the media of immigrants and asylum seekers keep the public suspicious of visible ethnic minorities, who are seen as below them, or sub-human, undeserving of the same rights and services of those already here. The rhetoric is powerful and mature. And the impact of denying things such as healthcare to an immigrant who may be unfortunate enough to need it, is rarely seen or spoken about.

The attack on immigration is putting us back years in terms of race relations, as we now see pressure put on landlords and potentially doctors, to check immigration statuses of those needing their service. Suspicion will, like the media suggests, fall to those wearing cultural or ‘different’ clothing, with accents and different skin colours. And just as the words ‘scrounger’ and ‘skiver’ have entered the public language from media and politics, so too have the terms for immigrants as ‘illegals’ or ‘dodgy.’

And this blanket coverage of immigration is at the expense of everything else, as other issues are neglected and left out of debate, which can be fatal for services and other social issues.

The privatisation of the NHS has received markedly less coverage in the media. Similarly, the sell off of student loans with an increased interest rate has barely been mentioned in most news reports. In truth, immigration acts as a reliable smokescreen for politicians to fill public debate as other policies and issues are drowned out, allowing the government to continue with their course of action without public disapproval or knowledge.

And this perpetuating political showmanship will continue for as long as it maintains the status quo. We have seen this subject arouse and control the political debate time and time again during times of hardship. And the media often dictate that the election will be ‘won’ on a party’s line on immigration, or poke at politicians asking for a ‘harder line’ than the other party. When we see smaller parties such as the BNP and UKIP gain some electorate, despite their differences, it is to do with immigration. The effect of an unease thrust upon the public, stoking racial difference and entitlement, when people are struggling against austerity. To blind us with blanket coverage, as our NHS, education and social support is quietly snatched from our grasp.

Changing the debate

Immigration has been loaded with stereotypes and regressive attitudes through years of PR and media campaigns. It is used to distract debate, and divert anger at social problems to an already marginalized section of society. As this happens, government push through with damaging and unpopular policies that escape our sight.

We need to reject the language and media stereotypes of immigrants, and redress focus on issues such as the NHS, education and employment. In the run up to the election, politicians will up the ante on their immigration policies, but this will not solve the shortage of housing. It won’t protect the NHS. It won’t create employment or invest in young people’s futures. Immigration is used to divide people and now we need to reject the punch-and-judy show that rotates back forth between parties, in favour of implementing strong social policies and solutions to the problems that need our attention.

It seems strange that ‘Go Home’ advertisements were even tried in 2013. Political debate is regressing without people speaking up and rejecting what they’re told. We should start laying the foundations of a place we want to live in. As Shami Chakrabarti said, we need to look at the bigger picture here about what we want and what we should be working towards – ‘Do we want to be a foreigner in most places in the world? Or do we want to be a human being, everywhere in the world?’

 by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

In the second part of our interview with journalist and Chair of Nightwatch Croydon, Jad Adams, we talk about what authorities and government  can do to help the growing problem of homelessness…

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

What should we do now to help the homeless?

“I think we’ve got to look at the very bottom. Look at where people actually are and the community that they are actually living in, and see what support that community wants to give, what that community is able to give. And we should support community initiatives with things like floating shelters and lunch clubs, and soup runs and permanent shelters. I would like to see permanent shelters throughout the country because if we only had a few, then people would gravitate to them and they would become magnets for homeless people, so I don’t think we want a few homeless shelters. I think we want lots of shelters in different towns, different boroughs throughout the country.

“Local authorities and government like to work with organisations that reflect their power structure, that have a Chief Executive and the finance department and the policy department and the operatives down at the bottom level. And shelters and soup runs and other kinds of organisations like that just don’t follow those patterns.”

“The authorities ignore the shelters in most cases. Where we’ve got floating shelters operating, for example the churches have been running them, more than half the boroughs in London had floating shelters in the last winter, when there are such shelters, very often the authorities just ignore them. Just pretend they’re not there. Because they don’t really fit into their model. Local authorities and government like to work with organisations that reflect their power structure, that have a Chief Executive and the finance department and the policy department and the operatives down at the bottom level. And shelters and soup runs and other kinds of organisations like that just don’t follow those patterns. They’re very difficult for local authorities to deal with. And so, you usually get the situation that shelters are supported by the churches or by independent charities, local independent charities, and the local authorities just ignore them altogether. I ought to say, that’s not invariably the case, because in some cases the local authorities say ‘we have the obligation to provide cold weather provision for rough sleepers, so here it is, we’ll support our local shelter.’ And I think that’s a much more positive way of doing things.”

What else can local authorities do?  

“Local authorities should look at provision in their own area, look at things that people are already doing and support them. I don’t think local authorities should be kickstarting these things. I don’t think they should be going to the churches and saying ‘let’s set up a shelter’, but I think they ought to respond to the churches when they say ‘we want to set up a shelter’. I think they ought to be more helpful with providing premises and cutting through red tape with planning permissions and in referring people to homeless shelters. I think they need to get in with the game. And also give money, but this isn’t primarily a begging bowl exercise. It’s for the local authorities to have a more positive attitude to local initiatives, and to stop thinking that they can just pass on their responsibilities by handing everything that they have responsibility for, to one of the big charities and say right we’ve covered homelessness because clearly that hasn’t worked.

“It’s for the local authorities to have a more positive attitude to local initiatives.”

“They’re not very good with small charities. Local authorities like to deal with the big national charities. They like to deal with the local branch of the national charity because it reflects their power structure and their way of looking at the world, and actually they ought to be looking at what people in their own borough are doing at the grassroots and seeing if they can support that.”

Image: towntalk.co.uk

Image: towntalk.co.uk

Is this becoming more important to deal with as more welfare cuts loom? 

“The welfare cuts make this more urgent but so does the number of indigent Eastern Europeans staying here. I mean an awful lot of Eastern Europeans came and either settled or the made a bit of money and then they went away again, and they were usually the very skilled ones. And the unskilled people came hoping that they’d pick up work and be successful, and very often have not been and so end up in tent cities or living in derelict buildings or often in very overcrowded conditions. They’re not really engaging with the community and they’re not making enough money to get out of dyer poverty and they’re largely reliant on charities and that’s really unfortunate and that’s not what the European Union and free movement of labour was really supposed to be about.”

How should we deal with this? 

“That becomes politically very hot indeed. I think that what we’ve got to do is say that yes, people can come into the country, yes we absolutely permit free movement of labour, because that’s one of the four principles of the EU. It’s one of the things we ought to be doing and we all agree with it.  But people should only be able to come into the country if they have a sponsor, or if they have the money to keep themselves for a couple of months or a place to live, some conditions on entry so that people can’t enter the country with nothing at all and expect to live off charity. We wouldn’t do that in another country. We wouldn’t up and go to Spain and China, and say well, I haven’t got any money, haven’t got a job, haven’t got anywhere to live and I don’t know the language but I’ll just go and live on the streets – it’s really not the way we can work in the 21st Century. And we have got to be able to apply ourselves to the new situation where we find ourselves in the EU with people of very disparate levels of wealth, so that our treatment of the poor is that much better than the treatment of the poor in Poland. It’s better to be poor in this country than it is to be poor in Poland. Countries have got to get better and develop their people slowly. It doesn’t do anyone any good to just move from one country to another.”

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Jad Adams is a journalist and broadcaster and Chair of the Nightwatch homeless charity in Croydon. Following his talk for BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought on how homelessness has been monetised (which you can listen to or read through Jad’s website here), we caught up with him to talk about the problems with government policy, attitudes and what we need to do to help the homeless….

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

You work with Nightwatch, a homeless charity based in Croydon. Could you tell us a bit about what you do? 

“Nightwatch is a voluntary organisation, all run by volunteers, which operates only in Croydon. We were set up in 1976. I’m the Chair of that organisation. We’ve got about 130 volunteers. We go out every evening and we also help people with other things like re-settling former homeless people into new accommodation and helping people with working clothes like steel-toe capped boots, because you can’t even walk onto a building site and ask for work without protective clothing, so we supply them with that protective clothing. Nightwatch has been going since 1979, I’ve been chair of the organisation since 1992.”

What sort of problems do the homeless people you deal with have? Is it just the stereotype of drug addicts and so on? What are the reasons some of the people you’ve met have ended up on the streets? 

“There are substance abuse issues with some people, but far from being the majority of them. Probably half the people we see at the moment are Eastern European, and if I look at the other section of people I see what they have in common normally, is something like an institutional background. Very often they were in children’s homes, they were in prisons, in mental institutions, they’ve been in the armed services. So very often, institutions are the main factor rather than substance abuse.

 “So while some are drinkers it’s not the majority by any means, and the most common psychological problems for homeless people is not alcoholism, it’s depression.”

“There are always some who are addicted and I often help re-settle former addicts who have been through treatment programmes. And there’s more drinking in the homeless community than there is in the general community. There are always a small number of homeless people who are drunk and very noisy, so sometimes, the public get the idea that all homeless people are drunk and noisy, and that’s not actually the case, it’s just that the ones that are the most visible are also the most drunk. So while some are drinkers it’s not the majority by any means, and the most common psychological problems for homeless people is not alcoholism, it’s depression.”

Are there many ex-servicemen on the streets?  

“The Ministry of Defence and the serviceman’s charities have really smartened up on this in the last ten years, and the reason, a rather cynical reason I think, is that we were involved in a couple of unpopular wars and the government didn’t want the men coming back from those wars to then become homeless because it would reflect badly on the government. I think that’s partly why, but I also think there’s been a recognition of the needs of ex-service people. So things have been better over the last few years. It’s one of the success stories, really. I used to see veterans of certainly the second world war, and the Korean war, and gulf war one which was 1991, and the falklands war which was 1982, and I saw people who were veterans of those wars. I haven’t yet seen any from Iraq or Afghanistan.”

What drew you to wanting to help the homeless? 

“That’s a very good question and if I knew the answer to it I would probably know myself better than I actually do. I don’t why some people choose some things and not others. I mean I am concerned about animal cruelty but I have never been a member of an animal charity. I have a friend who fosters mentally handicapped kids, I would never think of doing that. I’m glad someone does but it’s not in my nature to do that. I know people who would never want to be engaged with the homeless community but it has always felt to me to be right for me, something that I wish to do.”

What are the problems with people’s attitudes towards the homeless and government attitudes and policies?

“I think the public are very positive indeed towards homeless people. In fact, they’re so positive that some people pretend to be homeless in order to benefit from the generosity of the public. People who have got somewhere to live and aren’t badly off will sit with a card saying ‘homeless and hungry’ and people give them money. They can only do that sort of scam because people are so concerned about homelessness and are committed to wanting to end homelessness. There really aren’t that many people anymore that blame the homeless for their own condition, which used to be what people would say. ‘They want to be like that,’ they would say, ‘they want to sleep in doorways or their lifestyle pre-disposes them to do that’. So the public don’t particularly feel that way, they realise that people are victims of circumstances. They would like to help, they don’t know exactly what to do, but they would like to help.  Or they think that the government should help. But it’s very unclear to the public what you would do with a problem like homelessness.

 “I think the hostels said you’ve got to come either all the way into the system and you’ve got to sign up for housing benefit and we’ll process you though the hostel or if you don’t want to play, just stay outside.”

“The last government was generally positive towards homelessness but I think they have been lead by some of the big homeless charities to put all their efforts into hostels. And I can’t see hostels being the answer because there’s too many homeless people and not enough hostels and also hostels just aren’t good enough. They are not a solution to the problem of homelessness. They can be a kind of halfway house between street homelessness and prison. So in effect, you’re going into a hostel which has got lots of rules and you’re going to be in there for an indefinite amount of time. That’s what very often happens to people who get into the hostel system.”

Nightwatch Logo

Nightwatch Logo

You say big homeless charities have influenced the government, how so? 

“The government wanted to do something about homelessness very reasonably, and it was when homelessness was quite low. We hadn’t had a lot of Eastern Europeans coming in at that time, and the government was told that homelessness could be eradicated by the end of 2012, at least in London. And that clearly did not happen. The target of ending homelessness was nowhere near reach.

“So clearly we ought to say, ‘Oh right, it was a gallant effort but that was the wrong policy, let’s do something different.’ And no one seems to be saying that. I didn’t like to criticize the policy at the time because at least they were trying and some people indeed were helped. I can’t say that no one was ever helped by the policy of ‘No One Left Out’ but clearly that wasn’t a success, and we ought to be looking at other ways to help homeless people, other ways of getting people part-way into the system. Because I think the hostels said you’ve got to come either all the way into the system and you’ve got to sign up for housing benefit and we’ll process you though the hostel or if you don’t want to play, just stay outside.

“The charities had stopped looking at themselves as primarily charitable organisations and had started seeing themselves as businesses, that had to maintain a certain level of supply and a certain level of money running through in order to maintain their career structures and premises and so on.”

“I would much rather go to homeless shelters, where people can enter at will. They can refer themselves, they don’t have to be referred by some professional, which aren’t reliant on the stream of housing benefit, which is so difficult to get anyway. But once you’ve got it, it’s difficult to get out of.

“There were some specialist operations. There was some attempts to help people with substance abuse problems for example. Notably, the Westminster Drug Project has been very good in this field. But there was an awful lot of filling up hostels just for the sake of filling them up, in order to make sure the money supply continued to run through the charity. The charities had stopped looking at themselves as primarily charitable organisations and had started seeing themselves as businesses, that had to maintain a certain level of supply and a certain level of money running through in order to maintain their career structures and premises and so on.”

Why did that happen?

“I think that happens because that’s what organisations do. They get ossified. When you start pumping money into an organisation, it realises it wants to get bigger and get more money, and own more property and do more things and bid for more contracts and compete with other people that are doing the same things. That’s the way organisations work and it’s certainly the way they work in commercial fields, but I don’t think they should be working that way in the charitable field.”

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Figures released last week show that there are still not enough affordable houses being built to cope with demand. The number of houses failed to reach even half the required estimate of 250,000 a year, and the figures were down on the same quarter last year.

There are currently around 1.7million households on waiting lists for social housing in the UK, and this number will only increase as the government fails to bolster the speed and amount of housing on offer. At the same time, house prices continue to rise and are pushed further and further out of reach for many people, and for those that are renting or have a mortgage, increased rates have resulted in many falling into arrears and sometimes becoming homeless.

Photo: www.theguardian.co.ukImage: The Guardian

This is a crisis created by a failure of successive governments to build new affordable housing in keeping with demand. Despite recent schemes designed to ‘help’ stimulate the market, such as the ‘help to buy’ scheme, the plans do not solve the housing crisis in the long term, and could in fact create a further housing bubble leaving future populations even more unable to get on the ladder, or able to pay rent.

The Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, attacked the scheme last week, saying:

“The housing market needs help to supply, not help to buy and the extension of this scheme is very dangerous.

“Government guarantees will not increase the supply of homes, but they will drive up prices at a time when it seems likely that house prices are already over-valued.”

The schemes are but another plaster over a gaping wound and cannot replace the need to build.

Moreover, a huge investment in building will stimulate the economy, provide jobs and future revenue from rents. There is really no reason for the government to not build houses, unless they want to retain the current market allowing only the rich to afford their own homes.

One step towards the solution would be to remove the housing investment cap placed by government on local councils, restricting their ability to help with a recovery.

The Local Government Association said in a press release last week  “councils could quadruple to 60,000 the number of new homes built over five years if the housing borrowing cap was removed. Under the current rules, councils would be able to borrow no more than £2.8 billion to invest in housing – enough to build 15,000 homes. Without the cap, councils could borrow up to £7 billion to invest in housing over five years, under existing Prudential Borrowing rules.”

The LGA represents over 370 councils in England and Wales and is now calling on the government to remove the cap. We hope they do.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

In the second part of our interview with housing support officer Jane Walters* (Read the first part here)we talk about how welfare reform has affected the lives of her clients and her job…

How have the changes to welfare and benefit cuts affected your clients?  

“We haven’t seen the worst of it. I think there’s going to be a huge impact from the benefit cuts. People think it’s just the bedroom tax but it’s not. Obviously we know that’s a huge impact, a lot of families and older people who have had their families now have to move out into the private rented sector.

“For our tenants, for one there’s limited move on.  The main route out of support accommodation is into the private rented sector. What’s the average rent in London, about £200-250 a week?

“Private landlords are being asked what the rent is and some will take whatever housing benefit will pay. What we are talking about now is the old style Rachmanism, in particular. He was famous in the sixties for being a slum landlord who made huge profits but did absolutely nothing to the private rented accommodation that he owned. And he could chuck people out willy-nilly. What came out of that was all the fair rent campaigns and huge changes to the housing sector.

Image: The Telegraph Peter Rachman (1919-1962), a landlord from the Notting Hill area of  London who became notorious for unethical practices including driving out tenants to maximise revenue from his rental properties.

Image: The Telegraph Peter Rachman (1919-1962), a landlord from the Notting Hill area of London who became notorious for unethical practices including driving out tenants to maximise revenue from his rental properties.

“They have brought in the benefit cap and now landlords are putting rents at the top of the benefit cap. So for single homeless people, a majority have very few skills, they are now stuck in a cycle of poverty because they cannot afford to pay £200-250 a week, and these are rooms – these are not studio flats. These are very depressing environments where people will either relapse or fall into depression. I certainly would.

“The problem is there has been no housing built since Margaret Thatcher came to power. That was 1979. Neither Tory nor Labour government have reversed that trend. It’s minimal, the amount of housing stock. And even what they do build, even under Tories, and actually under the last Labour government, it’s not affordable accommodation. It’s part-buy part-share and that’s completely out of most people’s league.

“For other client groups, the Tories got rid of the Community Care Grant. It’s a one-off grant to help people who have had an unsettled way of life and are part of a re-settlement programme moving onto independent accommodation. It would be about £800-900 to buy the right goods and furniture. Just furnish the flat, so they can keep their tenancy. If you put someone in an empty flat they’re not going to stay there very long, even if it’s a beautiful flat. They’ll become de-moralised and they’re not able to function if they don’t have the basic, essential items. It is a huge boost and I think it really helped people maintain their tenancies. I think there’s going to be less of that. Some tenants have no one at all. And that is an absolute fact. They will be rattling around in an empty flat. So that’s the risk.”

How has competitive tendering affected your job? 

“Across the country there’s huge pressure with A4E and the private companies that do all the work connections and stuff – they are exerting a lot of power over people. So if they don’t get their workbook right, there’s huge increases in sanctions for people on JSA.

Image: BBC News

Image: BBC News

“I think there’s an increase in disciplinaries – people’s frustration or lack of training. Even organisations who promote themselves as highly professional are being affected by it and they’re saying they can’t get quality staff, because people like me who came through nursing or community education, so it was a transition. And all that sort of stuff has gone. There’s poorer quality – they focus on graduates but they have no experience. You see them move quite quickly up the scale, away from frontline work because a lot of them just couldn’t cope with that. But I can understand because they have been jettisoned from university, but they’d go into things like fundraising or client liason – the softer stuff.

“Because of this bidding thing everyone is fragmented, services will deteriorate so much, to such an extent there will just be a skeleton service.  I don’t think it will be anything like it used to be and we’ve seen already this with a few community centres. But I think it’ll coincide with all the tax in the welfare reforms and the cuts in services. It’s going to be very difficult. I think we’re going to see, over the next couple of years, a huge increase in homelessness. I mean they’re talking about the number people applying to food banks is almost like a tsunami. I think the suffering is going to get great and it’s whether the workers can kind of support these issues, but they’re very intimidated and frightened to speak up because they can be sanctioned or put their job at risk.

“A lot of us are saying we can’t wait two years for a general election thank you very much. Otherwise in two years, half of us won’t have a bloody job.”

Have your clients been affected by the rhetoric that has been in the media and used by politicians against those on benefits or out of work? The ‘scrounger’ and ‘skiver’ rhetoric? 

“They are not even dealing with that. What they’re doing is struggling on a day-to-day basis.

“They are jumping through hoops every week, to make sure they sign on in time, go to their work connexions and they’re being made to sit in places for hours on computers, learning nothing. I am having to chase claims more. I have never accompanied clients to the job centre before but I have started doing that since April. I have never had to go to the job centre before. Maybe once or twice to drop something off, but now I’m doing it every week, accompanying somebody or having to chase the benefits up. A lot of people are already facing sanctions, so your benefit could be cut for two weeks, some of them are for months. It will put people at risk of re-offending or going into offending behaviour. It must be a huge temptation because if you don’t pay your service charge you risk getting evicted.”

KS

*name has been changed

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