Stay… What Action Can We Take On Housing Benefit

With the Conservative & Lib Dems in full flow, it’s difficult to know which battles to pick, where to fight, what are the red lines. They’ve cancelled contracts to build schools, they’re engaging in blatant gerrymandering, they’re attacking local government budgets, they’re handing schools over to religious groups who are in favour of segregation (and Toby Young), they’re decimating workers’ right (2 years before you have any anyone?). Even the only saving grace is proven to be complete thin air, they’re doing nothing to improve civil liberties aside from cancelling ID cards which weren’t going to happen anyway (farming child detention to foreign ‘reintegration camps’, tracing e-mails etc.) and now they’re going to force the unemployed to do manual labour, community work, probably the job they’ve been fired from in their slash and burn libertarian for beginners economic rampage.  This government is so extreme even Thatcher’s eyes would water (if she had tear ducts), with the help of the Lib Dems the very worst of the Tory party is finally getting its way, it’s like One Nation is a term applied only to the lyrics of Funkadelic in Dave, Gideon & Nick world.  This government is going to war on everything that normal people worked and fought for over the last hundred odd years, and like in any war you make your first strike massive, devastating, overpowering, you strike multiple targets, you overwhelm your opponents and you make sure you leave your mark forever.

This is shock & awe politics.

Shock & awe politics on steroids by a generation of millionaires who have never had to work a day and take their inspiration from the stereotype asset strippers that previously existed only in the screenplays of satirists.

My lovely readers (or more likely, lovely reader who has stumbled here by accident), I’m afraid it is up to us.  But what can we do?  With so much going on how can we possible make a difference?

You know red lines, things like tuition fees used to be to the Lib Dems? I believe that each of us must pick our red line, pick our cause and make that our own fight. However, we must stick to it.

I have a red line. I have something that I cannot simply sit by and watch and I want to do something about it, I need to do something about it.

Before I discuss this red line, I need to contextualise why it’s so important to me.  I love London, a city I have lived and worked in all my adult life. I love its vibrancy, I love how people mix, how people of all religions, creeds, colours, beliefs live side by side, I love how my beloved Arsenal can be so geographically close to Sp*rs yet retain their reputation as the purveyors of beautiful football, I love how much music there is here, how so many movements have come from London’s streets and London’s colleges, I love how I can walk to and from work each day and walk through so many different cities in one, and I love how rich and poor live side by side.

For me, this last point, that the average London street like mine places millionaires next to some of London’s poorest families is something that helps London be all of those great things above, the mixing of financial backgrounds is a key factor in London’s vibrancy.

With the disgraceful cuts in Housing Benefit, the Tory/Lib Dem alliance wants to attack this way of life, this fundamental of London’s spirit, this fact that has been true of this city for hundreds of years.  They don’t believe the poor should participate in a city which truly is one of the capitals of the world. The refrain you will hear is  “Why should poor people live in London if other working people can’t afford to”?

Do you know why? Exactly because people can’t afford to. Property poverty in London is a huge problem. My humble one bedroom in zone 2 costs over half of the average wage before tax, and that’s without council tax, bills etc. How the hell can a family afford to live here? To have a 2, 3 or 4 bedroom house needed for their roost. No, those who state that the poor shouldn’t live in London if they can’t afford it think not of how an affordable social housing solution could not only solve this problem but also give jobs to those working in the building trade.  It’s the kind of hateful self-interest that you see when people state we shouldn’t give aid to foreign states ‘COS WEVE GOT R OWN PROBLUMS’.

They’re happy for London to be out of reach for all normal families because it is for them. But I am not. I can afford it here, I am one of the lucky ones, but I don’t want to live in a London devoid of children from working class familes. I don’t want to live in a London full only of professional couples and flats used by the super-rich for a few days each year.

It’s not as though everyday families can afford to move to the countryside. These families will end up in a tiny strip of the southeast’s suburbia and the north (as outlined here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/nov/08/housing-benefit-north-south-divide ) leaving London a sterile city, a playground populated by the rich whilst ‘the help’ is bussed in from miles away to do the dirty jobs (they won’t get the train as transport poverty is on the up, what with 30% fare increases). It’s also simply not the case that this cap will depress rental prices and normalise the lettings market as the Tory & Lib Dem buddies will tell you because landlords are already refusing to take tenants on Housing Benefit as I noted when I was moving earlier this year and as Glenda Jackson points out here:   http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2010-11-03-Housing-benefit-cap-wont-lead-to-surge-in-homelessness-insists-welfare-minister

No, this change in housing benefit is an attack on London’s soul.

The Tory’s and Lib Dems will tell you this is an attack on the workshy, but only something like 1 in 8 HB claimants is unemployed (and I simply don’t accept the rhetoric that the unemployed are workshy). It is an attack on those who don’t have enough money, it is social cleansing and Clegg gets angry about those words being used because they ring true.

And I can’t sit here and take it. Much as it doesn’t effect me directly it affects my city, my community, and I must do something.

So this blog is a call to action for anyone who like me, cannot let this one happen.  I don’t know what to do, but I have got an idea.  We need to make this policy unworkable. We need to make sure that everyone realises that this is an attack on every day families.  We need to make sure that landlords put the Conservatives under pressure. We need to take action.

My idea is that we need to organise to help families to stay in their homes, to pay what they can afford but simply refuse to leave their homes. We need to stand with them when the bailiffs arrive, we need to make sure that each time they try to evict a family that there are cameras to record this social cleansing as it happens.  We need to organise so this flood of refugees from London doesn’t go unnoticed. That this social cleansing is not made easy, that it’s made every bit as hard as actioning this type of hideous policy should be.

We need to make sure that people understand that this is children being ripped from their schools, from their friends, just because their parents have the audacity to be in a low paid job. We need to make sure that people realise that extended families will be separated, that  grandparents who raise so many of our children these days, will be living halfway across the country once the 2 generations below them have been forced away.

We need to help people stay in their homes, and if they can’t stay we need to make moving them on as painful as can be imagined for the government, for landlords and for bailiffs.

So much as I don’t have a clue about how we’re going to organise (PLEASE HELP ME), I do know this, I want to call this action “Stay”. For me it’s about helping people stay, stay in their homes, stay close to their communities and support groups, stay close to their schools, stay in stability, such a core thing in helping people get back on their feet. But it’s also about this, I want London to Stay London.

Who’s with me?

EDIT: To get in touch you can tweet me http://twitter.com/kilburnmat or mail me at matvigour@gmail.com

I’ve been using #STAY as the hashtag to keep a tab on it so feel free to use that too

Advertisements

23 Comments

Filed under Cameron, ConDems, Conservatives, FibDems, Lib Dems, Scandal, Simon Hughes

23 responses to “Stay… What Action Can We Take On Housing Benefit

  1. sarah haughey

    absolutely agree with everything you’ve written there. the press is doing a brilliant job of turning us all against the poor (while not noticing the hoorah henrys at the top of the food chain are getting away lightly with their inherited millions-stashed off shore obviously) while we’re bickering amongst ourselves they’re dismantling the welfare state around us.

  2. maria

    I would like to help are you on twitter ? I am @manatrue please feel free to email or tweet me. I have followers who may back you too.

    Brilliant post by the way

  3. Lizzy Dyson

    Hi Matt

    Great blog – I’m in LA at the moment (good socialist that I am!) but I’m back in London in December, and not looking forward to it at all. I agree that something needs to be done, so if you fancy meeting up for a beer and a chat (it would be nice to see you anyway), let’s do it – Clerkenwell Green has always been a meeting place for dissent for hundreds of years, so how about The Three Kings? (It has a great vinyl-playing juke box with great music too). I agree the first step is chronicling the effects of these cuts and keeping the pressure on, unlike the mainstream media, which continually wants new news stories, and articles about Cheryl Cole, (although apparently she’s still a lefty so maybe she could be persuaded to speak out about this, being ‘from the street’ an all, especially as the press seems to think everything that happens to her is of national importance) However, Cheryl aside, I do know quite a few bods with access to video cameras etc and I have my own edit system so who knows…plenty of space on youtube and anarchist websites to show this, and the mainstream often uses the ‘amateur’ stuff eventually…

    Regards

    Lizzy Dyson

  4. Great blog post, I completely agree. The bit about many landlords refusing to take housing benefit claimants is one thing the ConDems seem to refuse to acknowledge.

    I am more than happy to help do this, we all need to stand together

    I have a disability so the cuts and ‘reforms’ to disability benefits are my red line but I believe all the ConDem proposals are an assault to the people so we should all stand together

  5. Laura

    In full agreement with you.

    The approach you have in mind reminds me very much of the Scottish Anti Poll Tax Campaign. People added contact details to lists, so that when the bailiffs arrived to carry out poindings at the homes of vulnerable people, a load of protestors could get there to block them. Now, this was in the days before we had the fantastic organizational tools of the Internet and mobile phones, so it should be even easier to organise something similar now. Maybe there’s other likeminded people trying to set something up.

    I’m going to pass this on to as many people as I can

    PS I’m on Twitter as @shoozographer

  6. blabla

    I think this is a brilliant idea – would love to help tweet me on @rosannablabla

  7. ac

    Hey. I didn’t get this:
    “It’s the kind of hateful self-interest that you see when people state we should give aid to foreign states ‘COS WEVE GOT R OWN PROBLUMS’.”

  8. Good post,

    I keep hammering away at this on Twitter, but the simplest way to bring down the HB bill is to cap rents, then Landlords can’t charge rents which basically take the piss. Everyone benefits (well not the Landlords but they surely need to ‘share the pain too!)

    The Fair Rent act is still active, if you are old enough to have rented your flat prior to 1989, your rent is still sent by the Local Authority Rent Officer)

    Cap the rents, the HB bill comes down, simple.

  9. I disagree. People can get MORE through housing benefit than private tenants pay out of their own pockets because the councils have little incentive to keep the rents down. The only people who benefit are the slum landlords and it becomes a money merry-go-round, working-poor taxpayers subsidising the rich.

    The cap is well above what I pay for my own flat. Why should a slum landlord get more rent from the taxpayer than he could get from a private tenant?

    • People CAN do all sorts of things. The fact is experts in the field believe that this will make London unaffordable to every day families. The problem is a lack of affordable housing and it is this which must be tackled, not punitive cuts to benefits which will cause an exodus and destroy lives. I agree it’s not fair, but this is not the solution.

  10. Great post. I couldn’t agree more. Is there a glimmer of hope in both Boris and Ken coming out against the proposals? Also… it’s obviously a big issue in London but it’s also a problem in other cities and regions around the country (I think Manchester and Cambridge are particular hotspots). The more opposition there is nationally the better.

  11. Great post and my sentiments entirely about London. I’ll represent Sarf London.

    Stumbled across you on that music debate over at Shot by Both Sides, do pop by and say hi at mine if you have a mo.

  12. Jackyboy86

    What utter rubbish.
    The housing benefit cap is proposed at £250 a week, down from £290 for a one-bed property (rest of the figures below). ONE bed. I pay £120 for my one bed flat in zone 2 Kilburn. I have a friend who lives in Canary wharf who pays £170 for a 2 bed (to himself).

    If you are hitting the cap, you are living in luxury housing (or your landlord is ripping you off) and your council should not be subsidising this.

    So stop peddling this pathetic ‘people will have to leave london in droves’ argument – it’s complete fiction.

    (£400 a week for a four-bedroom house – £1771 PCM,
    £340 for a three-bedroom property – £1505 PCM,
    £290 for two bedrooms – £1284 PCM
    £250 for a one-bedroom property – £1107 PCM)

    • I’m afraid that, despite this circumstancial evidence you put forward regarding your and a friend, every single expert in this field is saying that this will lead to an exodus from London and an increase in child poverty.

      Let’s take Shelter: http://england.shelter.org.uk/what_you_can_do/campaign_with_us/housing_benefit_campaign/london_affordability_map

      Their report, using evidence from Cambridge Universoty clearly states:

      * at least 54,000 children will be pushed into poverty
      * up to 84,000 households will be forced to live on less than £100 a week for food, clothing, heating and other household costs
      * up to 21,000 pensioners will have to leave their homes.

      Or let’s take the Chartered Institute of Housing: http://housing.cih.co.uk/memberbriefing/housingbenefit-July-2010.htm

      Their key findings include:
      * Movement of tenants from Central London to outer and eastern boroughs
      * Changes in demand for services including schools and health
      * Increased levels of overcrowding
      * Increased demand for cheaper properties
      * Increased applications for discretionary housing payments.

      So, that’s what the experts are telling us. I’ll be happy to have a discussion if you can come with a properly researched argument but unfortunately I will follow the evidence of my own experience (finding a 1 bed in in NW6 for less than £250 that isn’t covered in mould is an impossibility) and that of the experts than of yourself and a friend.

      Thanks for getting involved in the debate.

      • Jackyboy86

        Yes, Clearly.
        Unfortunately, there is no raw data in any of these sites, and relying on Cambridge dons or highly paid execs viewing the world through a blue tint of privilege isn’t my scene.
        When I can get my hands on some data to analyse, I’ll get back to you.
        Until then, maybe you should consider that maybe its not Housing Ben thats too low…

  13. Hi there,

    This country is in a complete mess………….

    .Lack of jobs
    .unemployed graduates
    .student fee’s to go through the roof
    .after claiming jsa for a year you will do community service
    .circumstances made even harder for first time buyers (typical deposit around 37k)
    .Landlords tar all housing benefits claimants with the same brush

    I was going to say would the last person that leaves the UK please switch off the light, but with the way things are going the poor and the under 35’s won’t be able to afford electric anyway.

  14. Pingback: Here’s some fresh ideas for you… « Drummer Boy Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s