Category Archives: Housing and Homelessness

Social Cleansing In London Is All Too Real, To Deny It Is Irresponsible

social-housingSome things need nippng in the bud.  So here’s a long and probably quite boring explanation of why Dave Hill’s recent claims in the Guardian that social cleansing is not taking place in London are a load of bollocks.

Hill based his recent piece on research carried out by the New Policy Institute think tank which examined the number of moves made by housing benefits claimants both within the capital and from London to other parts of the UK.  It found that the number of London claimants who moved house has changed little between 2010 and 2015.  As such the report’s authors conclude that housing benefit cuts have not caused the social cleansing of the city that many feared.

This led the Hill to declare that we should forget about social cleansing and instead focus on the poverty that has been caused by housing benefit cuts, saying that households had not been forced out of London but were staying put and making up rent shortfalls themselves.  To some extent this is true, many Londoners are now living in desperate poverty due to soaring rents and benefit cuts.  But to dismiss social cleansing, on the basis of this report, is a big mistake.

The first significant error in this research is that it examined all of those on housing benefit, not just those in the private sector.  Almost 70% of London housing benefit claimants are in social housing and unlikely to be subject to the benefit cap due to much lower rents.*  This means that large chunks of their data could be meaningless when analysing the impact of cuts on private sector tenants – and they don’t know which chunks.

There are many reasons why tenants might not move in such a brutal housing market.  With the number of London landlords who will accept those claiming housing benefits growing ever smaller, the sensible thing to do if you have found somewhere is to stay put.  Some social housing tenants may be hoping to buy eventually –  especially now that right-to-buy is being extended to Housing Association properties.  This could impact on the number of social housing transfers to outside the capital.  These factors would both offset any exodus due to benefit cuts.  But these assumptions, like the conclusions of the report, are speculation.

A further error in the research is that it treated claimants as one never-changing mass rather than examining flows on and off benefits.  This means that if someone comes off housing benefits as a result of moving to a cheaper area they will not be included in the figures. The report fails to show whether the number of private sector Housing Benefit claimants is falling or rising in any given area.  This leaves the question of whether people moving are being replaced by someone in similar economic circumstances.  You would expect this if the number of poor people was not decreasing overall as the researchers claim and you can find out by looking at the Housing Benefit caseload statistics.  They tell a very different story to the one told by the New Policy Institute.

The social cleansing of London did not begin when the Tory government first stole power in 2010.  Gentrification had already hollowed out much of inner London with both rents and house prices soaring even in once largely working class areas such as Hackney and Lambeth.  In more prosperous boroughs the eradication of the poor was almost complete except for those in social housing.  There were just 7,790 private sector Housing Benefit claimants in the City of Westminster in 2010 – and Westminster is big, with a population almost as large as Hull and with areas which would not have been described even as middle class a couple of decades ago.

According to the most recent figures, the number of Housing Benefit claimants in Westminster now stands at 5,001, a drop of over a third since 2010.  This trend is repeated throughout inner London – both the boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea and Islington have also lost around a third of private sector housing benefit claimants. In Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham and Southwark the number has dropped by around 20%, whilst Lewisham, Lambeth, Wandsworth and Tower Hamlets have all seen over 10% of private sector housing benefit claimants disappear.  In the largely uninhabited City of London there were 100 private sector housing benefit claimants in 2010 and now there is only 20.  The only inner London borough during the period to see a rise in this claimant group was Newham, by far the poorest and the least central borough.  In total there are over 11,000 less private sector housing benefit claimants in inner London since 2010, and there weren’t many to start with.  In many ways the Benefit Cap was simply a mopping up exercise, driving out the hangers-on that gentrification hadn’t yet managed to displace.

Despite plummeting number of private rented sector claimants in inner London the reverse is taking place further afield.  Almost every outer London borough saw a rise in the number of private sector Housing Benefit claimants between 2010 and 2016, with only Waltham Forest, Merton and Richmond seeing a fall – and the last two are both posh.  The main reason for this is soaring rents and a huge rise in the number of people in work who are claiming Housing Benefit.  The overall number of Greater London Housing Benefit claimants, including social tenants, is higher now than in 2010 despite falling unemployment.  The overall number of inner London claimants has fallen however.

The trend is plain to see. The richer and more central a borough is, then the more likely it will have seen a drop in the number of private sector housing benefit claimants.  In outer boroughs the opposite is happening.  London’s poor are being displaced to the margins

In some boroughs, such as Westminster, the process of social cleansing is near complete for almost all those without social housing.  And for those clinging on the situation is chilling. Westminster spent around £3 million on Discretionary Housing Payments in 2014/15 specifically to mitigate the impact of the Benefit Cap.  Assuming an average award of £50 a week – and this is a guess, there are no available figures – that’s enough to pay for over 1,000 of Westminster’s dwindling private sector claimants to remain in their homes.  These are emergency payments, which can be withdrawn at any time, and will eventually stop.  These households have simply been given a stay of execution.

In addition to this Westminster has 2,435 households who are homeless and in temporary accommodation.  Around half of this number have been relocated outside the borough.  Those still in Westminster will be in some form of private accomodation, whether that’s a hostel, B&B or in a temporary placement with a private landlord.  They are also likely to be claiming Housing Benefit.  So of Westminster’s 5000 private sector Housng Benefit claimants up to a quarter could be homeless, and possibly another fifth are receiving Discretionary Housing Payments which will eventually be stopped.

The Benefit Cap is just one, very small part of what is driving social cleansing.  London’s failure to build enough social housing is also displacing the poor from the capital.  Despite a population increase across Greater London of almost half a million between 2010 and 2014, the number of new social houses was just 7,455.  Housing stock estimates from the Department of Communities and Local Government show that Islington, Camden, Kensington & Chelsea, Wesminster and the City of London have all seen a reduction in the number of socially rented homes since 2010.  As numerous campaigners around the capital will tell you, they are now coming for the housing estates as well.

It seems astonishing that there would be those who refute that London’s poor are being gradually forced out of the city when the evidence is so visible.  Take a walk round Hackney and you will see streets that have been not just socially, but also ethnically cleansed.  This is not to undermine the sufffering of those still living in the capital who have been forced into poverty and  destitution.  That is part of social cleansing too, as the poor are sliced out of civic, economic and social life, even if they manage to cling onto their homes.  Those that are left become as invisible as the departed.  With further benefit cuts on the way and the near eradication of social housing it is irresponsible, and just plain inaccurate to deny what is taking place.

*this post was corrected on 28/5/16 due to previously saying social housing tenants are exempt from the Benefit Cap.  This was a daft mistake, they are not exempt, but due to much lower rents in social housing then very few claimants are affected.  H/T  @nearlylegal who pointed it out.

Above pic from Turbulent London

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As Homelessness Soars Number Of Empty Homes In London Hits Seven Year High

camden-anti-gentrification-protest-1

London doesn’t have a housing problem it has a rich people problem.  Despite soaring homelessness in the capital, figures recently released by the government show that the number of homes left empty in the city has risen for the first time since 2009.

There are currently 59,881 empty homes in London.  That is enough to house everybody currently living in emergency temporary accommodation in the city  – and everyone sleeping on the streets.  20,000 of these properties have been empty over two years.  These are not second homes, properties which are rented out or homes used for holidays.  They are empty, abandoned in some cases, or more often deliberately left vacant as investment opportunities.

It is this that is likely to be the reason the number of empty homes is rising in the capital but falling everywhere else in the UK.  Luxury penthouses built not for living in, just for making money out of.  These cunts are so rich they can’t even be bothered to rent out the properties they own – they just sit back and profit as house prices soar.  Or at least they did.  The party may soon be over with central London house prices now starting to fall.

This is the legacy of Boris Johnson.  A capital city remade as a grotesque monument to capital.  The real people of London forced out, or condemned to a life on the margins whilst billionaires built their own corporate Disneyland.  A sterile landscape of glass and steel now dominates the city whilst once beautifully chaotic streets are overrun with chain stores and wacky trust fund businesses selling bowls of cereal for a fucking fiver.  There is no place for human life in this city at all.  It is just a place that money lives now.

An army of security guards stalk the privatised city streets handing out fines to kids playing football or folk enjoying a quiet beer in the park.  Racist cops ruthlessly shut down working class culture wherever they find it, even banning clubs from playing music they don’t like.  Uniformed filth carrying machine guns glare at people on the public transport system.  Occassionally they shoot someone.  The message is stark and clear.  This is not our city anymore, this is a giant bank where the crooks of the world can store their wealth.  And so we must be constantly policed, always watched in case we present a threat to the pampered lifestyles of the wealthy minority.

According to charities the number of people who slept rough on the streets of London this winter rose by 15% in just one year to 2,561.  Beneath the glitzy facade poverty stalks the city. Bodies huddle in shop doorways whilst champagne glasses clink in restaurants where a meal costs more than a week’s wages.  Children go hungry in grotty hostels beneath empty shyscrapers where the flats cost millions of pounds yet no-one lives there.  This is what Boris has created.  A ghost-town in sky that has shut out the city’s light.

Quietly though, everywhere, people are organising.  Thousands of people whose homes are under threat grow more militant everyday.  Students are on rent strike across the capital.  Towards the end of the 2011 riots a mob headed towards Notting Hill and Sloane Square, smashing up designer shops and attacking restaurants.  Unlicenced and boisterous street parties are shaking the newly gentrified enclaves that once belonged to the working class.  Tenants facing eviction are barricading themselves in their homes.

Direct action, disruption and outright defiance are the weapons of choice, not petitions, or voting, or boring marches.  Everyone knows now who is too blame and where they live.  A reckoning is surely coming.  Be ready.

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Sell! Sell! Sell! Join The Fuck Parade And Let’s Burst The London Housing Bubble

fuck-parade4

London is currently a giant building site.  Wherever you go new developments, in identikit glass and steel, snake up towards the skies, blotting the light, and the life, out of the capital.

Nobody normal can afford to live in these so-called luxury apartments – so-called because they are being built on the cheap as quickly as possible.  You wouldn’t know that from the price however – even modest flats in the poshest postcodes can cost a million pounds or more.  According to the Financial Times there are around 50,000 properties planned or under construction in this price range as every last brick in the city is turned into an investment opportunity.  The losses to the capital’s history and culture are incalcuable.  The end of Tin Pan Alley, once the heart of London’s music industry.  The destruction of Soho’s gay scene.  Half of Camden Market flogged off to a dodgy developer to build high price flats.  London’s skyline damaged beyind repair.  And, most tragically of all, the mass social cleansing of every working class area of London. Pubs, markets, community centres and libraries all gone to make way for the global super rich.  If you are on a low or even moderate income, and stuck in the cut-throat private sector, then you’ve probably left already.  If you are in social housing, hold tight, they are coming for the council estates as well.

But there are signs that the feeding frenzy is coming to an end.  There may well be 50,000 high value properties on the way, but as the FT also points out, just 3,900 homes costing more than £1m were sold in central London in 2014.  The villains at Foxton’s have recently announced falling profits whilst financial experts are warning openly of a crash.  And the Office for National Statistics recently revised how house price statistics are calculated which resulted in a shock fall in London’s prices between January and February this year.

Now is the time to send a message to every pampered hipster, spiv banker, property developer and global billionaire that we do not want you in our fucking city.  Let’s crash their party and their market.  Rage against horrifying inequality in the capital grows ever fiercer and it is the rich who are becoming the targets.  There have always been consequences when the decadence of the upper classes becomes too visible or obscene, and there is an obscenity taking place in London right now.  It’s time to make them feel unwelcome.  To let them be the frightened ones for a change.  To take the class war to their fucking front doors just like they have done to us.  The battle of the capital is just getting started.  Don’t be late.

The fourth London Fuck Parade will take place on May 1st.  This boisterous anti-gentrification street party made headlines around the world last time.  The parade starts at One Commercial Street, Aldgate East, London E1 7PT at 6pm.  For the latest news visit the website at: https://fuckparade.wordpress.com/

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The Devil Really Is In The Detail: Homelessness Services and Women’s Refuges Face Wipe Out

dorneywood

George Osborne’s luxury home. Paid for by the tax payer.

A vicious cut buried in this year’s budget document makes a mockery of George Osborne’s pledge of more money for homelessness charities.

The Budget Red Book confirms that from 2017 additional funding in the housing benefit system for homeless people’s hostels and women’s refuges will be scrapped completely from April 2017.  Payments to cover rents in the supported housing sector will be reduced to the Local Housing Allowance rate for that area – which can be less than £50 a week for those under 35 in some parts of the UK.

This is the culmination of a long-running row which began way back in 2012 when bungling toff Lord Fraud announced moves which would lead to the closure of every homelessness shelter and refuge in the UK.  The DWP soon backtracked on these plans and the homelessness industry slipped into collective denial until last year when it was re-announced that supported housing rents will be capped from 2016.

After unanimous protests from homelessness and domestic violence charities the government appeared to back down again, putting back the change for one year and announcing a review of funding for supported housing.  Today George Osborne pre-empted that review and –  with a sneaky bribe which will no doubt go to the largest and most obedient homelessness charities – has condemned huge numbers of the poorest and most marginalised people to street homelessness.

Funding supported housing through the benefits system allowed those providing that housing to use their own expertise and experience in helping to rebuild often shattered lives.  Now they will be expected to go cap in hand to the government, and funding will be directed at those organisations prepared to kow-tow to government policies, such as workfare, benefit sanctions, deportations and compulsory happiness lessons.

The budget documents ominously confirm that there will still be a review of the supported housing sector before the cut takes place.  We’ve just seen what these look like after the recent consultation into disability benefits.  Almost every response from disabled people and charities was completely ignored and the government did as they chose – which was cut vital disability benefits for over 600,000 people.

The entire homelessness sector, along with women’s refuges, young people’s hostels and the wide range of other supported housing is now on death row.  Homelessness charities have long faced criticism for not fighting for homeless people and instead pursuing petty obsessions about the price of strong lager, beggars  or trying to close down soup runs.  Now they are fighting for their own futures.  It will take more than petitions, whining and cosy meetings with ministers as the so-called big players negotiate their own survival, to save the homelessness industry.  It will mean homelessness organisations getting out on the streets with homeless people, tenants, benefit claimants and all those facing housing insecurity,  It may mean forgoing charitable status to fight this government – hardly a controversial arrangement, neither Amnesty or Greenpeace are charities.  And most of all it will mean a confrontational, disruptive and ferocious movement to drive this current crop of Tory toffs into the fucking sea.  Then we can have their houses.

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Numbers Sleeping On The Streets Soar By Almost A Third In Just One Year

rough-sleeping2015The number of people sleeping on the streets has soared by 30% in just one year figures from the Department of Community and Local Government reveal today.

A total of 3,569 people were found to be sleeping rough in Autumn 2015 –  the highest number since records began for the second year running.  The shocking figures come after five years of cuts to vital housing benefits combined with vicious welfare reforms that have left many destitute due to punitive benefit sanctions.  The number of people forced onto the streets because they cannot find a home has more than doubled since reforms began in 2010.

Tory politicians have brushed off the problem of rough sleeping claiming they are all just immigrants from Eastern Europe nnd so don’t matter.  Figures produced by charities show that only a third of rough sleepers come from the recently admitted EU countries however and that street homelessness is rising amongst all nationalities.

Today’s figures are just a snapshot and are taken from a combination of street counts – where outreach workers go out and physically record the number of people they see bedding down – and estimates by local authorities in areas where the problem is not so acute.  Homelessness industry insiders have long warned that the problem is woefully under-estimated and even raised fears that police usher people away from common street sleeping sites before counts are due to take place.  Today’s figures are horrifying enough but the sad truth is they only tell half the story.

The response from the government towards the growing homelessness epidemic has been more cuts with another benefit cap on the way likely to put 120,000 homes at risk.  This, combined with freezes on Housing Benefit rises despite soaring rents and the willful destruction of social housing in the UK, mean that street homelessness is a problem likely to become much worse.

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Just One Room Available In Hackney For The Poorest Tenants – Say #YesDSS

landlord-772876A recent investigation of 50 estate agents carried out by Hackney based tenant’s group DIGS found that just one studio flat was available for people on benefits in the entire borough.

The phrase No DSS will be all too familiar to anyone on benefits who has tried to secure a home. It is a meaningless phrase, referring to a government department that no longer exists.  What it actually means is no Housing Benefit. and it is used to discriminate against the poorest tenants whether they be low paid, out of work due to unemployment, sickness or disability, are parents or pensioners.

In some cities wages for many full-time jobs do not come close to meeting ever increasing rents.  The so-called ‘Living Wage’ is not even enough to pay an ‘Affordable Rent’ in many parts of London.  Tenants who have to rely on Housing Benefit to pay some of their rent are increasingly being excluded from the private sector completely.

This is something many people do not understand.  It is hard to find a home if you are poor.  Even if you can raise the eye-watering deposits demanded by landlords, or pass their credit and reference checks, then if you need benefits to top up your rent you will be rejected.  These policies are a key driver of homelessness.  In the case of disabled people they are almost certainly illegal under the Equalities Act.  But still it continues as the private rental sector operates as an outlaw class, ignoring laws they don’t like, openly boasting of their discrimination on landlord’s websites and treating their tenants – the ones buying them a house in many cases – with complete contempt.

With social housing fast disappearing then it is time to consign this nasty bigotry to history.  A campaign launched by DIGS in response to their investigation is a good start.  As they say:

“At Digs, we believe that everyone should have a decent, secure and genuinely affordable home regardless of how much they earn. We also believe that people shouldn’t be forced out of areas like Hackney simply so that landlords and estate agents can make greater profits.

“We’re launching our #YesDSS campaign this month to put pressure on letting agents, landlords, mortgage lenders, councils and the government to make sure that no-one should be prevented from renting a property simply because they receive benefits.

“This is why we’re launching our #YesDSS campaign this Saturday (27th Feb), 11am outside Hackney Town Hall and ask you to invite all your friends and come down: https://www.facebook.com/events/183799625313280/”

Please spread the word!

Read their seven reasons why letting agents and landlords should say #YesDSS

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Chaos In Supported Housing: Almost Half A Million Homes Under Threat As Ministers Dither

George-Osborne Social housing providers are warning that up to 440,000 homes are potentially at risk due to George Osborne’s plans to slash benefits intended to pay the rent of those living in supported housing.

In the Autumn Statement the Chancellor  announced that Housing Benefit for tenants living in socially managed housing would be capped at the same level as payments for those renting privately.  This cap is to include those living in some form of supported accommodation where high rents are charged to cover the additional costs of providing care or supervision.  With weekly Housing Benefit awards capped at less then £50 a week for single people under 35 in some parts of the UK, this will mean the potential closure of every women’s refuge and homelessness hostel along with supported housing schemes for pensioners and those with acute physical or mental health conditions.  The combined financial loss to social housing providers could be as high as £400 million according to housing industry spokespeople quoted in trade magazine Inside Housing recently – and this is assuming that those over pensionable age are excluded from the cap.  To date no-one from the Treasury, DWP or Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) appears to have said they will be.

The DWP have said that any shortfall in payments to cover rents will be made up by Discretionary Housing Payments.  This is money given to local councils which can be used to top up housing benefits of those affected by cuts already introduced such as the Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap.  Osborne himself has claimed there will be an additional money for these payments, believed to be around £70 million a year, but this will not come close to meeting the funding gap.  Just as importantly these payments are not ring-fenced and are discretionary – there will be no requirement by law for local authorities to meet people’s rents.  The implications are chilling  Without central control then any old swivel-eyed Tory Council could close a homelessness hostel or drug rehab project in their constituency simply by cutting off their income stream.

Perhaps most astonishingly – given that it is only now that the social housing sector has taken notice – is that this is a problem which is four years old.  Way back in 2012 the charity for domestic abuse survivors Women’s Aid warned that a combination of benefit caps and the reforms being introduced under Universal Credit would ‘decimate’ the women’s refuge system.  This led to Lord Fraud, the comedy toff brought in on the cheap to oversee welfare reforms, quickly pledging that payments for supported housing would continue under the current system.   Then followed a bitter row about what exactly the government means by supported housing, as well as concerns raised over funding for emergency temporary accommodation such as B&Bs.  Neither of these matters were ever fully resolved as DWP ministers dithered and dodged questions whilst homelessness charities and housing associations were too busy looking to profit from lucrative government contracts to pay attention to their impending destruction.

And so here we are again, except now homelessness has soared and over 100,000 children are living in expensive and insecure temporary accommodation.  These bed spaces are also under threat with DWP documents suggesting that housing benefit payments for temporary accommodation will now also be capped.  Previously the solution to temporary housing – which doesn’t have the same costs as supported housing but is more expensive than mainstream accommodation – was to allow an additional weekly payment of £40 to be added to housing benefit.  In the latest guidance aimed at social landlords explaining benefit changes however it states that homeless Universal Credit claimants in temporary housing will have their rents capped at the same level as those in the mainstream private sector.  There is no mention of additional funding.   So it is not just homelessness hostels, refuge’s and other supported housing that is under threat, but possibly B&Bs and private sector emergency accommodation.

Whilst these changes are terrifying and if implemented could lead to a street homelessness crisis that has not been seen before in a so-called developed economy, the DWP has a long way to go if this is truly what they want.  The cuts to housing benefits will not be implemented until 2018 and will only apply to tenancies signed after April this year.  This will prevent, at least for a couple of years, mass evictions.  But the biggest problem is that almost all of the people eligible for both supported and temporary accommodation would be classed as ‘statutory homeless’ if they were unable to find a roof over their heads.  This means that local authorities are bound, by law, to house them – there and then if they have nowhere to go that night.  There just won’t be any money to pay their rent.

In short, it’s a giant fucking mess and one the DWP have been trying to sweep under the carpet ever since Iain Duncan Smith’s half-baked reforms to the benefits system were first announced.  Expect another bodge as the realities of a modern social security system clash once again with the delusions of a Secretary of State who thought he could fix poverty by making people poorer.  The truth is this has probably only dragged on so long because no-one really believes that Universal Credit will ever be fully implemented anyway.  It sill might not be.  The tragedy, as Inside Housing reveals, is that this shambles is already having very real consequnces.  Social housing providers say that schemes to provide desperately needed new supported housing are currently on hold until the government makes it’s mind up about whether they should condemn everybody officially classed as ‘vulnerable’ to street homelessness or not.  Decisions, decisions.  What a bunch of cunts.

A march against the housing bill, which will decimate social housing, is taking place in London on Saturday January 30th.  More details on facebook, please spread the word.

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