Tag Archives: Eric Pickles

How Eric Pickles Acted To Protect The Empty Penthouses Of The Global Super Rich

real-estate-forum

Join Class War, 1pm, 14th June, Berkeley Square outside the London property developer’s forum.

Imagine if there was a law that prevented the rich from leaving luxury properties empty as investments.  Even better, imagine if this law ensured that if a home was left vacant for over six months then local authorities could take over the management of the property and use it as part of their own housing stock to provide temporary accommodation for homeless people.  That would be a good fucking law, and that’s a rare thing.  And it is a law that the Labour Party accidentally introduced, although their target was not the rich, but squatters and those they claimed were involved in anti-social behaviour.

Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) came into effect in 2006 to tackles the problem of empty homes which the government said were “magnets for vandals, drug users, squatters and even arsonists”.  They operated exactly as described above, with powers for councils to take over vacant properties and rent them out to those waiting for permanent housing.  Of course this being Tony Blair’s Labour Party the new powers were awash with bureacracy and caveats to protect the rich.  Second homes were to be sadly exempt from the legislation, as were many other empty properties such as holiday homes.  Councils would have to make legthy application to a tribunal and property owners were given wide-ranging rights of appeal.  This didn’t stop the right wing press going into meltdown over the legislation with The Sunday Times declaring Britain had become a communist country.

In the end just 43 EDMOs were issued between 2006 and 2010.  The great expropriation had not happened and the rich continued to horde land and housing as much as ever.  This didn’t stop Eric Pickles rushing to change the laws within months of the Tory’s stealing power in 2010.

Pickles, who was Communities Secretary at the time, announced in early 2011 that he was bringing to an end these ‘heavy handed’ rules.  This news was barely reported at the time.  Now EDMOs can only be issued if a property has been empty for over two years, and more importantly only when local councils can prove the property is being used for anti-social purposes.  Pickles said he did this to protect civil liberties.

There seems little doubt that EDMOs could have been issued against rich investors who buy up luxury properties and leave them empty – a phenomena that is now extending to other cities besides London.  It would have been difficult, and might not have worked – oligarchs have good lawyers – but it would have been worth a try for an imaginative local authority facing growing homelessness.  But now that option has been shut down, to protect the civil liberties of the global super rich who see the booming housing market in the South East as nothing more than an exclusive casino where they always get to win.  And so the number of empty homes in London is now back on the rise despite a desperate housing crisis and record numbers sleeping on the streets.  That’s what this government calls freedom.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Join me on facebook or follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Eric Pickles Plots Planning Laws Based on Ethnicity and Class

Eric Pickles is planning a new assault on travellers in a chilling sign of what may be to come for those forced into homelessness by the shambolic welfare reforms.

In his widely ignored speech at the Tory Party Conference, Pickles talked of last year’s Dale Farm eviction and warned that:

“I can announce today new powers for councils to literally stop those caravans in their tracks.
 
New instant Stop Notices will allow councils to issue unlimited fines for those who ignore planning rules and defy the law.”

Rarely has their been a better example of this Government’s mixture of casual brutality and gross stupidity than suggesting that people who are both transient, and often poor, should be given huge fines.

But it is perhaps the astonishing double standard which reveals the true intention.  Pickles along with the rest of the government have been pushing for relaxation of planning laws, a move being resisted by many local authorities.  Presumably this plan to “issue unlimited fines for those who ignore planning rules” will not apply to middle class home owners.

This racist move, should it ever actually come about, will be a new low for even this coalition.  If you are rich build away.  If you are poor, Roma, or an Irish traveller, then expect to be chased around the country for huge fines because you parked your caravan in a field your mate owned.  Different laws for different ethnic groups, how chillingly familiar.

Pickles’ announcement came after he drew applause for the squatting ban, and boasted how the government had slashed the rights of peaceful protesters by legislating against ‘shanty towns’ like the Occupy Camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

All of these measures point to one thing.  Those who live in vehicles, whether by choice or necessity, will be fined and harassed.  Squatters will be jailed.  Protest camps or ‘shanty towns’ will be violently shut down.  Slowly but surely homelessness is being criminalised.  On one hand the Government forces thousands into homelessness by cutting, or scrapping Housing Benefit.  With the other it introduces new laws to ensure that those made homeless have nowhere to go.

The end result will not be pretty and is coming to a leafy home counties village near you.  As Traveller Solidarity report:

“One year on, Dale Farm has been transformed into a virtual bombsite, filled with stagnant water, raw sewage and toxic waste. 83 homeless families are living on the roadside with no electricity, running water or sanitation.

As one mother put it, ‘Why would we be living here if we had somewhere else to go?’”

The residents of Dale Farm owned the land and had settled there after being tricked into believing planning permission would be granted for the site.  It wasn’t and last year a violent eviction forced them from their homes and onto the roadside.  The Dale Farm travellers warned they had nowhere to go, but no-one listened.

Every measure of homelessness is rising from families in B&Bs to those on the streets.  If Housing Benefit is cut for those under 25 an explosion of youth homelessness is inevitable.  Wages are stagnating and benefits being cut whilst rents soar.  Next years benefit cap will make almost the whole of Greater London unaffordable for parents who are unable to work.

Homeless hostels are struggling for funds and the number of emergency bed spaces is falling.  Women’s Refuges and other emergency housing projects may have been saved by yet another Universal Credit bodge but are still likely to be plunged into chaos by badly planned changes to housing benefits. The right to a council house is being removed in some Tory boroughs for those who are homeless, unemployed or low waged (but not quite low waged enough).

During the last Tory government sleeping bags lined the shopping streets of London, cardboard cities sprung up and homeless young people took to the road to become those who were known to everyone except themselves as ‘New Age Travellers’.  Pickles was a snivelling sycophant of Margaret Thatcher whilst all this took place.

He aims to prevent it happening again, but not by building council homes or providing housing benefits which actually pay the rent.  The only provision which is being made for the upcoming homelessness epidemic is new laws to criminalise those who find themselves without a roof.

A year on from the Dale Farm eviction and a mass action is taking place to fight for sites for travelling people on the 19th October.  Meet at Victoria Station London at 1pm, more details on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/events/140070222801717/

Misogyny, Ignorance and Guesswork at the Heart Of Pickles’ Community Strategy

Eric Pickles latest strategy to deal with troubled families is little more than a sticking plaster for Government cuts and based on crude misogyny, guesswork and complete ignorance of the problems faced by those with least.

Pickles is planning to get tough on families deemed ‘troubled’ by blaming them for situations which are entirely outside their control.  Parents with disabilities, in low paying jobs or living in poor quality housing can now expect to be blamed for their own misfortune by an army of council funded busy bodies who are to be given the power to tell them off without fear of ‘political correctness’.

According to the Government, a troubled family is to be deemed to be one that meets five out of the following seven criteria: a low income, no-one in the family in work, living in poor housing, parents with no qualifications, having a  mother who has a mental health problem, one parent with a long-standing illness or disability,or where the family is unable to afford basics, including food and clothes.

Pickles has been justifying his  latest scheme in the Independent over the weekend with a series of made up stories such as the teenage father who refuses to speak to his allegedly non-english speaking child or the mother ‘on the verge of a nervous breakdown’ because she didn’t know how to use a washing machine.

Pickles, who favourably compares himself to woman-beating racist Geoffrey Boycott, has a bit of a thing about women’s  mental health.  This may explain his patronising attitude to Caroline Flint in the House of Commons, who he refers to as ‘dear’, or be the reason he suggested a ‘charming’ female Camden Councillor should take ‘anger management classes’ for having the gall to write  him a letter.  Once again the crude misogyny at the heart of the Tory Party rears it’s ugly head.

Despite mental health services being cut to the bone, mothers (but not fathers) with mental health conditions will be singled out as especially to blame for their illness and will be told off very strongly.  This new strategy of lecturing and moralising at people whilst stripping away vital housing, healthcare and benefits will be rolled out across the country with local councils paid according to a system of crude results. The scheme has echoes of Chris Grayling’s disastrous Work Programme, which attempts to blame unemployed people for being unemployed.  Latest figures suggest that less people are finding jobs on the Work Programme than if they had been left to their own devices.

Councils will be able to claim £4000 should they find someone a job for three months, which is a reasonably heavy incentive to provide three months temporary employment themselves.  This will be a boon to the aforementioned Work Programme, who’s private contractors will also be able to pick up a fat fee should they have the individual on their books.  The factors deemed to indicate families which are troubled are so crude that it will include the vast majority of the very poorest.  Councils will be able to cherry pick people to work with from a huge base, which is no doubt why they’ve agreed to the scheme.

Unfortunately there is nothing on offer in terms of real help.  What people who are in poor quality housing need is better quality housing.  With the ruthless Housing Benefit cutting regime currently in place they will get the opposite.  Families who can’t afford basic food and clothing need more money, not benefit cuts.  Unemployed families are unlikely to prosper at a time of Tory created high unemployment, whilst there is little or no provision in the Work Programme to help those without qualifications.  Disabled parents will find themselves forced into the brackets of being a ‘troubled family’, simply because this Government has plans to strip away benefits from 20% of disabled claimants.

Meanwhile there is a real danger that families who do not fall into these groups will become sidelined and ignored as social security budgets are slashed for anyone who doesn’t fit Eric Pickles’ criteria.

Pickles claims that ‘nice people’ asked him during last year’s riots what the parents of the children involved were doing.  Pickles is right when he insists that they were not at a ‘whist club or a Sunday social’.  What he fails to understand is that many of them were probably at work.  The problems Pickles is seeking to address are far more complex than his over-worked little mind can seem to grasp.  This is why the current solutions, crude and often ineffective as they are, can appear complicated and messy and involve different agencies.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some simple solutions that could make a big difference.  Decent housing, a liveable minimum wage, the restoration of grant funded education and EMA, benefits that actually pay the bills, better funded mental health care, access to real training for unemployed people, an expansion of youth clubs and a halt to the devastating cuts in public services would all make a difference.  This Government’s policy is to pursue the very opposite, by making the poorest poorer and then seeking to blame them for their plight.

The current obsession with simplifying and streamlining services is just Tory spin meaning more cuts.  They hand out a few pence with one hand whilst laying entire cities to waste with another.  The obsession with payment by results simply means that the easiest to help are targeted, often those who didn’t even need the help in the first place.  The most vulnerable, chaotic, anti-social or indeed troubled families will be sidelined simply because there’s little chance of an ‘outcome’ payment at the end.  And what those ‘outcomes’ should actually represent are little more than what a Government minister decided on the back of an envelope that morning.

Pickles’ new strategy is a panicky and vague response to last year’s riots and was actually first announced by Cameron last Autumn.  Whilst vital public services are being decimated it will not make the slightest difference to the lives of ‘troubled families’ or the communities they live in.  Steeped as these plans are in the usual out of touch Tory dogma, shop keeper’s son Pickles may actually end up making things even worse.