Wandsworth’s Housing Offer: A homeless crisis, unfair rents & favours for developers

Speech to Wandsworth Council, 28 January 2015

This paper covers council rents, money to tackle the homelessness crisis and elements of councillor Govindia’s new housing strategy. There are positive and negative sides to each.

On council rents, the average increase this year will be 2.2%. This is fair – but in reality almost no one will actually pay it.

Sometimes you just have to look at a policy and apply a common sense check. 10,000 of our tenants will get less than £1 a week rent rise but 3,500 households on historically lower rents will get more than £8 a week rent rise, with almost nothing in between.

1,300 of the families facing an extra £400 in rent next year receive no housing benefit at all. We know most of these will be older people: some too proud to claim, others working for minimum wage.

In terms of the number of people affected and financial impact this is comparable to the Bedroom Tax. The council is taking an unnecessary risk.

Wandsworth has yet to get to grips with its homelessness crisis. It should be praised for committing to spend £20m on temporary accommodation. It’s about time.

Unfortunately it’s too little and it’s too late.

The new properties bought with the £20m will almost all be outside Wandsworth.

I wrote to the council about a Tooting mother who became homeless with her three children after a difficult family situation. She works and studies locally but the council made a final offer that she should move to a private rented home in West Bromwich, 100 miles from her friends and her children’s school.

When she said the property was unsuitable, the council responded with an eviction notice. This behaviour damages the reputation of the council.

Wandsworth has been condemned by Sandwell Council’s leader for treating people “like cattle” and moving them around the country to cut costs.

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2014: My year in 14 pictures

03March extra

Discussing childcare costs with Gloria de Piero MP, Tristram Hunt MP, Will Martindale and Sally-Ann Ephson at Queenstown’s Learning Ladders Nursery

Councillor Wendy Speck chats with Alcinda (and her son) at our Battersea Fields drop-in advice session

February: My Latchmere Ward colleague Councillor Wendy Speck chats with Alcinda at our Battersea Fields drop-in advice session

Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds MP visits Battersea to listen to local people about renting and trying to buy a home

March: Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds MP visits Battersea to listen to local people about renting and trying to buy a home

April: My 3-year-old son does his bit during the local election campaign

April: My 3-year-old son does his bit during the local election campaign

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‘Like you, Battersea is well-educated, bursting with ideas – and massively in debt’

voters_reception[1]Short speech I gave to a group of young voters from Battersea who Will Martindale had invited to the House of Commons, Jan 2014

Welcome, thank you all for coming.

I’m a local Battersea councillor. That means if you want to know about the nuclear weapons ask one of these MPs – if your bins aren’t being emptied, come and see me later.

I know politics can seem pretty far from your lives. Someone like you could never end up in the House of Commons. This place is for insiders, rich people, people who can play the system. That’s certainly how I felt growing up in Birmingham.

I want to tell you about Battersea and our local heroes. A gang of misfits who helped to create the world we live in today. You’ll see that these outsiders started off every bit as far from this place as you are now.

In some ways, Battersea is like the average young person.

Battersea is well-educated, bursting with ideas – and massively in debt.

  • It’s Britain’s youngest constituency. I’m already past the average age of 34-and-a-half.
  • More than half of the population has a university degree.
  • The most indebted postcode in Britain is in Battersea.

Can you put your hands up if your postcode begins: “SW11 6”. That’s area between Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common. There is £649m of mortgage debt in that one postcode.

Battersea is bursting with ideas. We have a long tradition of awkward, radical characters. A century ago Battersea Labour Party gave Britain:

  • John Burns, the 16th son of a washerwoman rose from Battersea’s slums to become an MP and Britain’s first working class cabinet member.
  • Sharpurji Saklatvala, Britain’s first Asian Communist MP in the 1920s.
  • Charlotte Despard, an aristocratic Irish nationalist suffragette
  • John Archer, a Battersea photographer, who became London’s first black mayor in 1913.

A group of people like this had never been in power anywhere in the world before. Misfits. Outsiders.

It was great to see Alf Dubbs here this evening. He was a much-loved MP for Battersea in the 1980s. Alf’s journey is incredible – and important to remember as today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Alf was just six when he was put on a train out of Prague, the city he was born in. It was the day the Nazis arrived in the city in 1939. Alf was one of 600 children saved by a British businessman who arranged their travel to London. Alf now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Dubs of Battersea.

Those are Battersea’s heroes, my heroes. They didn’t have success handed to them.

They knew the difference that politics can make.

Recently, the council wanted to close the library that serves the Winstanley Estate, and to charge children £2.50 to use a local playground.

Determined community campaigns stopped these plan. Young people who used the library and the playground were at the heart of these campaigns.

It was inspiring to work with local teenagers. Because, like Battersea, you’re well-educated, massively in debt, energetic and open to new ideas!

You told us you want the EMA back, you want lower tuition fees, you want votes at 16 and 17 and more jobs for younger people. But you feel like you’re on the outside.

Just remember Alf, aged six sitting alone on that train for an unknown new life, leaving his parents behind. John Burns leaving school at 10 for a life of manual work. John Archer being abused in Battersea Town Hall just for being black. Sharpurji Saklatvala put in jail for two months when he spoke up for working people in Battersea.

They came back from those dark moments to change the world. No one handed it to them. “Life isn’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

They were pulled forward by the future, not held back by the past.

It is easier than you think to change the world. I hope you give it a go.

I’m very grateful to you for coming out this evening, I hope you find it enjoyable. I’ll hand over to Jack before the next speaker – and if you have any problems getting your bins emptied, you can email me tomorrow.


* My planned remarks – as the excellent Dan Jarvis MP volunteered to speak, an shorter version was delivered

Right To Buy gone wrong: Council gets £8m for £26m of property


Right To Buy is a good policy when it helps council tenants become home-owners and a new house is built from profit. But that’s not happening.

Wandsworth sold 128 council homes last year and built 2 new ones.

£26.2m of property was sold for £14.7m (only £8.3m of which is available to build new homes).

The Sunday Times story “Sell us your council flat and we’ll split the profit” suggests the Right To Buy is being abused in London. “[Property developer] said councils are massively undervaluing properties, which he can buy from tenants and resell for much higher prices.”

There is certainly cause for concern in Wandsworth. Right To Buy sales more than doubled from the previous year. It is hard to believe all 128 families bought with no middle-men involved.

Even if they receive the maximum £100,000 discount, tenants still need extraordinary wealth to buy their council homes. Take this 3-bed Surrey Lane Estate council flat which is on the market for £495,000. To exercise their Right To Buy, a tenant would need a £40k deposit plus £2,000 mortgage payment each month for 25 years!

I asked the council what the average income of Right To Buy tenants was and how many buy in cash or with the help of property developers.

The council replied that it does not collect data on the income of Right To Buy purchasers. It makes no checks on whether buyers use cash or have a mortgage.

Millions of pounds of housing assets are being lost to the council each year without adequate safeguards that the right people are benefiting from Right To Buy.

Police: ‘How we caught the Battersea moped thieves’

Inspector James Ellis reports on the arrest of local moped thieves – plus investigations into Winstanley Estate arson and stabbing 

We set up Operation Cerebus to combat the growing problem of moped theft. A team of officers targeted a small group of youths we felt certain were committing the crimes.

We received several calls from you, members of the public that have helped us over the past few weeks. I am pleased to report that seven arrests have been made with several stolen bikes restored to their owners.

On the morning of July 15, two robberies were committed by persons on stolen mopeds on Battersea Park Road. Numerous officers swamped the area and eventually three excellent arrests were made and two stolen bikes recovered.

Two of the individuals were found by the Op Cerberus team hiding under beds. One of them, a 15-year-old boy from the Patmore Estate was already wanted by Police for breaching his Court Bail and was supposed to be at Court that morning for sentencing for an earlier offence of Aggravated Vehicle Taking. He never turned up as he was out stealing again.


This time he was charged with Attempted Robbery, Theft person and Handling Stolen Goods (a stolen number plate and a stolen moped) and kept in custody to appearing at Court the next day.

The Court let him out on bail again, which he breached only days later before stealing another bike on the 21st July.

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It’s time to get serious about Wandsworth’s homeless crisis

Wandsworth faces a growing homelessness crisis. Last year 613 homeless households were in council temporary accommodation, that had risen to 791 at the start of this year and is predicted to reach 916 by the end of the year.

Local rents went up an average of 14 per cent last year. With pay freezes and housing benefit cuts, many local families can’t keep up.

All it takes is an illness or relationship break-up for families to get trapped in a downward spiral of debt. For too many local people this ends with homelessness.

The main cause of the crisis is eviction by private landlords. This led to 13pc of homeless cases in 2010 but had risen to 53pc by last year.

The homelessness crisis hits families hardest. In 2010, only five homelessness families qualified for four-bed homes, last year it was 68 families. This week’s Wandsworth Guardian has a report on local homeless families who will be moved outside the borough.

More and more homeless families have to be housed in temporary accommodation, in particular dingy Bed & Breakfasts.

I’ve seen how homelessness affects children in Putney, Battersea and Tooting. School runs that take two hours. Fights within families sharing one cramped room. The symptoms of depression. Continue reading

1905: US newspaper shock as tailor becomes Battersea Mayor


Text of an article about Battersea that I found in the archives of the ‘San Francisco Call’ newspaper


Battersea Selects Walter Kines

Knight of Needle,

to Preside Over Affairs


New Magistrate Has Made Clothes for Chamberlain as Well as for Edward

LONDON, Dec. 16. 1905 — Since Battersea elected John Burns, the washerwoman’s son and labor leader, to Parliament, triumphant democracy has done much to break down conventional barriers to political advancement in that once rather fashionable district, but its latest achievement eclipses all others.

It has chosen a working tailor, Walter Rines, as its Mayor and chief citizen for 1906. Mayor Rines claims to be the first knight of the needle who has ever attained to such high civic dignity In the municipal history of Great Britain, and his fellow craftsmen throughout the country; are proud of the distinction which his election confers upon them. Continue reading