The truth about housing: These cuts are unfair – but costs have got out of control

Speech on Government Welfare Reforms to Wandsworth Council, 5 December 2012

Thank you Mr Mayor, this motion relates to a series of government measures that affect people who need support to afford to live in Wandsworth.

So the debate is about the sort of place we want to live.

We could start with the views of two residents – neither one a known Socialist: the Director of Housing and the Director of Finance.

In paper 12-689 they conclude these measures will affect thousands of residents and will lead to an increase in arrears, evictions and homelessness, and the reforms will cost the council more than £7m a year in unpaid rent.

So it’s an important debate – and I hope a reasoned one. Residents deserve more than ‘no cuts at all’ versus ‘something must be done’.

So while I think this policy is badly intentioned and will have awful consequences, I’m happy to begin with three straight statements:

Housing Benefit has got out of control; I agree with the principle of a benefit cap; and I think there is too much fraud in the current system.

To take these in turn:

1. Housing Benefit is out of control

It is sinful that £20bn a year is paid to landlords, money that could be much better spent building homes.

Remember that Housing Benefit itself was a short-term sticking plaster for lack of affordable home-building under governments of both parties.

So now we have ripped off that sticking plaster. More than 500 3- and 4-bedroom houses are left exposed. The landlords of these properties, not being charities, will over time most likely return them to market rents or sell up. This will force people from our community, and crucially dozens of family-sized properties will be taken out of the affordable stock forever.

So what steps has the council taken to negotiate with these landlords? Are we reaching out to residents, or simply waiting for them to come to us?

2. The benefits cap

I don’t think one family should consistently live a better life on benefits than the neighbouring family that works every hour God sends.

But any cap set nationally needs a serious London weighting.

A search in Battersea for 2-bed flats under the new Housing Benefit cap of £290 a week today turned up no properties.

The Universal Credit cap of £500 a week for a family including housing costs is reasonable in Plymouth, but not Putney.

The most obvious impact of caps at these levels are to exclude low-income families from certain parts of London. Why not set the caps at Wandsworth averages?

3. There is too much fraud in the system

There is, I’m co-operating with the Housing dept on a case at present.

But this paper contained no anti-fraud measures at all. This is a policy that targets legitimately claimed benefits – in the depths of the recession.

These reforms will end the situation where the children who live in a Housing Association home in my road can grow up chatting to the doctor and the accountants who live in the neighbouring properties.

We want to make social housing truly something people aspire to, not qualify for, but these reforms will only intensify poverty on our estates.

Government should move housing subsidy from landlords towards bricks and mortar and we should focus relentlessly on housing delivery and training and job opportunities for local people. A housing stimulus is a good way out of recession, and a good job is the only way out of poverty.

However you vote tonight, I would encourage all members to investigate these issues in their own wards. There are people out there who will need your support and protection. Thank you.

9 things your local Labour Party did for you this year

Here is what your local councillors, Tony Belton, Wendy Speck and I, have achieved in 2012 with the help of volunteers and local residents:

1 Helped to save York Gardens Library, again

Harriet Harman MP celebrates with local mums in York Gardens Library

Harriet Harman MP celebrates with local mums in York Gardens Library

Local Labour councillors are proud to have led the community campaign that saved York Gardens Library last year. But to keep the library open we now need to:

  • Raise £70,000 in room hire each year – please book a room if you have a birthday party or special occasion
  • Make sure local children use the computers, the free homework club and GCSE Success tutoring

I was very impressed on recent visits to the library to see dozens of children from the local estates benefit from the free Maths and English tutoring supplied by GCSE Success. One local mother I invited to the House of Commons had a chance to explain how these volunteer tutors had given her daughter the chance to following her dream of becoming a lawyer.

Visit www.saveyorkgardens.com for more information.

Unfortunately, this year we failed to stop York Gardens Adventure Playground being demolished, having previously stopped Wandsworth charging children £2.50 to use adventure playgrounds.

IN 2013 WE WILL work with parents and the council to ensure a top-class new playground for York Gardens is in place for the spring.

2 Worked hard on the £60m estate regeneration for Winstanley and York Road

Tony Belton, Wendy Speck and Simon Hogg on the Winstanley Estate

Councillors Tony Belton, Wendy Speck and Simon Hogg on the Winstanley Estate

The Kinghan report into last summer’s riots concluded that the Winstanley Estate is in the worst 1 per cent of places in the country to grow up as a child. We are pleased that Wandsworth has agreed to make a huge investment to regenerate the York Road and Winstanley Estates. We stood for election in 2010 on a promise to improve our estates and we will stand again in 2014 on the same promise. Labour will ensure residents’ interests are put first in the regeneration, meaning:

  • Full consultation with the community
  • Construction jobs for local people
  • All social housing to be replaced, with residents guaranteed a chance to return
  • Estates should be given mix of housing types and tenures
  • No overall loss of play space or parks

IN 2013 WE WILL continue this work and link it to the £1m Big Lottery Funding that will help renew our community as well as the buildings we live in.

3 Supported Battersea’s community gardens

'Dig for the Dodd' at the community garden

‘Dig for the Dodd’ at the Doddington Estate roof garden

Labour councillors have supported the growth of community gardens all over Battersea this year: from securing £5,000 in funding for the Doddington Estate Roof Garden, to helping in the Falcon Estate garden and working to set up a Kambala Estate community garden. More information at Facebook.com/doddingtongarden.
HeatherGardens

IN 2013 WE WILL dig deep to help the brand new Kambala garden come into bloom. Contact green-fingered councillor Wendy Speck (wspeck@wandsworth.gov.uk) to get involved.

4 Led the fight to save our local police stations

Earlier this year, Battersea Labour Party used a freedom of information request to uncover the disturbing fact that Lavender Hill Police station has “in principle approval for disposal in 2012/13”. Not only did Tory councillors refuse to join the campaign to save the police station, they accused us of ‘scaremongering’ (see video above).

By December, the Evening Standard reported that almost half of London’s police stations were to close to the public. Wandsworth’s top policeman recently predicted: “The front counters at Battersea, Tooting and Putney High Street [police stations] would close”.

Tony, Wendy and I know what a crucial role Lavender Hill Police station played in finally ending the riots at Clapham Junction last year and we will do everything we can to keep it open.

IN 2013 WE WILL ask every Wandsworth councillor to choose between supporting the police station cuts and supporting community campaigns to save our police stations.

5 Backed local businesses and job-seekers

Cllr Simon Hogg (left) and Levi Roots at the Big Local consultation

Councillor Simon Hogg (left) with local businessman Levi Roots at the Big Local consultation, which attracted 400 local residents to discuss the future of Latchmere

2012 was a very tough year to run a business in Battersea – and unemployment continued to rise. We stood up for local businesses that were flooded and facing high business rates and worked to help stallholders set up in markets and employ local youths.

We strongly supported Wandsworth’s new jobs brokerage scheme that will match local candidates to the job opportunities coming up in Nine Elms. We also backed the W.O.W  Enterprise Club which helps lone parents set up their own businesses.

NesetSabirLocal businessman Neset Sabir (left): “Councillor Simon Hogg helped me when my basement flooded and when my mopeds were stolen. I trust him.”
 
IN 2013 WE WILL continue to boost local entrepreneurs and help job seekers get the skills they need

6 Action on parking: Made bailiffs return a car to Clark Lawrence Court that had been wrongly towed away…

…secured the release of a clamped vehicle by challenging the council’s contractor and supported a council crack-down on Blue Badge fraud that has caught 441 cheats.

IN 2013 WE WILL support a freeze in the cost of a residents’ parking permit, as we did in 2012

7 Action on housing: Got the council to repair entryphones at Pennethorne House and Culvert Road, the pavement at Ashley Crescent, the map at McDermott Close…

Wendy Speck on a visit to discuss local issues on the Kambala Estate

Councillor Wendy Speck on a visit to discuss local issues on the Kambala Estate

…a leak in Holcroft House, a broken door in Dungeness House, negotiated a payment extension for Inkster House residents who faced a 200 per cent increase in service charges. We also pushed the council to agree empty homes should from now on pay fair Council Tax and spoke out on the housing crisis facing young people facing high rents and mortgage deposits.

IN 2013 WE WILL help constituents made homeless by the housing benefit cap and prepare for the effects of the next round of housing benefit cuts.

8 Celebrated the Overground arriving at Clapham Junction

Martin Linton on Platform 2 at Clapham Junction: The long wait for an Overground train is over!

Martin Linton on Platform 2 at Clapham Junction: the long wait for an Overground train is over!

Thanks to tireless work by former Battersea MP Martin Linton, local people can now take the Overground Line from the new Platform 2 at Clapham Junction to Clapham High St (8 mins), Peckham (15 mins), Surrey Quays (24 mins), Whitechapel (33 mins).

The wonderful new line that opened in December links up to Canada Water (for Jubilee line services to Canary Wharf and Stratford), Clapham High Street (for Northern Line services to the City and the West End), Highbury & Islington (for Victoria Line and National Rail services) and Shoreditch High Street (for the City).

IN 2013 WE WILL continue to lobby for improvements to Clapham Junction, surely the worst-designed major station in Britain.

9 Opposed over-development

Model of the Nine Elms development, from Battersea Power Station up to Vauxhall

Model of the Nine Elms development, from Battersea Power Station up to Vauxhall

Too often Wandsworth council puts the interests of property developers over the interests of residents. Another legacy of Martin Linton’s time as Battersea MP was stopping the construction of 42-storey towers at Clapham Junction and the Ram Brewery site.

This year Tony, Wendy and I met architects, planners and members of the public to:

  • Discuss the public benefit of developments on the Prince’s Head pub site on Falcon Road, the Peabody Estate and the Travis Perkins site on Battersea Park Road.
  • Stop developers behaving antisocially during construction: we were recently appalled by reports that concrete was being laid at 3am on the Battersea Reach site, with the council’s full knowledge! This Christmas morning I was woken at 7am by construction work from another site.

And a few of the other issues we tackled in 2012…

Councillor Simon Hogg listens to ideas for improving the local area

Councillor Simon Hogg listens to ideas for improving the local area

…Arson attacks in Fairchild Close… Planned extension for Falcon Road Mosque… Council cutting lollipop ladies… Big Local Lottery funding… Bed Bugs in Penge House… New windows for Sporle Court… Gun crime in York Gardens, Falcon Road and Pennethorne Square… Need for more CCTV on Maysoule Road… Lack of teenagers’ facilities on Battersea Fields Estate… Discussion with former Health Secretary Andy Burnham about the future shape of the NHS… Public appeal for PlayStation equipment at the STORM youth club…

Will Martindale presents the PS3 games and controllers to STORM

Local Labour volunteer Will Martindale presents PlayStation3 games and controllers to STORM youth club: The computer equipment was donated by local families

How Wandsworth sets the country’s highest rents – and makes working families pay extra

Guest post: As part of a series on Wandsworth’s housing crisis, my colleague Councillor Peter Carpenter explains how Wandsworth sets the country’s highest council housing rents – and does it in a way that penalises tenants who go out to work.

(Earlier posts in the series explain how Wandsworth is ignoring the chance to build 4,000 affordable homes for local people and how the housing crisis hurts residents whether they own a home, are in social housing or rent privately)

Continue reading

VIDEO: The great Nine Elms swindle – How Wandsworth gave up 4,000 affordable homes

There is a housing crisis in Wandsworth. This affects young people looking for a place to rent, families who need an extra bedroom and anyone who hopes to buy a home in the borough (as I said in this speech to Wandsworth council last October).

The answer is to increase the supply of affordable homes – for sale and for rent. So why is Wandsworth council deliberately throwing away the chance of 4,000 new affordable homes for local people?

Continue reading

VIDEO: Wandsworth’s housing crisis – We’re all in this together

SPEECH TO WANDSWORTH COUNCIL: OCTOBER 2011
(Begins at 11mins 50secs in the video – full text below)

I would like to sketch out some of the personal effects of the housing crisis in Wandsworth today.

I hope to emphasise that whether you own a home, are in social housing or rent privately, we are all in this together – whatever our situation we can all feel anxious about the roof over our head. Continue reading