Housing crisis: Move along, get along, go! Move! Shift!

In the shadow of the Olympic dream in the London Borough of Newham, the nightmare of austerity and the housing crisis continue. The Leader of Newham Council which has 20,000 people on its housing waiting list, faced with massive cuts to Local Housing Allowance (a cap of £250 for a two-bed flat), wrote to a housing association in Stoke-on-Trent to ask if they could accommodate 500 families from Newham. As the Olympic bandwagon moves in, local people are forced out. Chances are they won’t be able to afford tickets for the greatest show on earth either. On top of bad housing conditions, overcrowding and extortionate rents, private tenants on Housing Benefit (HB) now face transfer, which for Newham tenants would mean 160 miles away from friends, family, school, services and potential jobs. BARNABY MITCHEL reports.

According to the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), 1,500 families in Newham will be immediately affected by the HB cuts and people who were already struggling to make ends meet have been informed by letter of how big the shortfall in their HB is and how much more rent they will have to pay or face eviction. Westminster Council predicts that 2,000 people will not be able to afford their new rent and as one housing officer stated, ‘Westminster has accepted that there will be a 20% reduction of the school population across the borough as a result of these changes. It is a drastic change. We have been visiting schools and nurseries to get that message out. The changes are huge, they are going to have a huge impact.’ The CIH has predicted the creation of ‘benefit ghettoes’ in areas outside London.

With cuts in the number of homes available for people in receipt of HB and rents on the rise, several other inner London councils are also trying to force the poor out.  A spokesman for Kensington and Chelsea Council told a journalist: ‘Many will have to make the choice as to whether to move if they cannot find suitable affordable accommodation in London.’ The ‘choice’ is between being homeless and destitute, or being moved miles from where you live. Many people will ‘choose’ to stay and be forced to cut back on food, heating and clothing. This policy will mean children growing up in overcrowded conditions, families splitting up in order to get a roof over their heads, and more families and children being evicted from their homes.

A Guardian journalist visited Central London County Court in April to witness people receiving eviction orders due to the cap in Housing Benefit. She quoted a Marylebone landlord who was at court to evict a woman and three children from their home for rent arrears, and who was quite blunt;  he observed that the tenants he was in the process of evicting were ‘exclusively non-white’ and that what he was involved in was effectively ethnic cleansing. ‘Ethnic cleansing’ is a term people associate with war and occupation, but if it is mainly black and Asian families being forced out of their home simply because they are poor, the term is quite accurate, and this policy is part of a silent war on the working class. We reported previously in FRFI about how black and minority ethnic groups face disproportionate levels of homelessness and substandard housing (see FRFI 184, ‘Housing crisis hits minority ethnic families hardest’ April/May 2005 http://tinyurl.com/c6rq5oz and FRFI 210 ‘Housing: Labour sets racist agenda’ August/September 2009 http:// tinyurl.com/bvf5vru). This war is set to intensify with the government planning an overall benefit cap of £500, which will hit large families very hard.

When the ConDem coalition introduced the HB cap they tried to convince people that it would reduce rents. However in reality landlords will just move HB claimants out and find new tenants who can pay. Politicians like Iain Duncan Smith, who have claimed that there are plenty of homes that are affordable despite the cap, really haven’t got a clue about the reality of spiralling rents combined with stagnant wages, inflation and massive rises in the cost of living for low-paid and unemployed people. In Westminster a council press officer stated: ‘To live in Westminster is a privilege, not a right, because so many people want to live here.’ Major General Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, is seventh on the Sunday Times Rich List with £7.35 billion, he is the richest property developer in the UK and one of the country’s largest landowners. He doesn’t live in Westminster, he owns it. He lives in a 10,872 acre estate called Eaton Hall in Cheshire.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012