Consequences of a distilled austerity agenda

It’s been a while and I feel like having a long, and most probably incoherent rant. So please forgive me if I am a little rusty on the edges.

Division and despair based on fear, or solidarity and hope based on inspiration? I know what I would chose any day of the week.

However when I knock on doors to ask my constituents to tell me if I could help with any issues they might have, one of the uncomfortable conversations is around the narrative of “immigrants stealing our jobs”. And I am increasingly hearing this more often from first and second generation immigrants. The perception is that all an “immigrant” has to do is to have babies and they will jump the queue for housing, for benefits, or even for free preferential treatment on the NHS.

I try to explain, that the real issue here is our system which in the main is based on greed, and the exploitation of the hard working low earners. That the playing field is not level. That successive governments have not built enough council housing, or enacted planning policies which promotes any kind of genuinely affordable housing nowhere near sufficient numbers, especially in more affluent parts of our major cities (and I do use the word ‘affluent’ advisedly). That until recently and more so now, we have encouraged housing associations to dominate the social housing sector for new ‘affordable’ homes, where they are now being forced to impose market rents and increasingly transforming their structures as private for profit landlords. That lack of regulation of the banks and the housing market has stoked the culture of greed where some prefer to confuse this with “aspiration” and have pretended nothing is wrong. The same ongoing broken housing policies which promotes boom and bust, leaves victims trapped in negative equity and debt in its wake, and makes the obscenely rich even richer while trapping low earners in perpetual poverty. Well, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Coming back to immigration, giving in to the ‘stronger boarders and razor wire’ argument is to fall victim to the politics of fear propagated by the extreme right.

There is an alternative. We need to keep hope alive.

Labour needs to do more to challenge this narrative from the extreme right. Immigration has always benefited our great nation. It is because of immigration that we continue to have a healthcare system which is the envy of the world, and would seriously be missed if we fell ill when stuck abroad for instance. It is because of immigration that the infrastructure of our nation is built on strong foundations. It is because of immigration that we have a wonderfully diverse community and rich cultures all contributing to our society in many different and wonderful ways. We need to invest in the future generation by building more. More homes, more schools, we need to manufacture more goods and compete on quality and innovation in the global market; we need to invest in more technology and science industries. We need to rebalance the playing field where exploitation of the low earner has no room in our century. We need to rebalance the tax system where the likes of Google and Starbucks cannot get away with paying just 3% tax on a voluntary basis when SMEs are chased and investigated relentlessly by the taxman. We need to bust the lies repeated over and over, that tax payers subsidise council tenants, we need to learn from the likes of Germany, where home ownership is not an obsession, where renting and rent regulation is not a dirty concept, where banks have devolved lending based on local relationships instead of centralising this relationship and securing lending on property, thus perpetuating the vicious race to the bottom.

We all live on the same planet, we share its beauty and its resources. The consequences of destroying hope through a distilled austerity agenda by this Tory Government will leave a vacuum in which only division can thrive. Those who are engaged in promoting fear against hope to further their political ideologies are sewing the seeds of hate and division. And that is the beginnings of a nation of extremes!

That is why I chose hope, any day of the week. I calibrate my thought process by it almost on a daily basis and use it to inspire me. It is what this great nation has been built on; collaboration, cooperation, tolerance, empathy; and I know of no stronger foundation than one which is based on hope and solidarity.

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Satback for renewable energy with lower ambitions from Cameron Government

I marvel at the beauty of our blue planet viewed from space, so fragile, yet so resilient, somehow capable of withstanding whatever humanity keeps throwing at it.

With the November UN conference on Climate Change in Paris looming, my disappointment seems so insignificant by comparison, at recent Government announcements cutting support for renewable energy and lowering its ambition on household insulation targets. There is a general consensus that this Government’s rhetoric, promising a strong position on climate change at Paris, is being undermined by policies at home. The policy retreat also goes against their own advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, who reported to Parliament in June to express concern about the lack of direction in this area.

Camden remains committed to cutting carbon emissions and reducing household energy bills through energy efficiency and low carbon energy generation. We want to lead by example on this agenda.

Following recent Government announcements in cuts to both local government budgets and renewable energy subsidies, the key challenge we face is how to develop, and support the community to develop projects whose financial viability does not depend on subsidy, but which also bring benefits to residents across Camden.

So far we’ve made some great progress:

1. We are developing the first Council led low carbon energy network in Somers Town, which will supply environmentally friendly heat to around 350 homes from September and from 2016/17 one megawatt of low carbon electricity to the Francis Crick Institute. We’re also looking at how the network can expand to heat new schools, homes and a community facility planned for the area.

2. We have submitted a planning application to install 69 solar panels on the Konstam Children’s Centre in Highgate and have at least two other school projects in the pipeline. The project is funded from the Council’s Schools’ Sustainability budget and will reduce the running costs for the school, while further cutting emissions and running costs from our own estate and operations (we have reduced our own CO2 emissions by 18.7% since 2010 and are targeting a 27% cut by 2017).

3. We held a hugely successful Community Energy event earlier this year that was attended by over 100 residents and businesses. The event empowered residents to take forward their own renewable energy projects and supported the development of the community energy group Power Up North London and a new on-line platform for community energy projects in the borough.

4. We also want to reduce the amount of energy we need, so have driven forward a successful insulation programme across the Council’s own housing. The latest projects show how external wall insulation can be applied without harming the character and appearance of Camden’s built environment. The new look Denton on Prince of Wales Road is a great example of this.

Looking ahead, I am interested to see whether battery storage could change the economics of renewables and bring greater benefits to households. Storage will allow solar energy generated in the day to be used in the evening when residents need it most. I am pleased to say that we’ve been shortlisted for funding for a pilot project that would see 40 council homes benefit from this emerging technology. I want to see if major asset owners in Camden can drive forward their own renewable energy projects. For example, could the perfectly formed roof of the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras be used to host a community owned solar array?

I would like to hear from residents and businesses who want to join this energy revolution.

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Why Jeremy Corbyn?

“I did not sign up to become a Labour councillor to implement Tory cuts”. I am supporting Jeremy Corbyn because this is the statement I am hoping never to make under a Labour Government lead by him. Camden Council, and other Labour councils like Camden, despite having the highest proportion of deprivation, are the ones being the subject of the deepest Tory cuts in the country. As a Labour councillor I am left in the invidious position of having to accept a position of deciding where the axe should fall. And other candidates have not given me the confidence that this will change under a government lead by them.

At the beginning of this contest I was very disillusioned because I thought it was wrong to be preoccupied with a leadership contest before allowing an opportunity for the Labour Party to press the reset button in order to rediscover its own identity first. To me, none of the early hopefuls were offering that, neither were they offering an opportunity to debate an alternative – the same austerity light policies in varying degrees which the electorate rejected only three months ago coming from a Labour Party.

Until very recently I must admit, I also was swept up by the idea that Labour had to be a Party of governance in order to be able to effect change and that Jeremy was not the leader who could achieve this for us. I would not wish to give the impression that I am a loony lefty who believes in a utopian ideology of a gone by era in which the state must control and own everything in sight, and that no matter how inefficient and wasteful, taxpayers should be burdened with paying for it. But Jeremy is not suggesting wholesale nationalisation, instead he talks of ownership of the railways and energy companies by the people – an ideal which most soft Tory voters agree with in those crucial marginal seats which we agree we should be targeting. He also believes the deficit must be eliminated and agrees that austerity is only one of many tools which governments can use in order to eliminate the deficit. The issue though is that I, like Jeremy, believe austerity is also very much a blunt tool, the benefits of which works only for the few and where the devastating consequences are felt by the many.

Without a doubt, I aspire to be in a Party of government, and not in perpetual opposition. I understand and accept that to be in government one needs to make sacrifices and compromises. However, where does one draw the line; thus far but no further?! When do we say this is what differentiates us from the rest. The perception is that Labour has lost its identity. I am not entirely a subscriber of this notion though because it must be recognised that in government we had an opportunity and used it to put many of our core beliefs into practice, and without doubt, the many benefited. However lately there appears to be a noxious whiff in the air that perhaps we could raise the bar even further. In a bid to appeal to “soft” Tory voters sacrifices we ought to be making should appeal to them in order to be in government, and that turns my stomach inside out. One such sacrifice is the notion that it is okay to subscribe to 50% “affordable” housing provision, even when that affordable element peddles a Tory policy of 80% market rents making it impossible to even meet our own equality aspirations and objectives here in Camden, which fans the Tory flames of social cleansing in our inner cities. In Camden this ratio becomes even more watered down, because rightly we need to pay for new schools and repair the rest, so we have no option but to sacrifice affordable housing even more to pay for this. In aspiring to be a Party of government we should be talking about a massive building programme of genuinely affordable council housing for all who need and want one by lifting the many obstacles councils are facing. It is only this which will balance the broken housing market, this, and reasonable caps on the private rental market. And Jeremy is the only candidate talking about this as if he believes in it.

I know many Labour MPs who chose to abstain in the recent Welfare Bill debacle believe abstaining was one step too far, but they went ahead anyway. Under Jeremy’s leadership this would not have happened, not because Labour agrees with the ‘something for nothing’ notion, but because the Bill had a litany of elements which are against the core principles of what the Party stands for. Not voting against this meant as a Party we had no better alternative to offer, the choice become blurred, once again our message confused!

I also completely relate to what Jeremy says when he talks about refugees as desperate people in need of our compassion. One has to experience persecution to understand it. One has to experience fear of death in the hands of brutal regimes in order to fully understand the pain etched in the faces of desperate fathers and mothers whose exhausted children desperately hold on to them. It is shameful that Turkey with a GDP of one quarter the size of that of UKs, has registered 1.8 million Syrian refugees, and we appear to be in hysterics about 7,395 people applying for asylum in the UK in the same period who are fleeing from persecution and wars. The race in recent months to keep up with the UKIP rhetoric has meant that our message has been blurred here also.

Finally about nuclear disarmament. By having Trident, are we really preventing the total annihilation of the human race or are we jeopardising it? Is it a deterrent or a risky strategy? In a scenario where nuclear warheads pass each other in the skies above us on their way to their preselected targets, who is the real enemy other than war itself by which time humanity would have lost?

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“A wakeup call for our political leaders”

A Housing legacy we are storing up for our children’s generation. This is what we could be handing over by 2040:

  • Private rents up by 90 per cent
  • Poverty rates among private renters as high as 53 per cent
  • Social renting will house just one in ten, compared to one in seven today
  • If social rents continue to rise towards market rates, the cost of Housing Benefit could rise by 125% – adding £20 billion to the current bill

http://www.jrf.org.uk/media-centre/soaring-rent-nearly-6million-private-renters-poverty-2040-6591?utm_content=buffer86069&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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The £10bn Housing Experiment! Value for “tax payers” money?

The Help to Buy scheme was launched by this government to improve access to mortgage finance, increasing housing supply and contributing to economic growth.

Nine months into the scheme, *13,000 homes were purchased under the scheme and this is obviously to be welcomed. However the scheme has come under heavy criticism saying that the government “it did not carry out any assessment of alternative, potentially more effective options before going ahead with the Scheme – a violation of Treasury guidelines”

The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts went on to say “this means it [the government] has committed to spending up to £10 billion on supporting Help to Buy without establishing whether it represents the most effective way of using taxpayers’ money to achieve its objectives”.

Being a campaigner for more council housing, this is where you would naturally expect me to stick my two pennies worth! Councils (such as Camden) are crying out for extra funding to relieve housing pressures on overcrowding and homelessness. Spending £10 billion in building more council homes on land owned by councils could have increased the housing supply by up to 50,000, flooding the market with genuinely affordable council homes at social rents. This in turn would have had the same objectives of reducing pressure on the private housing sector helping to drive down runaway private rents and mortgages in high demand areas, at the same time addressing homelessness and overcrowding issues faced by thousands of our families.

One can only hope that housing strategists advising the next Labour Government can learn from these Tory experiments, which at best have been frivolous with tax payers moneys for little gain in achieving their objectives.

*Source: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news/help-to-buy-substantive/

 

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The six housing policy priorities for the next Labour Government

  1. Adopt a coherent communications strategy to remove the stigma from council housing. Council homes should be a right not a privilege, for anyone who wants and needs one.
  2. A return to a policy of benefits to bricks.
  3. Stop this Tory Government’s rent controls of 80% market rents imposed on social housing tenants. Instead turn this on its head by adopting a policy where a multiple, say 250% of social housing rents is used as a cap on private rents, to stabilise runaway private rents in high demand areas (current private rent multiples are over 450% in places like Camden).
  4. Allow local authorities to borrow prudently against their own housing asset values to build more council homes.
  5. Allow local authorities to retain Right to Buy receipts to reinvest in building more council homes.
  6. Give local authorities the freedom to set up their own Housing Associations which they would own, if it would help facilitate the above.

This will:

  • help rebalance the housing market
  • stabilise runaway private rents
  • divert up to £10bn of housing benefit money into building council homes instead
  • address the overcrowding and homelessness crisis in places like Camden 
  • make available more homes which are genuinely affordable at social rents
  • create truly harmonious and cohesive communities which are stable and productive to the local economy
  • help stimulate the economic recovery and bolster a genuine growth led by the building sector without risking a housing buble bust

 

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What the Tories don’t want you to know

Children whose parents queue outside food banks; housing association tenants willing to downsize – placed on 80% market rents without being informed; a cancer patient declared fit for work; a family of six told they must share a flat with one bedroom; a carer told the room she stores medical equipment in for her disabled husband is spare so she must pay the bedroom tax; multiple punitive Job Centre Plus sanctions imposed on jobseekers which are baseless or have genuine explanations; couple who worked all their lives made redundant and evicted, have to uproot and move out of London in the middle of their children’s exams because the council can only find temporary accommodation there; desperate people turning to legalised loan sharks to pay the heating bill. These are just a few examples of the types of cases I see on a weekly basis. But what really shocked me today was a photo posted on Twitter. It showed anti-homeless spikes installed on the floor by a firm to prevent homeless people sleeping in front of their premises.

On the other hand we have rich people being given generous tax breaks; the City is being protected from a transaction tax of 0.05%, while our NHS is being raped. And the so-called economic recovery is based on a fiscal policy of quantitative easing – a house of cards if you like. In all cases, without an exception, whichever country has resorted to similar fiscal policies have gone bankrupt, causing canyons between rich and poor, with dire consequences for those countries and their people.

This is the legacy of this Tory Government (propped by the Lib Dems) being bestowed upon the people of this nation. This is what the Tories don’t want you to know. This is why in 2015 there will be a Labour landslide victory.

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Please watch

A five minute presentation on how we can save billions from the Housing Benefit Bill without hurting a single soul!

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Judge us on our Track Record

In my first four year term as a Labour councillor I am proud of my small contribution to our achievements here in Camden despite the financial drought from central Government.

We continue to invest millions in our school buildings after this government has reneged on its responsibility. We are also providing 25 hours free child care per week for all three and four year olds enabling parents to go to work. For the first time in a generation we have embarked on a sustained six year upgrade plan of our council housing stock where we are investing over £400 million, and we are also now building over 2000 new council homes.

All this is no thanks to this Tory Government who has introduced the Bedroom Tax and 80% market rents for social tenants and had the cheek to call it “affordable”. And their so-called successful track record on the economy is nothing but smokes and mirrors. They said they would pay off the debt, they added more debt in four years than Labour did in the last thirty years. They said they would wipe out the deficit over the course of this parliament, they are reducing it only by half. As for growth, this is the worst so-called economic recovery, not since Thatcher’s Government, not since the great depression of the 30s, but this has been the longest so-called recovery since the Victorian age, the longest fall in living standards since the 1870s. And according to latest figures, if you are not privileged enough to be on bonuses, then your earnings are still going down. This recovery is being driven by quantitative easing which basically means a government resorting to printing money, which is creating today’s asset boom and housing bubble, which in turn is enabling the rich to get richer, while the hard working majority is paying more and more for less food on the table, less fuel for heating their homes, and rents are spiralling out of control in a broken housing market.

What we need is real investment in our manufacturing industry, and in council house building so that we can house the hard working people of this great nation in genuinely affordable decent homes as well as those who are “in need” and stop causing resentment and divisions. We need to bring back some sort of common sense normality to private housing rents in places like London, addressing poor quality housing, where unscrupulous estate agents and greedy landlords are sucking the life out of ordinary hard working people. We must acknowledge that affordable private rents could save tax payers billions in Housing Benefit.

On Thursday 22nd May 2014 we have returned a stunning Labour victory for Camden, so  we can continue to protect hard working people, as well as our disabled and vulnerable residents from a Tory Government. And we need a Labour Government in 2015 so that we can stop printing money out of thin air and get Britain working again in secure jobs with a living wage.

 

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We need to regulate private rents instead of attacking strivers in social housing!

It is not often I agree with this Tory led Government. The housing benefit bill is clearly out of control and must be brought down. Speaking at prime minister’s questions on 30 January 2013, David Cameron said “we are now spending as a country £23bn on housing benefit and we have to get that budget under control.” What I disagree with is his chosen solution to this problem.

The Government says the under-occupation penalty – aka the bedroom tax, will help contain expenditure on housing benefit, make better use of current social housing stock, encourage benefits claimants to find work and free up more social housing properties.

If we delve deeper in to this immoral poll tax, it is apparent that the “solution” targets the vulnerable. It is driven by an ideological scrounger mentality and tars all housing benefit claimants in social housing with the same brush, implying it will resolve the housing benefit crisis overnight.

Around 660,000 will be subject to the penalty, which represents around 20% of social housing tenants. In parts of the north of England as many as 40% of social housing tenants will be affected.

Each of the following will be assumed to need no more than one bedroom:

  • An adult couple
  • Other adults aged 16 or over
  • Two children of the same sex aged under 16
  • Two children aged under 10 regardless of gender
  • Any other child under sixteen
  • A non-resident carer who occasionally stays the night

One spare room will result in a 14% reduction in your benefit. Two or more spare rooms will see a 25% cent reduction in your benefit. In Camden that equates to £15 and £27 per week on average respectively.

According to the Government’s own figures the best case scenario is that this will bring the housing benefit bill down from £23bn to somewhere between £22.48bn and £22.12bn. This in my humble opinion is woefully inadequate if one takes into consideration the misery it will cause to hundreds of thousands of people.

The fact of the matter is that the giant portion of housing benefit ends up lining the pockets of landlords with rich buy-to-let portfolios. The latest census data shows that private rentals in inner London have grown close to 400,000. If private landlords in inner London alone were persuaded to reduce their rents by the same average percentage of say 20%, the housing benefit bill would be reduced to £21.14bn which is a cool extra billion in savings on housing benefit every year. This saving would increase to £1.9bn if all private landlords in Greater London participated, and £4.9bn if this was extended to landlords in England and Wales.

Instead this Tory led Government chooses to reduce housing benefit paid to foster parents even if their spare bedroom is occupied by their foster children. That’s in preference of not rocking the boat for private landlords. Same old Tories!

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