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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #55

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis is seeing toothbrush moustache’s everywhere now ..]

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away…….well, the early 1990s at the bottom of the Old Kent Road, (don’t get too excited) I was shop steward and deputy housing convenor of Lewisham NALGO, representing the homelessness unit.

I was loosely aligned to Militant (never a paper seller but was enthusiastic in my pursuit of the famed “horizontal recruiting” method- one of the benefits of being a committed socialist) and a member of what was termed the ‘NALGO Broad-Left’, a coalition of all the left wing parties in the union. United in one cause, hating capitalism.

My enthusiasm began to unravel one Friday night when we were all travelling to Leeds University for the Broad Left AGM. Coaches were leaving from Lewisham Clock tower at 6pm. I innocently said “Oh great, are we travelling up with Dave and Nick from the Socialist Workers Party?” to be met with an astonished and angry “F**k that, they’re SWP not Militant. We’ve got our own coach”. I realised right there and then that ‘Broad Left’ was merely a name.

swpAs anticipated the AGM was pulled in a million different directions by the vested interests and political persuasions of the 200 or so people there, touting different party lines, without an individual viewpoint to be found. [Reminds me of the Life of Brian and the People’s Front of Judea … Ed]

The Newham Council affair

I was reminded of Leeds when reading this week, the varying opinions on Newham council’s attempt to export their benefit tenants to Stoke. If you follow housing stories as I do you can’t have failed to miss this one.

The Guardian Housing network ran a few related stories which raised ire from those in support of Newham, those in support of councils generally, those who loathe Newham and councils generally, those who hate benefits, those who hate people on benefits, those who, through forum dialogue began to hate each other.

“why are they (the left) such outrageous hypocrites?”…….Quality Haberdasher
“this is yet another Guardian dog-whistle for the faithful who do not read past the headlines”………French Poodles
Nothing about free-speech hating hordes there. Have you mixed me up with someone else?……….Elfwyn
And on it rolls

I didn’t post any responses on the articles because I was a bit overwhelmed by the vitriol and zealousness of the views. I couldn’t bear to say something and have to defend myself or change my phone number, grow a beard and move to………well, Stoke.

The story so far

Briefly, for those who missed it, Newham, council leader, Sir Robin Wales known to all Newham staff as ‘Rockin Robin’,  (Yes Sir Robin, tis true), wrote a letter to a Housing Association in Stoke to see if they would take on people referred by them who couldn’t afford to rent in Newham.

Polly Curtis’s article “Will the housing benefit cap cause social cleansing of London?”  drew the biggest response, 326 at the time of writing and Wednesday’s follow up written by Liam Kelly looked set to provoke the same level of debate

It was the 326 viewpoints that reminded me of being at the NALGO Broad Left AGM. What surprised me was that this practice was a surprise to everyone else!!!!!!!

Everyones doing it …

Newham weren’t the first to do this, not by a long way. Anyone working in councils could have told you about the desperate demand for accommodation in London, rubbing up against stratospherically high rents and housing benefit caps.

Croydon have been talking about moving people to Hull for quite some time and on Wednesday in 24 Dash, Waltham Forest council in North London admitted they had been sending people to Luton and Margate. Its becoming like an 12 step programme meeting; “Hello my name is Westminster and I’m a benefit claimant exporter”

My mate Teena Vallerine, writing in response to an article on this on Property 118 put her finger firmly on the problem when she said

“Radical and, sometimes, unpalatable solutions will be the only option left to some councils dealing with immediate issues”

We are living in a peculiar time

I’m not an economist; I only see how our government’s response to the global recession affects housing. It is meaning that swathes of people are having to be farmed out around the country. Moved from their roots, friends and families because they can’t afford to live where they grew up.

And as Teena also pointed out it isnt just people on benefits who are affected by affordability and housing shortage – its everyone who doesn’t earn enough to have the choice.

PRS rents aren’t solely to blame. Although some London landlords are just blatantly profiteering, most are themselves part of a broader picture.

Pity the landlords …

The landlords charging those ridiculously high rents are often just trying to survive in an unforgiving economy, rapacious mortgage lenders hovering on the periphery and ready to pounce on minor arrears to cover their own backs.

In my job I have to protect tenants from aggressive landlords and landlords from aggressive banks. I save homes, no matter whose they are, so I see both sides of the coin.

The PRS is a complex and interconnected network of interests and processes. It doesn’t behove or help us to fall back into simplistic lines of landlord bad – tenant good, council bad – whistle-blower good.

We are living in a time of madness and maybe damage limitation is as good as its going to get for now.

J’Accuse

In my various postings on the Newham conundrum I fell into mentioning Lebensraum at one point and received a rebuke on Twitter from David Feiven who said “I’m invoking Godwins Law”. I had never heard of this and went straight to Wikipedia where I found;

“Godwin observed that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis”.

I responded by accusing him of being a ‘Nazi swine’ (he hasn’t tweeted back) and the very next day found another online mate, the respected landlord Mary Latham saying

“Perhaps this has been done in memory of Adolph Hitler 20 April 1889 – 30th April 1945?”

So I was able to return David’s favour and invoke Godwins law at her.

Maybe this Godwin fella has a point. Much of the debate on the Guardian articles was about the use of the term ‘Social Cleansing’.  Some, like Teena feeling it was a wholly inappropriate description to equate that loaded phrase linked to mass murder with mere economic problems. It is certainly a clumsy and inflammatory set of words.

I have been reviewing my opinions in the light of these valid comments, including those from David Feiven but have you noticed how David Cameron looks suspiciously like Adolf Eichmann? And the weird close resemblance of Eric Pickles to Hermann Goering?

Godwin’s Law? Maybe not simply a linguistic phenomenon after all

Ben Reeve Lewis

Follow Ben on twitterBen’s runs  Home Saving Expert, where he shares his secrets on defending people’s homes from mortgage repossession Visit his blog and get some help and advice on mortgage difficulties,  catch up with him on Twitter and check out his free report “An Encouraging note on Dealing with your Mortgage Lender” and have it sent right to your inbox.

SWP membership badge pic by dannybirchall

 



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7 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #55

  1. Bring back rent controls. It’s funny that the massive press campaign/attack on claimants by the DWP never mentions that housing benefit goes to landlords in the private sector. you’d think that tenants were rolling around tenners, not existing in penury in an overpriced hovel.

  2. On your point Penny the Guardian today have run an interesting interview with a landlord where he condemns government over HB caps
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/apr/24/london-landlords-housing-benefit-cap

    Also Inside Housing report on councils across London, who are also having to do it http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/tenancies/councils-plan-to-move-tenants-out-of-london/6521606.article

    This has been going on for years, I am amazed it has suddenly garnered so much attention

  3. Have I told you about interviewing the late, great Sheila McKechnie of Shelter, who said there would ‘bantustans of poverty.’ That was decades ago. You’re right Ben: it’s not new. But we are supposed to live in more enlightened times. Aren’t we?

  4. I can remember the GLC (yes that long ago) moving people out of London to Chatham, Kent. So nothing new …

  5. Yeah its a weird one isnt it? Why are so many poeple suddenly gettin airated about something that has been common practice for years?

    All these councils, like Waltham Forest, Ealing, Westminster, putting their hands up like its a new found disease.

    I notice a survey which publicised different council’s intentions. Who were looking to farm out and who werent. I have to say I know 2 of the councils who said they wouldnt countenance it who are routinely dumping people in other boroughs in London.

    As Martin Sheen’s Cpt Willard says in Apocolypse Now, “Sometimes you need a hot air balloon to stay above the BS”

  6. I think the difference with Newham is that all the others were at lease seen as being optional with incentives for someone to move, rather than just telling the mother she will be taken of the waiting list if she does not move.

  7. Not under the Localism Act Ian which removed the qualifying offer, its not optional anymore,it will be up to each local authority to decide if they will do it. Many councils will say they dont have a policy for it but there is also the notion of a case by casee basis.

    I’m hanging on for my council, Southwark, to announce plans to transport it’s homeless applicants to the Seychelles and then I’m handing the keys back haha




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About the post author:

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben is an enforcement officer for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes for the Guardian & occasionally pops up wittering away on TV. He also runs Easy Law Training with Tessa & Graeme. Occasionally he sleeps. Find him on Google, and Journalisted. Any opinions expressed are Ben's personal views & don't reflect those of any organisations he may refer to.



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