On Tuesday night I fell asleep with a heavy heart after hearing the news that the clearance at Dale Farm was likely to start the following morning. I hoped that, overnight, common sense would prevail and a forced eviction would not take place, but I awoke to the inevitable sight of riot police storming the camp at dawn.
For the residents of Dale Farm, and Gypsies and Travellers all over the world, their worst nightmare was finally coming true. “They’re breaking the law,” I hear many of you cry, “It’s green belt land.” And you are right: it is an illegal camp, and if we want to live in a civilised society we must all uphold the law, no matter what background or culture we come from.
But the law is not black and white, and these people have certainly been let down by the system. Legal wrangling aside, the reality is that hundreds of human beings are about to be dragged from their homes and forced on to the roads.
My overriding emotions are sadness and confusion. I’m writing this from a caravan on my father’s land: it is parked here legally, but the memories of countless evictions from my childhood are etched in my mind. When I look up I expect to see the men in Day-Glo coats walking towards me and I’m filled with a sense of dread. I know how the Irish Travellers at Dale Farm feel as their life crumbles around them and they have nowhere to go. Hopeless is the only word that can describe it.
Most people in the UK don’t want them at Dale Farm or anywhere else in the country. Over 90% of those who responded to a recent poll believe a forced eviction is the right outcome. I won’t use many of the sensationalist terms being thrown around by some of the activists and Travellers involved in the eviction, and I don’t think this is a case of ethnic cleansing; but do I know first-hand how unaccepted the nomadic lifestyle is today. It doesn’t matter how quiet, clean or law-abiding you are, if you live in a caravan you are scum in the eyes of most of the British population.
Gone are the days when the government actively tried to defuse the tension and hostility between settled and travelling people. Sites are not being created, and budgets given to councils to do so are being used for other “more pressing” issues. It is a case of: “Not on my patch.”
Basildon council leader Tony Ball pulled out of discussions with the Homes and Communities Agency – who offered land to rehouse the Dale Farm families within Essex and within a suitable distance to the children’s school. In my opinion that was because keeping them within his borough would lose votes, and votes seem to be more important than human welfare.
A peaceful solution was never going to be found because Ball apparently believes that Basildon already has more than its quota of Travellers. Swap the word Travellers with any other ethnic group and ask yourself if that is an acceptable position to take.
For the Dale Farm community the tragic reality remains: they have nowhere to go. As they exit the site they will be greeted by blocked-up tracks and barricaded lanes, parks with trenches dug around them, and car parks with a heavy security presence. They’ll end up in laybys, the children will have no chance of an education, and their quality of life will be appalling. But at least they won’t be in Basildon.
People all over the country cheer the enforcement officers on, relishing the scenes of distress and trauma. I ask: whatever happened to human compassion?
The first report in a series using official private rental market statistics to examine rent levels and affordability for average earners at local authority level.
- Private Rent Watch Report 1 (PDF 4.9 MB)
The private rented sector is experiencing unprecedented growth, and the cost and affordability of rents is a major concern for many tenants. Shelter are producing a series of reports examining the market, using official statistics published by the Valuations Office Agency for the first time in September 2011. Report one focuses on average rent levels across England, and the affordability of those rents for full-time earners (an amount which is comparable to average total household income for private renters). Further reports will examine affordability for Local Housing Allowance claimants and trends in rent inflation.
If you are interested in a wider range of local level housing and homelessness statistics, visit our new Housing Databank resource.
Click on image to read…
Today members of NCAG joined travellers and their supporters at Dale Farm for a march from Wickford train station to the site and the official opening of ‘Camp Constant‘ where an attempt will be made to fend off the eviction that is now only days away.
The march itself was lively and had a good turn out of a few hundred strong. The only question was where were the mass throng of ‘leftist activists’ who constantly talk a good talk of ‘fight back’ and ‘equality for ethnic minorities’-apart from a handful of union banners, they were noticeable by their absence once again.
As usual the police presence was bordering on the ridiculous and FIT teams were out filming four year olds for their ‘database of domestic extremists’.
If any of our members, friends and supporters are able to get down to the site and help out the residents, we’d encourage you to do so as soon as possible.
Thanks to all at of Dale Farm for having us, our thoughts will be with you over the coming week.
The widow of a tenants’ champion who passed away this week has told how he laboured behind the scenes to improve Norwich’s council housing.
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Geoff Lowe, who died on Wednesday evening, joined the Norwich Tenants’ CityWide Board in 2006 and was in his third year as chairman.
The 68-year-old, from Trafalgar Street, was a former chairman of the Norwich Residents’ Forum and was also chairman of the New Lakenham Tenants Residents’ Association.
His wife Alyson, 55, who is also involved in tenants’ rights and has vowed to carry on, said: “People were not aware of just how much he did behind the scenes.
“Although it was an uphill struggle at times he felt strongly that if we all sat back and did nothing then nothing would happen, but if you try maybe something will.
“When he became chairman of the CityWide Board it was very different. He created the sub-groups which have since achieved a lot and I think his work with the CityWide Board would be the thing of which he would be most proud. He took it and made it an effective tool for resident involvement.”
Laura McGillivray, chief executive of Norwich City Council, said: “Geoff was tremendously involved in the council’s housing service for a significant number of years. But more recently he acted as a critical friend, helping us turn the service around – to the extent that the council and tenant representatives in partnership won an award for excellence in tenant participation.
“We were extremely grateful for the huge amount of time and energy he devoted to this. This has come as a terrible shock and his absence will be felt.”
Mr Lowe spent his formative years in Reading and served as a councillor there.
He moved to Norwich more than 20 years ago and had worked as a computer consultant, a trainer and most recently as a quality consultant before his retirement.
Norwich City Councillor Victoria MacDonald, who represents the Lakenham ward and was appointed cabinet member for housing in May, said: “This is devastating news and everybody is absolutely gutted.
“He was very warm and welcoming to me and was the first person to congratulate me on becoming the portfolio holder.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that he only ever had the best interests of Norwich tenants, and the CityWide Board and its work, at heart.
“It can be very difficult to be that critical friend and he always did it so well.”
The system through which thousands of families in and around Norwich are allocated social housing and council houses is on the brink of being scrapped, after one of the councils involved agreed to withdraw from the scheme.
The Home Options scheme was set up in 2007 with the aim that a single system would be used to find social housing for people in Norwich, Broadland and South Norfolk.
The government gave the councils a £100,000 grant to set up the system, which sees people apply on the internet for the type of housing they want.
Once on the housing register – and around 14,000 people are – they are given a banding ranging from emergency to low, through gold, silver and bronze.
They can then ‘bid’ for properties when they come up on the Home Options website and landlords, either one of a number of housing associations or the city council, offers the property to the applicant who falls into the highest banding of those who have applied and who has been registered for the scheme the longest.
But members of Broadland District Council’s cabinet today agreed to give officers the go-ahead to withdraw from the scheme and, with South Norfolk Council likely to follow suit next month, that will almost certainly trigger the end of Home Options.
The most likely outcome of the scheme being dissolved is that each council would set up its own system to allocate housing.
At today’s meeting, Roger Foulger, Broadland’s cabinet member for planning policy and conservation, said: “It’s a sound decision on two fronts – one that it will improve the service and second, that it will get rid of the waste which has been inherent in the scheme.”
Jo Cottingham, cabinet member for housing and environmental services said there would still be a need to link with other authorities over whatever scheme replaces Home Options.
South Norfolk Council had called in consultants KPMG earlier this year to look at the way the system operated, concluding it was wasteful and not good value for money.
Friday, 14 January 2011 · 19:00 – 21:00
Friends Meeting House
Upper Goat Lane
Norwich, United Kingdom
FoodCycle Norwich have decided to use this first event as a dummy run / volunteers social as they have yet to get a supermarket to commit to donating regularly. However, the fantastic food photograpy company Brandbank have supplied them with enough food for one meal and the promise of more in the new year. Although they still need a supermarket’s commitment, this is great news and a massive step forward.
Please come along to this meeting where we will eat, chat and discuss forming smaller volunteer groups with specific focuses such as fundraising, publicity and creative activities.
Greater Norwich STREET VOICE is an independent community group, constituted and led by people who have experienced homelessness.
We particularly represent the voice of rough sleepers, SOFA SURFERS, adults at risk of homelessness or accessing supported housing…
We are feeling under huge pressure as we have been asked to fund our group only with donations because of CUTS in Norfolk County Council support.
We need £5,000 to help support our community group for the next year…
Can you please help us ?
The National Day of Protest Against Welfare & Housing Benefit Cuts on 15th December 2010 aims to be the first of many and this time will concentrate on the Housing Benefit cuts.
Facebook event page at: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=181074851903167&
With this in mind, why not organise a sit in, protest or demonstration in your local Civic Centre, Housing Benefit Office or Town Hall.
Think Christmas party. Gather up some friends, take a ticket and bring cake, food to share, Christmas decorations, crackers, music and presents for the kids. Why not apply for Council Housing whilst you’re at it, ask for information about impending homelessness due to the cuts or clear up that nagging benefit issue. Then collect contact details to organise a bigger event in the New Year and spread some festive cheer.
Make sure to support people present who are in emergency need of help to access it and make sure they are treated properly. There’s no rush after all, you can easily stay late, or even all night. It’s Christmas after all.
Alternatively hold a public meeting, organise an info stall or even just leaflet your local Council offices. If you are organising an event please contact us asap to be added to the facebook page (and upcoming website).
London benefit claimants will be attending and supporting the Housing Emergency Demonstration at Downing Street, 12.30pm. Bring cardboard boxes, sleeping bags etc and create a cardboard city opposite Downing Street. then onto Trafalgar Square at 3pm for Christmas fun under the tree.
Local groups, individuals, ideas and support needed, please get in touch.
This is just the beginning, further actions and events are planned for the New Year.
London confirmed – 15th December
12.30 Downing Street, Housing Emergency Coalition protest, take cardboard boxes and sleeping bags
3pm Trafalgar Square, Disabled People Against Cuts – No Room at The Inn nativity under the tree.
Norwich confirmed – 15th December – Defend Council Housing And Fight The Welfare Cuts Public Meeting – Belvedere Centre, Belvoir Street, Norwich, 15th Dec 7.30pm – 9.30pm.
Plans afoot so far in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Brighton, Hastings, Stoke, Lewisham, Lydney and Nuneaton
Actions called for/enquired about in Bristol, Southampton, Cambridge, Hackney, Lincolnshire, Exeter & Ipswich
Called by autonomous benefit claimants around the UK.
National Day of Protest Against Welfare & Housing Benefit Cuts:http://www.facebook.com/pages/National-Day-of-Protest-Against-Welfare-Housing-Benefit-Cuts/106945382710717
Disabled People Against Cuts: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=121196194603310
Black Triangle – Anti-Defamation Campaign In Defence of Disabled Claimants:http://www.facebook.com/blacktriangle1
Work Programme & Flexible New Deal Scandal: http://www.workprogramme.org.uk/
Benefit Claimants Fight Back: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=116432071735566
Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown out a threat to the securityof council tenants. Cameron said he wanted to time-limit allnew council and housing association tenancies to as little as fiveyears: ‘maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a differentjob and be better paid and you won’t need that home, you will beable to go into the private sector.’ David Cameron (3 Aug 2010)
This makes a lie of the Prime Minister’s pre-election promisesthat he would respect tenants’ rights. It follows savage cuts to Housing Benefit announced in the June budget, and threats to slash spending on public services. Even if unscripted, this new threat steps up what is an ideological attack on a fundamental principle of council housing as a pillar of Britain’s welfare state. It is the latest in a long line of such attacks on tenants’ rights. It hits at the principles underpinning the post war consensus millions of people support. Will he also say people who can‘afford’ the private market will be forced to pay for their healthcare or kids education? We need publicly-owned, secure and affordable council housingas an alternative to the high costs, risks and insecurity ofbuying or private renting.
A home, not an asset
Council tenants need and have the same right to a ‘home’ asanyone else – not just a temporary place to put their head downuntil they find something better. Good quality council housing is vital to ensure that whatever we earn everyone – and our children, and parents – has a home that’s secure and affordable. The principle that needs defending is that council housingshould be a mainstream tenure of choice, available to all whowant to rent as an alternative to the private market. The solution to a shortage of decent, affordable, secure andaccountable council housing is to build more! That would also have the benefit of creating jobs and opening up council housingallocation policies to the wide range of people who used to live oncouncil estates re-establishing mixed and sustainable communities.
No transit camps of poverty
Means testing council tenants, to force out anyone who gets abovethe bread line, would destroy communities. It would turn council estates into transit camps, undermining any kind of social cohesion.If anyone whose income rises above the breadline is forced out or threatened with rent rises, it would reduce the mixture of incomes on estates and increase the concentration of deprivation.
Means-testing would intensify the poverty trap. And differing rent levels is a crude step to bring market forces into council housing.
The threat of losing a secure tenancy or having to pay higher rentswould increase the poverty trap and be a strong disincentive tofinding (better paid) work. It is wrong to force someone out of their home and into the privatesector because you judge they can afford it – they could beout of work tomorrow. Short term work and fluctuating incomesare a major cause of mortgage arrears. Means-tested benefits are already a major problem for millions in short-term or low-paid work or running small businesses, giving little alternative to flexible or part time ‘informal’ (undeclared)– and non-trade union organised – work.
These attacks on tenants’ rights and council housing are part of thepush for further deregulation and privatisation. Private developersand landlords want to get their hands on councils’ publiclyownedland, replace it with more high cost private housing, anddrive out those who can’t afford it. The right to a secure tenancy was won by tenants’ determined campaigning. This forced the Labour government to include ‘securityof tenure’ in the 1979 Housing Bill, which was then included in the Conservatives’ Housing Act 1980. Those who are opposed in principle to high quality public services available to all and who want everyone forced into the hands of the private market are determined to undermine and weaken the positionof council tenants. Stigmatising council housing as ‘housing of last resort’ is one method. Trying to take away our ‘secure’ tenancies or impose means testing or time limits is another.
Unemployment, on council estates as elsewhere, is the result of increasingly low-paid and insecure work. The problem of homelessness, overcrowding and long waiting lists are not caused by security of tenure, but by lack of investment and failure to build new homes. There are two million less council and RSL(housing association) homes now than 30 years ago, due to privatisation and failure to replace homes sold off. That’s why we have two million households on waiting lists.
Many on the waiting list are not judged in ‘priority need’ –they are the butchers, bakers, teachers and nurses who want a first class council home with lower rents, secure tenancies and a democratically accountable landlord. Investment in council housing is central to meeting this need.
Robbed – not subsidised
Government is robbing council tenants (not subsidising us) to the tune of £1.5 billion a year –while over the last twenty years billions of pounds of public subsidy has been poured into RSLs, and taxation has favoured homeowners and more recently buy to let landlords. The bank bailout is the biggest home ownership subsidyof all time.
Hands off our homes, our rents and our rights. Build more council homes
Cameron admitted in Birmingham that “not everyone will supportthis and there will be quite a big argument”. Simon Hughes MP and others have already warned the Government not to pursue this policy, mindful of the anger earlier attacks on secure tenure have provoked.
Tenants have fought determined campaigns against privatisationand to defend our homes and rights. This attack will provoke fury among council and housing association tenants. With the cuts in housing benefit, the Government is declaring war on tenants.
We will broaden and strengthen our united campaign. Together tenants, trade unions, councillors, MPs and campaigners have fought off previous attacks on council housing, and now the voice of protest needs to ring loud in the ear of every councillor and MP.
Belvedere Centre, Belvoir Street, Norwich, 15th Dec 7.30pm – 9.30pm.
Ian Gibson (former Labour MP Norwich North),
Ed Bober (tbc) and
Rick Dutton (NCAG)
Around 200 people turned out on Hay Hill in Norwich yesterday to rally against the upcoming cuts in public services.
Speakers from Norfolk Coalition Against The Cuts and others called for a united struggle among working people and trade unionists to fight off the cuts which are likely to turn the clock back in Norfolk at least 20 years, and are the first ideological steps by ALL political parties to systematically break up and end the welfare state.
Stan Cullen Grant on behalf of NCAG called for immediate action to agitate in local communities and build the fight back as soon as possible, and requested the formation of an Unemployed Workers Centre financed by the unions to aid all who are likely to be savagely attacked by the cuts, the previous one having had to close due to funding being withdrawn.
In other towns and cities across the country similar rallies and marches occurred signalling the start of a movement that has potential to dwarf even the fight back against the Poll Tax. In Edinburgh 20,000 people turned out to protest.
Meanwhile news is breaking in London that councils are booking up B&B’s outside of the city as far away as Reading and Hastings for families that will be forced to move away due to the cut in housing benefit.
The ideological motivated gentrification of our towns and cities has well and truely begun.
We knew we were in trouble no matter who won the last election.
Another four years of New Labour and the injust and intrusive ‘Big Brother’ state and the continuation of the destruction of the Labour movement, or the toffs of the Conservative party with their sole interest, the propping up of the rich to the detriment of the poor in our society…
How many of us however realised just how far a new Tory government, with their Liberal poodles, would go?
Yes we’ve been aware there were likely to be cuts in the public and private sectors. Each of our darling political parties told us so. What we didn’t know however was the extent to which this government was aiming to fulfil the same old Thatcherite ideology- nothing short of the total destruction of the welfare state.
In a week where the announcement that banking profits have gone far beyond even the most optimistic economists predictions, and news that housing prices are once again on the rise, David Cameron has announced the plan to eradicate the right to stay living in council housing indefinitely.
While the word ‘community’ keeps popping out of Camerons mouth he plans to wipe out what little ‘community’ we have left.
Once we could grow up in the same house, move to a house nearby when old enough to start families of our own, grow up in an area with people we had known all our lives…
Years of government inaction by refusing to build new social housing put an end to that kind of ‘community’ many years ago. People have had to move miles away from families and friends because there was either a shortage of housing or buying property was simply out of the question due to an obvious lack of economic fluidity to most ordinary working people.
Now it gets worse. If you leave home, will your parents be evicted because they no longer need the housing now you’ve fled the nest? Will you lose your home because you’ve found a job that pays that £1000pa more?
It’s time to stop living in a fantasy people, time to turn the TV off and open your twitchy curtains.
We are heading for the destruction of all the great rights and achievements our great-grandparents won for us.
No more health service, public housing, workers rights, welfare and sickness benefits for the most vulnerable…just a return to the days of old…serfdom at the beck and call of the privileged elite who are getting stronger and stronger by the day.
Question is, have you the willingness to actually turn that thing off and take a look at what’s actually going on around you before it’s too late?
Supporters and users of the careers and counselling service for young people Connexions are being asked to head for County Hall on Monday, by unions, teachers and activists to give weight to the fight to save the service from cuts.
Sixty-five jobs are facing the axe which will lead to an already struggling organisation having to half it’s service to young people in our area. The proposed reduction of the service is part of a £10m package of savings that will be decided by full council on Monday.
It’s likely to be a very busy time in the coming months fighting against attacks on essential local services, but it’s imperative that wherever the attacks on these services occur, we put our full weight behind the fightback, especially where services for some of the most vulnerable in the community are going to be affected.
More than 500 private homes in Norwich have been standing empty for more than six months, new figures have revealed – while more than 9,600 people are waiting on lists to get council homes.
But Norwich City Council insists it is ahead of the game when it comes to getting empty private homes back into use, with pioneering orders to force landlords to get them back into use made more frequently in the city than anywhere else in the country.
New figures show that by the end of December last year the number of empty homes had fallen on the previous year – from 613 to 517.
While that means 1.4pc of homes in the city have been empty for more than six months, the city council says it has pioneered the use of new powers to get them back into use.
In 2007 the city council, which has 9,643 on the waiting list for council homes, became one of the first authorities in the country to issue an Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) on a landlord whose home had become rundown.
The house, in Churchill Road, had an interim order placed on it, resulting in the landlord selling the property which was subsequently renovated and reoccupied.
Since then the council has issued six EDMOs, with a decision on another one due next week. A further four were prepared but the properties were re-occupied by the owners when they received notification of the council’s intention to apply for an order.
An EDMO allows a local authority to step into the shoes of the owner of a dwelling unoccupied for six months or more, where the owner is not intending to re-occupy it.
It allows a local authority to secure occupation and proper management of privately owned houses and flats that have been unoccupied to carry out works to make the property fit to occupy and can also let the property.
Brenda Arthur, executive member for housing and adult services, said: “We have had an officer exclusively on this and managed resources to help return homes to use, using the carrot and stick approach.
“We try very hard to work with landlords and point them towards grants which can help them, but the carrot does not work we are not afraid to use the stick.
“Twenty per cent of all EDMOs in the country have been used in Norwich and, as an authority, we are committed to bringing in as many homes back into use, because we recognise there is a need for housing.”
But Antony Little, leader of the Conservative group at City Hall, said: “With so many people on the waiting lists or wanting affordable housing, more should be done to bring these back into use.
“In fact we spend so much time on fixing the problems of council houses that we lose sight of other potential family homes that could be brought back into use.”
The latest annual Halifax Empty Homes survey, published last November, showed were 303,285 long-term empty private homes in England in April 2008, a rise of 9pc from 279,281 in April 2007, with national average of 1.6pc private homes empty for six months or more.
The body of a man who had been sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures has been found on the outskirts of Thetford.
The dead man, who was from Poland and was found in a tent on Barnham Cross Common has been named as 33-year-old Mariusz Fidos.
Yesterday team rector of Thetford, Canon Bob Baker and Thetford mayor, Pam Spencer, both spoke on behalf of the town of their sadness over the tragedy.
“The people of Thetford are shocked and saddened. We don’t know what the circumstances are surrounding this man’s death but clearly, if there are lessons to learned, we must learn from them and ensure that this does not happen again,” said Canon Baker.
Mrs Spencer said: “My thoughts are with the relatives and friends of the deceased at was must be a particularly difficult time.”
It is understood that Mr Fidos was sharing the tent with his twin brother and a friend, all three being Polish nationals. A fourth man, also believed to be Eastern European, was in a tent on his own by the dead man’s tent.
The three other men have since been provided with emergency accommodation in Norwich.
Mr Fidos was found dead on Sunday. A post-mortem examination carried out later that evening revealed early indications are that he died from hypothermia.
The case has now been passed to the coroner. Police said the man’s death remains “unexplained” but police said there were no suspicious circumstances.
John Walker, of Breckland Council’s housing advice and home-lessness service, described Mr Fidos’ death as an “appalling tragedy”.
He said that the authority was not aware that Mr Fidos was sleeping rough on the Common and had not had any direct contact with him.
He said Breckland Council was working hard with the police and other agencies in the Thetford area to ensure that everyone was aware when people were sleeping rough and then provide what help they could.
Council officials, had, however, been aware in October of three men sleeping rough on Barnham Common. The group were advised of their housing options and also offered assistance to travel to their home countries but they declined such help. “We can’t force people to return to their home countries if they do not want to go,” said Mr Walker.
Thetford town councillor Terry Jermy, whose ward covers the Barnham Common area, said that although housing officers were aware of people sleeping rough on the Common, he did not feel it was a priority to them.
He was angry at the situation and suggested that a caravan could have been provided on the town’s travel-lers’ site which had not yet been used.
“At least on that site they could have been free from harm,” he said.
He is calling for a serious look at the homelessness issue in Thetford.
There is a facility for the homeless in Thetford at John Room House but it is currently closed for major refurbishment.
Breckland Cabinet member with responsibility for housing, Paul Claussen said the authority took the homelessness issue very seriously and would be working with partner agencies to ensure that such a tragedy did not happen again.
Mr Claussen stressed he was not aware of all the details of the case, but Mr Walker and his team did their utmost to find accommodation for people in difficulties.
“We do encourage people to be our eyes and ears and let us know when they are aware of people facing difficulties with accommodation,” he said.