The latest issue of Hackney Solidarity is now available, and is being distributed in communities and workplaces across central Hackney.
The main articles are on housing, including reports from local estates. Other subjects include class sizes at the local primary school, news from local trade unions, a view from a Hackney teenager, and opinions on the recent General Election.
Click 'read more' to read the text, or email Janine Booth for printed copies.
HACKNEY'S HOUSING CRISIS
by Janine Booth
Hackney’s housing is in crisis. Estates are run down, and thousands can’t get a Council home and are stuck in private rented flats.
The Council has failed to maintain its estates properly. Some have not had a lick of paint in twenty years.
And still the Council has the cheek to increase rents, service charges, parking fees and Council Tax!
The Council’s latest ‘solution’ is ALMO – Arms Length Management Organisation, where ‘Arms Length’ means out of reach of accountablity to residents. They claim that you will have a say in the running of the ALMO through tenants’ reps – but these reps have to sign their loyalty to the ALMO Board, not to the community! ALMO is the first step of a privatisation process.
No wonder the government needed to bribe us to accept it, and the Council ran a joke ‘consultation’. Their ‘test of opinion’ last year may as well have asked “Do you want ALMO, or do you want to live in a hell-hole?”! Even so, only a small number of residents voted for it.
Previously, New Labour’s preferred policy was to transfer its housing to new landlords (RSLs). This came with lavish promises of happy tenants in fantastic revamped homes. But it didn’t turn out like that, as residents of the Pembury and other estates know. And it won’t turn out like that with ALMO either.
The other government ‘solution’ is that we should all become homeowners. But how can we do that, when virtually all the new housing in the area is expensive flats for sale to City commuters?
73½% of households in Hackney Central ward rent their homes (2001 census), mostly because they can’t afford to buy. For those who have managed to, life on a mortgage is no a bed of roses.
Housing and the market
The root of the problem is that New Labour, like the Tories before them, want housing to run like business. So housing goes where the money is – eg. luxury apartments near Hackney Downs station for City commuters – whilst social housing for working-class people is left to rot or given away to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile, 2,424 homes in Hackney stand empty, 256 in this ward alone. And this in a deprived borough where thousands need somewhere decent to live. The ‘market’ is a crazy way to run housing.
Who will save our housing?
Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government started the Council housing sell-off; now New Labour is stepping up the pace. It is betraying the past achievements of the labour movement, which fought for and won public housing.
All three main political parties support privatisation. And they have all had a share of power in the Town Hall in the last decade, and have all just made the situation worse.
Does that mean the crisis is inevitable? No, communities can take matters into our own hands and fight for our own future – get organised and demand that public housing is maintained and improved. There is a strong movement to defend Council housing, supported by tenants’ and residents’ groups and trade unionists around the country, and by Labour Party members and MPs who do not toe the party line.
Hackney Solidarity is part of this grass-roots fightback. Get in touch.
- decent homes for all - refurbish our estates
- keep housing public - no ALMO, no transfer
- a freeze on rents and other charges
- private landlords brought into line - bring back rent controls
- our right to decide the future of our communities - instead of fake ‘consultations’
- the Council to reclaim empty homes, make them fit to live in, and house the people on the waiting list
MORE ON HACKNEY'S HOUSING
Rent in Hackney?
by Ruah Carlyle
Council housing is often poor, but what is it like renting from private landlords in Hackney? If you’re rich, pick from many new and renovated flats springing up on every available space. If not - and forget about getting a Council flat, what luxury! - you face poor-quality costly homes, and little hope of something better.
Two thirds of my wages go towards a one-bedroom flat above a shop for my family of four. Flood-stained walls, mice, and not nearly enough space. This was the cheapest we could get, and we still find it hard to pay. Housing Benefit thinks we are entitled to £6 a week help - thanks.
We’re band B for a Council flat, meaning NIML - not in my lifetime. There are 10,000 on the waiting list; 16 new homes were built last year.
What’s the solution? Get rich, buy a house? And if this isn’t an option?
The recent Open Day at the Town Hall had little to offer. A collection of estate agents offered different ways of doing the same thing: buy/rent (dearer than buying, but you might be able to afford the deposit on half a home), or move away. Hackney Council would love you to.
If you’ve had enough of poor housing and Hackney, with ‘Fresh Start’ they will help you emigrate to poor housing up north. They’ll even pay for the removal van, no return journey included. Yes - move somewhere where you won’t be our problem.
Residents of Mountford estate have got new doors. Well, some of them have. And some don’t fit properly, or are stained.
The Council is slow to fix lights, with the one in the passage from Beeston Close broken for seven years. And the fences fitted just 5 years ago are now out of guarantee, so you have to fix your own.
What’s the difference between what tenants pay in rent and what the government gives Councils to manage, maintain and repair our homes? £1.5 billion!
The average London tenant pays £6.79 more in rent than the Council gets to spend on running its housing. The rest is clawed back by the government. It’s robbery!
Residents of Aspland estate and Marcon Court have declared that they have no confidence in the Council’s review of their estate’s future. Not surprising, as 20 years of neglect of Marcon Court has been followed by three years of lies by the Council!
The Review claims to be independent, but the Council has now admitted what the Tenants’ & Residents’ Association suspected all along: that it plans to give the site to private developers.
Hackney Solidarity will do all we can to help the TRA’s fight for refurbishment not privatisation.
THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL HOUSING
by Tony Osborne
Attacking the Vulnerable
Not the poor old Council housing residents this time, but a group even more vulnerable. Who? People in Supported Housing, the frail and elderly. Providers are charging tenants top-up payments to plug their budget gaps. (‘insidehousing’ 6/5/05)
Housing associations in at least two councils expect residents to pay towards support services, placing the councils in breach of funding rules. (‘insidehousing’ 6/5/05)
Who suffers the most?
Those on Housing Benefit, as it comes out of their benefits.
Several councils told ‘insidehousing’ that Hanover (who now run Hackney’s supported housing), had told them it would have to start charging tenants if its funding demands are not met.
The association said it was not charging at the moment but was considering it.
Some Councils, eg Hackney, are scrabbling to get on the ALMO ladder. They think this is the only way to raise the cash after years of (their own!) neglect, to comply with government Decent Homes policy. But this is not guaran-teed even with ALMO status.
Some first-round ALMOs are near the end of their five-year contract. What are those Councils thinking now?
Having made the taxpayer foot the bill for their neglect, and having achieved Decent Homes standard, do they now take homes back under direct Council control and proceed to a further 30-year cycle of mismanagement? Or extend the contracts with a view to eventually selling them off?
These quotes and facts might help us to judge:
- Evidence that ALMOs are a form of privatisation, despite Council denials: “High performing ALMOs are on the verge of securing a Government deal that would give them the same freedoms as housing associations ... that would free them from rules preventing them from borrowing and could allow them to build new homes.”
- A minister confirms that government policy is to bribe residents to accept one type of privatisation or another … “Keith Hill, Housing Minister, said there remained no option for attracting Government invest-ment in social housing other than Stock Transfer, Private Finance Initiative or Arms Length Management Organisations.”
HOW WE FEEL - A VIEW FROM A HACKNEY TEENAGER
by Nicky Laville
Yo, what’s up, peeps?
Or should I use correct grammar?
Say “Hello, how are you?”
To tell you the truth, I couldn’t give a damn.
And I’m sick and tired of not being listened to.
Cos I’m a teenager, and all people seem to think we do is get up to no good, bunk school, get into fights, have no respect, can’t dress properly, …
I mean – when’s it going to stop?
We have a lot of stress on our hands.
You’ve got your parents giving you a hard time to do well in school and not hang out on the streets so much.
Then you’ve got your teachers going on about deadlines for course work.
Then you’ve got exam after exam.
And if you don’t pass, then sweeping the streets or working in McDonald’s is a very healthy option – ha!
Then you’ve got problems with your friends – and your fr’enemies.
So while all this is going on – who’s actually asking us how we feel?
Well, for one, I am.
I wanna know what you think. How you feel.
Because if it’s not discussed now,
It never will be.
A lot of us think that the Police just don’t treat us fairly. Many of my friends, and I, have been stopped and searched. When you’re hang-ing on street corners, people feel you’re up to no good, when you might not be doing anything suspicious. It’s just the way society looks at us.
If I wanted to help an old lady cross the road, she’d probably think I’m trying to rob her. But really I’m not.
It’s terrible when older generations are scared of young people because we come in groups and we wear bandanas and we wear our trousers hanging off our backsides. I don’t think it’s fair.
It’s only when people get to know us that they see us for what we are.
If you just see our images, you’re not going to like us.
The Police are also very stereotypical. If they saw a group of, say, white girls hanging on a street corner, they are less likely to go and approach them than if they were five black boys.
The Police need to stop that. But now, when Police search you, they have to fill out a form, and they don’t like doing it, so they don’t ask you questions so much.
The Police don’t really do enough. When you call them, they take about 45 minutes to get to the scene. By then, you’re probably beaten up and mugged anyway.
Kids these days are very opinionated. We all love to speak out, but we mainly speak in groups to our friends. That’s why I decided to write this.
BROOK PRIMARY: CLASS SIZE HIKE
Parents have slammed a policy that caused kids’ class sizes to leap by 50%.
Year 1 children at Brook Community Primary School returned from their Easter break to join classes of 30, after the previous three classes were merged into two.
Brook is the ‘Fresh Start’ school that replaced Amherst Primary. When one of the 61 Year 1 kids left the school, the Learning Trust ‘clawed back’ funds, forcing the school to form two classes of 30 from three of around 20 each.
Janine Booth of ‘Hackney Solidarity’, whose son attends the school, said: “It is obvious that 5- and 6-year-olds learn more easily, and get more individual attention, in a class of 20 than in a class of 30.”
Janine wrote to the Schools Minister, explaining that: “staff, parents and kids are working hard to improve the school. We could do without government-driven setbacks like this.”
Her letter demands that:
- the legal maximum class size for kids of this age should be around 20, not 30;
- the number of classes should not be cut midway through the school year.
TRADE UNION NEWS
Former Hackney firefighter Matt Wrack is the new General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.
A big majority of FBU members voted for Matt, and to oust their former General Secretary Andy Gilchrist - who many rank-and-file members felt let them down badly during the strikes for £30k pay two years ago.
Matt said: “There are a number of challenges on the horizon, not least of all, the fight on pensions and the regionalisation of control centres. Internally to the FBU, we need to bring about a fighting and democratic union.”
Striking Against Cuts
Workers in Job Centres and Social Security offices are set to strike in July against the Government’s plan for drastic job cuts. Since last year’s Budget announcement, the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) has cut more than 11,000 jobs.
Across London, over 2,000 jobs are to go by March 2006, prompting London PCS (civil service trade union) DWP branches to support the call for strikes. The main movers of the strike call were the PCS Socialist Caucus.
The London demands are:
- keeping DWP work in its current locations in London;
- a transparent staffing basis scheme in local offices;
- ‘equality proofing’ the proposed cuts, which disproportionately affect women and black staff.
The campaign also needs to highlight the effect of these cuts in local communities, especially in places like Hackney where many people rely on benefits.
GENERAL ELECTION 2005: SOME VIEWS
by John Leach
What it meant for me was watching a beauty parade of people in suits on the telly accusing each other of the same faults. Promising the same things. The end result is that the same self-serving career-chasing, pompous people are still in power over us and our lives.
The ordinary working-class people have been left out of all this. Most people in this constituency didn’t vote and I can understand why – even if I don’t agree.
Imagine if we all did, if we voted for politicians who were interested in us not their careers. We have to find a voice for the real people, the working-class people, of Hackney. Honest, straight up, one of us, fighting for us, speaking for us.
by Janine Booth
This General Election was the worst I’ve ever been through. The worst choice for ordinary voters, the least socialist politics on offer.
The main parties competed to suck up to big business. And they covered for offering us nothing by scapegoating immigrants, travellers, benefit claimants and ‘unruly youth’.
Last time, we had the Socialist Alliance. But that is no more, scuppered by its main component (the SWP) in favour of ‘Respect’, a non-socialist coalition.
Shortly before election day, Labour MP Brian Sedgemore defected to the LibDems.
What a silly thing to do! New Labour’s problem is that its leadership is betraying its roots as a working-class party. But the LibDems were never a working-class party to start with! When the LibDems ran Hackney Council in the ’90s, it attacked our communities just as the Council does now. The LibDems back ALMO along with the other parties.
Sedgemore’s defection was a kick not in Blair’s teeth – but in the teeth of principled socialists in the Labour Party who are trying to fight Blair.
In a few constituencies, people had a genuine socialist candidate to vote for – some Labour, some Socialist Green Unity Coalition. Hopefully, the SGUC will now develop. Elsewhere, we had little choice but to vote Labour - its remaining links with the trade unions at least mean that a Labour government is an easier enemy to fight than a Tory government.
We should never again have to go through such a barren, hopeless election. Hackney Council’s elections are a year away. Voters must not be left with a non-choice between parties all of which will attack, cut and privatise.
Hackney Solidarity will stand candidates in next year’s election. We want to hear from people who want to join us in that campaign.
Contact Hackney Solidarity for more information about these campaigns and events.
- From 2 to 6 July, the ‘G8’ (governments of the world’s richest nations) meet in Scotland to plan how to carve up the world and make more profits. Thousands of protestors will beseige them, demanding action against poverty and for workers’ rights. Details: www.workersliberty.org/globalisation
- The annual Tolpuddle Festival runs from Friday 15 - Sunday 17 July, celebrating trade unionism and rallying for workers’ rights. Transport will be available from this area.
- No Sweat campaigns against sweatshop working conditions. www.nosweat.org.uk
- Iraq Union Solidarity is a grass-roots network raising money and support for trade unions in Iraq.
- Hackney TUC meets on 2nd Wednesday of the month, 7.30pm, Marcon Court Community Hall. All union members welcome.