The local council of Newham, east London (the main site of the 2012 Olympic Games), has written to a housing association in Stoke-on-Trent (160 miles away) in an attempt to re-house 500 families.
It claims this is due to “overcrowding”, and the difficulty of finding private-rental homes for housing benefit claimants following the Tories’ introduction of a benefits cap.
Gill Brown, the chief executive of Brighter Futures, the Stoke housing association approached by Newham, said they would decline the offer and denounced the plan as “social cleansing”.
Waltham Forest borough council confirmed that it had already re-housed 14 families in Luton and 5 in Margate. It also revealed that it has acquired “affordable accommodation” in Walsall, near Birmingham — 138 miles from London.
Tory-run councils in Westminster, Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham are investigating similar proposals and are considering an offer from the East Midlands-based Smart Housing Group to relocate 150 families to Nottingham and Derby.
When the housing benefits cap was first announced in 2010, even London’s Tory mayor Boris Johnson feared it could lead to a “Kosovo-style social cleansing” (no mass graves in Newham but we get his point). He said “The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs.” As it has turned out, his fears were understated.
Stoke, Derby and Nottingham are not “suburbs” of London. Working-class families are not simply being pushed out of the suburbs, but out of the capital altogether.
There is a simple solution to the housing crisis; scrap the benefits cap and guarantee decent accommodation for all with a massive programme of council-house construction across the country. Take housing stock sold off to Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) back in-house, and regulate rents.
Landlords have already begun evicting tenants hit by the benefits cap. Trade unionists and community campaigners must be ready to take direct action to resist eviction or relocation, as well as taking the political fight for decent, affordable housing for all to the government.
London must not be allowed to become a city for the rich only.