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“Full House?”, a report published this month by the housing charity Shelter has revealed that half a million British households are overcrowded, the same proportion as in 1997. The study, in which 550 families living in such conditions were surveyed, is the largest of its kind to date.
Children are being forced to sleep in their parents’ bedrooms or even in dining rooms, lounges and kitchens. In one household in ten, teenagers of the opposite sex have to share a room. In almost two thirds (63%) of cases, there is no safe outside area where children can play. Black and ethnic minority families are twice as likely to live in overcrowded housing.
Seventy-one per cent of the parents surveyed saying their living conditions were damaging their children’s education and development. Depression is common. 900,000 children in England alone are affected, of whom 100,000 are in severely crowded housing accommodation, with the problem worst in London.
Thanks to the 1979-97 Tory government’s policy of not building new council housing and encouraging better-off tenants to buy their council homes, the amount of social housing in Britain has fallen by more than a third since 1985. But New Labour has continued the Tories’ housing policy and there are now 300,000 fewer homes for affordable rents than there were in 1997.
The government has pledged to build 30,000 rented homes each year from 2008-2011. However, they envisage that these will be built and owned by private companies, and the drive to privatise council housing continues despite the unpopularity of any kind of privatisation in ballots of tenants and its rejection by over ninety councils.
Shelter is calling on Gordon Brown, to commit to building 60,000 extra social rented homes in his pre-budget report in November. But last month the ultra-Blairite Local Government and Communities Minister David Miliband signalled a desire to reduce the amount of social housing in some parts of the country in favour of build-to-buy homes.
Defend Council Housing: www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk
HOW PFI WORKS
Ever wondered why, when private companies are supposed to have taken over so many things, why so much of our money still goes on those things? After all, the government justifies PFI/PPP deals on the grounds that it saves public money.
One recent example shows what actually happens very clearly. The government has bowed to union pressure and agreed to equalise pay in the NHS, giving workers employed by private firms the same (measly) £5.65 per hour minimum that NHS-employed workers get under “Agenda for Change”. About time. But Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, has agreed only that the wage rise will be funded by... the public!
Hewitt calls this way out of a financial fix an example of how “all parties... can work together effectively to achieve the reform of the NHS to create a modern health service.”
All parties except business people!
So far virtually all the risks, the unplanned-for costs etc, of PFI have been borne by the public purse.
The well-publicised constant government bailouts for rail privateers are only the tip of the iceberg.
With “academy” schools the picture is the same — most (usually over 90%) of the cost of building new schools is met by the state, but the private firm gets complete control of the school.
No company will invest in Blair’s daft schemes without the guarantee that the state will pick up the costs. That’s because running universal public services for profit is impossible. And when for once — in the case of Railtrack — the government sensibly let an incompetent PFI firm just go bankrupt, the capitalist shareholders had the temerity to sue them!
A new report released by the Guardian shows that New Labour’s “academies” are not only a rip-off for the public purse but are also bad for poorer children in their areas.
Academies are using their power to select children to drive down the numbers of poorer children and take in more from middle-class families.
The government claims that in “almost all” academies the proportion of poorer childen is the same as or higher than before privatisation.
Evidently six out of fourteen is the new Blairite definition of “almost all”! In the other eight schools for which figures are available, the number of children entitled to free school meals — the standard indicator of deprivation — has dropped dramatically. Over all fourteen schools the proportion of poorer children has dropped from 45% to 31%.
Walsall Academy has driven down the number of poorer children by an amazing 68.6%, with new arrivals more than four times less likely to be eligible for free meals than before the school was privatised.
DEFEAT FOR RELIGIOUS HATRED BILL
The House of Lords — unelected, but sometimes having more of a rudimentary conscience than the Commons — has inflicted a defeat on Charles Clarke’s Religious Hatred bill. Concern that the bill would criminalise criticism of religion prompted an amendment limiting the bill to “threatening” behaviour where there is an intent to cause harm.
Another government bill, this time aiming to create vague new offences of incitement to and “glorifying” terrorism, faces a similar rocky ride in the Commons. Under the bill’s all-embracing definition, “terrorism” includes any use of force, including damage to property for political ends.
This would have made vocally supporting Nelson Mandela in the 80s a criminal offence, and would now make support for the mildest direct action against the most revolting dictatorships a criminal offence. As former Home Office Minister John Denham, who is not exactly left wing, says, “Is it really our intention to do the dirty work for some of the most oppressive tyrannical regimes in the world?”
I’m sure I’m not alone in having a good giggle at the fate of Work and Pensions Secretary David Blunkett, who has been forced to resign again following reservations about his dodgy business dealings. As if failing to declare his fat cat stake in DNA Bioscience was not enough, Blunkett now apparently faces further hassle over fees for after-dinner speeches.
Anyway, good riddance! It’s just a shame that there are so many benefit-cutting, work-em-till-they-drop Blairites eager to take his place.