Monthly Archives: December 2017

Focus E15 campaign meetings: finding ways to educate and organise

Every month Focus E15 campaign holds a public meeting at Sylvia’s Corner in Stratford. Public meetings are where Focus E15 campaigners network with other groups, share information and meet local residents engaged in fighting for secure housing. The campaign is always trying to find ways to bring  housing issues out into the public domain and challenge the local power structures in Newham by exposing the council’s appalling record of social cleansing and finding opportunities to take direct action.

It is always such a pleasure to welcome outside guests to these meetings. At the last meeting of the year in December 2017 the campaign was fortunate to have a presentation from Taisa Sanches who gave a talk about the housing situation in Brazil  and the large squatters movement in Rio de Janeiro as she shared her PhD research. We thought followers of this blog would appreciate reading about what we learnt at the campaign meeting. Here are just some of the facts that Taisa presented to us:

  • In Brazil 6.2 million families (more then 20 million people) do not have a secure home. This number includes people who live on the street as well as those who pay rent which is higher then their wage or where more than one family live in the same house.
  • In Brazil there was a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. Social movements bravely fought to end the dictatorship.
  • In 1988 the first constitution was written after the fall of the dictatorship. There was a lull in the amount of social activism but soon new movements appear – housing was soon on the agenda again!
  • During the 1990’s neo-liberal and privatisation policies set in, worsening conditions for the poor. There are a number of growing social movements.
  • During 1990’s there was the Favela-Barrio program which saw new policies of  urbanisation of the poorest areas of the city – but only those close to tourist places. Social movements demanded more urbanisation of the favelas as a way of improving the condition of poor quality housing.
  • 1997 MTST – national movement of homeless workers emerges.
  • 2000’s – increasing violence against favela dwellers is justified by the government in the name of ‘public security’.
  • 2014 World cup and 2016 Olympic games saw the removal of 67,000 people from the poorest areas of Rio. Housing campaigns emerge to resist evictions.

We were struck by some of the similarities of what happens to areas which host the Olympic games as ‘regeneration’ is used as the buzz word to clear away social housing (in East London the second largest housing coop in Europe was bulldozed to make way for the Olympic Village, which was then sold off to a Qatari ruling family in 2011). We then had a discussion about learning from other struggles, the meaning of effective solidarity and the importance of having a  platform to organise from during the savage housing crisis in London. Campaigners from East London were inspired by the active resistance shown by campaigners in Rio and thought that sharing tactics and ideas is an important way of raising  awareness of  housing struggles that occur internationally. At the end of the meeting we made a video with a message of solidarity to housing campaigners in Rio.

Our next public campaign meeting will be at Sylvia’s Corner, 96 Aldworth Rd, Saturday 6 January 2018 at 2.30pm. If you would like to speak at our campaign meeting please send an email to focuse15london@gmail.com

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 Sara and her children must stay in Newham!

No eviction on  Monday 11 December

Sara is the mother of two children, forced to move out of where she was living when her second child was born, due to overcrowding. She was given emergency accommodation by Newham Labour council, in Brimstone House in Stratford. That was six months ago.

In the last two weeks, Newham council offered Sara and her children a property to consider in Birmingham…. She was scared and she was brave …. all her family, support networks, and her oldest child’s education, is in Newham… so she said no. She explains to Focus E15 campaign that she is facing eviction from Brimstone House on Monday 11 December. Sara says that Newham council is:

 ‘asking me to leave the property because I rejected what they call a suitable offer and they are discharging their duty of care to me. I have lived in this borough for 12 years and all my local connections are in Newham as my family is the only support system I have.’

Followers of Focus E15 campaign will see an irony here…. Brimstone House is what was formerly Focus E15 hostel for young people and where the Mother and Baby Unit was based and it was the young single mothers living there in 2013 who stood together to say no to Newham council who told them to pack their bags and move to  Manchester, Hastings and yes… Birmingham. That is what launched the campaign against social cleansing and exposed Newham’s rotten record of sending people out of borough and out of London. 

Four years on, the council behaviour hasn’t changed and we will stand with Sara and her children to prevent their social cleansing, to prevent their eviction and to demand that they be housed in Newham, in accommodation suitable for them as a family.

20 years ago, in 1997, Labour Mayor Robin Wales made his priorities clear when he was leader of the council and said:

‘There are too many people, those currently living in Newham and those attracted from other London boroughs, who survive on low incomes or who present themselves as homeless. Whilst we will offer support and carry out our legislative duties, our aim will be to increase Newham’s property values, and raise the income profile of all our residents’.

Within Newham Labour Council, 46 councillors own or control almost 100 properties and one has 19 properties with combined estimated value of over £4.5m and collective monthly rent of over £20,000.  When the young mothers from Focus E15 hostel challenged Robin Wales in 2013, he had the arrogance to say: ‘If you can’t afford to live in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham’. How can such people represent our interests?

Recent vital research by Debt Resistance UK  has shown that Newham now has 12,000 homeless people, one in every 25 residents,  the highest number in England. Newham also has the highest number of residents in temporary accommodation in London, and is among the councils moving the highest number of people out-of-borough and indeed out of London altogether. 

Despite housing being a top priority for Newham residents, the council is spending significantly less money on housing than it is on debt repayments to banks for dodgy loans, known as Lender Option Borrower Option loans (LOBO). These are short-term, variable rate loans taken out by councils from the banks (when they should have secured safer fixed-rate 50-year loans from central government). Between 2001 and 2010, Newham took out £563m worth of loans from Barclays Bank and RBS. The teaser interest rates started low but continue to escalate and Newham is now paying  back 7.5% interest on these loans.  Interest repayments increased from £54m (2010) to £83m 2017. The upshot of this scandalous financial wrongdoing is that in 2015, Newham paid the equivalent of 70% of its council tax as debt servicing and in 2016/17, this has risen to 125% – the highest in England – meaning that more than all of what comes in as council tax payments, goes straight out to the banks. 

Whilst cutting services to residents and pleading ‘Tory austerity’, Newham Labour council has sat on an ever-growing pot of money: ‘usable reserves’ increased from £77m in 2010 to £434m currently, a staggering rise of 560%. 

If you sickened by any of this, come to our campaign stall and meeting on Saturday 9 December. Join us in our demand that Sara and her children must stay in Newham!

No more evictions! No social cleansing! 

The campaign stall runs from 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford, outside Wilkos.

The campaign meeting is at Sylvia’s Corner on Aldworth Road, Stratford, E15 4DN at 2.30pm

Not meeting expectations

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By Iain Aitch

Those attending Newham’s full council last night (4 December) may have been expecting fireworks, given that the loss of £52m of public funds in the London Stadium debacle had just been confirmed. But, in the end, any protest by councillors was limited to a whimper, rather than a bang.

In truth, it was all over bar the shouting by the time the meeting began. Only there was no shouting.

A cowed Labour group had, prior to full council, voted against instituting a judge-led inquiry by a margin of 34 to eight. And, with no elected opposition in the one-party borough, only a few Labour councillors dared to mutter any disquiet in public.

There had been whispers of calls for Mayor Sir Robin Wales’s resignation and even a #RobinWalesMustGo campaign on Twitter, backed by some councillors. Rumours abound that the Mayor was asked to step down at Labour…

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