An open letter to Newham’s MP Lyn Brown from a mother facing eviction

JOIN US IN ACTION:

Thursday 17 October, Eviction Resistance, Victoria Street Stratford E15

I write this letter to you today as a long standing resident of Newham as of May 1996. Due to a series of events and situations both beyond and within my control I have found myself homeless and as it stands Newham Council has seen it fit to discharge its duty towards me leaving me and my 21 month old son with no alternative place to reside.

As my MP I am writing to you to seek your assistance in asking Newham Council to reverse this decision and make me an offer that is indeed more suitable and affordable to meet the needs of my household.

I said earlier that I am a long-standing resident of Newham. However, I am much more than that. I went to school at Storey Primary School in North Woolwich. I completed my secondary education at Eastlea Community School in Canning Town and discovered my love for learning at Newham Sixth Form College in Plaistow where I completed my A Levels. I would spend my weekends with friends or family window shopping at Stratford Centre or enjoy a show at Theatre Royal Stratford East. I was fortunate enough to perform on stage at the Stratford Circus Arts Centre with my performance group. I even know the best shops to get hair products from in Upton Park.

I list all this not only to show my local connection to Newham but how much Newham is a part of me. Which is why when I became pregnant in 2017 I shelved my plans to save up for my own place and applied to be put on the Home Choice housing register in June of that year. It was not until January 2018, after a long period of silence and several errors on the part of Newham Council I was finally accepted. After the birth of my son I made a homeless application to the council in February on the grounds of overcrowding, the state of my mental health and the unaffordability of private rental sector properties. Newham accepted it’s duty of care towards me and has placed me in emergency accommodation at 10 Victoria Streets since April 2018.

On the 17th of this month the Council made an offer  to me for a private rental property in Leytonstone with a weekly rent of £243.56. The offer described the property as suitable on the grounds that the estimated housing element of Universal Credit I would be entitled to, met the Local Housing Allowance rate; and they deemed that I did not need the support of family and friends because I was unemployed. It also stated that that there were no health and safety concerns with the property to deem it unfit for habitation.

As of 20 September I rejected the offer because as a single parent with Council Tax, bills and the cost of food to think of coupled with several outstanding debts I knew I would not be able to afford the property. I have been unemployed for 4 months and I know that my current state is only temporary. I have been actively seeking work since I was forced to resign from my previous role due to the fact my childcare provider increased their rate and Tax Credits advised they would not cover the difference. I was on maternity leave when I entered 10 Victoria Street. When I informed the Council I would be returning to work in November 2018 my housing benefit entitlement was decreased by 74% with immediate effect leaving me in arrears for a period of time. Despite trying to explain to the Council I could not sustain such a significant reduction as my role prior to my maternity leave had changed and there was a considerable difference in my take-home pay, I was still threatened with the prospect of eviction if I did not pay back the arrears by a certain date.

I ask you now Ms. Brown, if I was barely surviving in an emergency Council property at £190.58 per week and in full time employment, do you honestly believe I would be able to support my household in a PRS property with a monthly rental value of over £1000 either as an unemployed or employed single parent? If the council applied such a drastic reduction in my housing benefit it goes without saying that the same would apply to Universal Credit the moment I begin working again. The only difference would be the that I would owe a private sector landlord a vast amount of rent in arrears.

I also rejected the offer as the property did not allow me to meet health and safety obligations toward my son. As I mentioned previously my son is 21 months old. If the Council had conducted a proper suitability assessment I do not see how they found it reasonable that the bedroom that would have been allocated to my son was situated in an isolated location at the back at the flat. In addition, both bedrooms were separated by a kitchen between them. If I had been seeking a property on private sector how as parent of a young could I even entertain the idea of having such a potentially hazardous room serve as the main thoroughfare for the entire home? It leaves me with no other choice to conclude that this property was offered to me with the full knowledge I would not be able to afford it and that the Council was negligent in conducting a suitability assessment safe within the knowledge that I would reject it. As a consequence of that rejection the Council has now discharged its duty of care towards me and my son.

I have been working with a local campaign group, Focus E15 who have supported me in pursuing my case with Newham Council.  I have had several media interviews, spoken at a deputation with Newham councillors and have attended a meeting with Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, in which she advised that all homeless applicants had a right to reject an offer from the Council. Clearly she failed to highlight that this right came with the caveat that we would be forced to leave our temporary residence and duty would be discharged. I have viewed your voting record and have noted that you have voted in favour for equality and human rights legislation. I have watched clips from Labour’s recent party conference where the Shadow Chancellor described you as ‘the conscience’ of the party. I appeal now to that conscience and to your record of siding with changes for social  justice to use your position to overturn Newham Council’s decision against me.

I also write as a resident of Newham who has seen the changes that have come and taken shape within my community, accelerated by the advent of the 2012 Olympics. I know of people who were offered vast sums to leave their properties to build the site and others who were simply kicked out to accommodate a show built on the suffering of local people.

As a voice for social justice I am sure you are aware of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into the progress the United Kingdom has been making in implementing into law rights of citizens as outlined by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In particular the government’s duty to implements the duty on public authorities to take account of the impact of their decisions on socio-economic inequalities under Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010 in England and Wales. With it’s history of forcing intentional homelessness on struggling residents, sending vulnerable applicants to locales hundreds of miles from their social connections and leaving them in insecure, unsafe and unsuitable accommodation it if fair to say Newham Council has actively discriminated against residents solely based on their socio-economic background and have enacted unfair judgements as a result.

Now more than ever is it the time Ms. Brown to use your parliamentary position to speak up about the injustices that residents in your constituency are going through in trying to secure a decent home for their family.

Newham has been a Labour-run council since 1964.
The housing crisis cannot solely be placed on the financial crash, austerity, a Conservative government or even Brexit. Labour councillors could have taken steps to mitigate against the rising number of homeless applications or worked with other labour-run councils in coming up with solutions or reducing the waiting list figures we have in Newham today. In stating this I implore you to start this process of communication between councils and alleviate the plight of your constituents. It is my sincere hope that this letter has spoken to the heart and conscious of it’s recipient and you will endeavour to take action.

From a mother and child facing imminent eviction.

Stand with Focus E15 campaign and families directly affected by this Labour council’s savage housing decisions. Newham residents are having their lives blighted by social cleansing, homelessness and the threat of eviction. 

JOIN US IN ACTION, Eviction Resistance

Thursday 17 October, Victoria Street, Stratford E15.

The word on the street

We have recently been told of another family Newham council has washed its hands of,a single mother and her teenage daughter. They have lived in Nehwam their entire lives, and spent 13 years bidding for housing. This family had the right of succession to a council home inhumanely taken away from them(do council workers get a kick out of doing this we have to wonder?) and the family were evicted from temporary housing. They were offered a place in Basildon but this was not suitable and when they could not leave all their local connections behind the council labelled them as intentionally homeless for refusing this inappropriate offer. The council then discharged their duty to house this family. Now this mother and teenage daughter are homeless and forced to sofa-surf. 

And it goes on:

Newham Council continue their destruction of young lives with yet another example of a mother and young child socially cleansed and struggling.
After no longer being able to live with family due to overcrowding, they were housed in temporary accommodation out of the borough in Chadwell Heath. They were told that it was a only for a month, but it turned out to be six. Infested with bed mites, it was unsanitary and in bad condition. Then Newham council said there was a place in Southend. Terrified of being made homeless as the council worker kept threatening if she refused it, this young mother felt she had no choice but to say yes. This meant being miles and hours from her family and support networks, from her child’s grandmother and from her university in Stratford. The council housing officer said that one and a half hour travel was acceptable. No mention of the prohibitive cost.
The flat in Southend was in major disrepair, electrical appliances not working, boiler out of action, no storage space. No-one from Newham council had seen it. She put in for a review, the council housing officer just rang her up with patronising tips on how to address the issues she had raised. This is not a review.
The predictable happened, this mother got depressed and felt isolated and alone. Her mental and physical health was affected, she was in debt due to the expense of travel, she is finding it much harder to keep going with her studies and she feels her child has no stability. She got to the point of wanting to hand in her keys. Sofa surfing and overcrowding her only alternative.

Together we are stronger. 

We demand that Newham Labour council stop threats of homelessness, stop social cleansing, stop blighting the lives of our next generation, and immediately refurbish and repopulate the empty council housing stock.
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The much loved Ella Bradbury demanding housing for all with Focus E15 campaign

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