‘If anything happens to me, it’s on Newham (council). I’ve told you my situation!’
A mother of two young children with a third on the way, shook the walls of Stratford Town Hall last Monday evening as she addressed the full Cabinet meeting of Newham Council and outlined her increasingly dangerous and unmanageable housing situation. She is due to give birth in little over a month.
Newham council left this expectant mother and her children stranded and isolated when they forced the family to move from temporary accommodation in Newham in Brimstone House to Southend on Sea by threatening her with ‘intentional homelessness’ if she did not accept an offer of accommodation out of London. She states:
‘’I cannot describe this as a choice, as a mother cannot choose to make their children ‘intentionally homeless’. So I was forced to accept this offer and have been in Southend-on-Sea since July 2018.”
She further explains that:
“The flat I am in is on the second floor and the building has no lift. I have to climb 30 stairs with my two young children, as well as my shopping and with my double buggy, in an advanced stage of pregnancy. I regularly injure myself because of this, and I fear that something worse could happen. I feel scared to leave my children in my flat (when I leave to go get my shopping & buggy from downstairs) as they are very young. This will become even more difficult after the birth of my 3rd child.
I have absolutely no support networks in Southend-on-Sea, and when I go into labour I worry that I have nobody who can stay at home with my young children. All my support networks are in Newham where I lived for 6 years.’’
After trying to contact Newham Council and getting little response, she reached out to Focus E15 Campaign as an ex-resident of Brimstone House and joined forces with current Brimstone House residents who have just submitted a legal complaint to Newham Council about the awful living conditions in the hostel.
However, a worrying development is that following her speech at the cabinet meeting, she was contacted by a housing officer in Newham the next day, and told that ‘she would have to be moved even further than Southend to find affordable housing’. This is threatening and abhorrent.
We call on the Mayor and the Council to immediately move this mother and her children back to Newham. She is asking for her right to be housed in her community for the long term benefit of her children. A pregnant mother should not be left to give birth alone or be cast out. She needs to be back in her community so that she can get the support she needs at this vulnerable time in her life just before she goes into labour. The issues of class, race and gender are present in this case and Newham have left her in a very precarious situation far away from all those she knows and trusts.
Focus E15 Campaign says:
Newham council bring this mother and her children back home to Newham!
Stop making women and children isolated, depressed and afraid.
Keep our communities together!
Social housing, not social cleansing!
Join us on the street stall this Saturday from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford, London E15.
Focus E15 Campaign is posting some of the powerful speeches that were given as part of the deputation to the full Newham council meeting on 15 July 2019. We salute all the residents from Brimstone house who stood together and spoke truth to power at Stratford Town Hall earlier this week, (a large formal venue and a meeting of the full council is an intimidating place to speak).
Dear Madame Mayor, we the current and former residents of Brimstone House have submitted a legal complaint detailing the appalling and unstable conditions of our accommodation. You have heard the testimonies of how the cramp, damp and inadequate ventilation has been a plague on the daily living of Brimstone’s residents. You have just listened to the adverse social and psychological impact such conditions are having on the children of Brimstone. You will also no doubt be aware of Focus E15’s efforts in campaigning for the repopulation of the otherwise habitable Carpenter’s Estate.
Madame Mayor we are here today not only as your constituents, but as mothers, fathers, and residents of a borough that has shaped our lives, to ask that you actively and swiftly take action to rectify the injustice that has been mete on Brimstone’s residents, and so many other families like ours throughout the borough. The Newham Council website talks about building a resilient community. Resilience is defined as the ability to return to the original form or readily recover. As an individual who has grown up in Newham I have seen a lot of changes, but none more so than when the 2012 Olympics announcement was made. In terms of housing, whole communities were shipped out of their homes to accommodate the Olympics. If the original inhabitants of a community are not there to enjoy the benefits of the so called legacy that the Olympics was meant to bring, how can Newham claim to have successfully left a legacy or built a resilient community?
In terms of personal resilience Newham talks about instilling in individuals the ability to respond to challenges and have good relationships. Yet there is an evident lack of either attributes when residents deal with council employees. When residents assert basic rights they are met with hostility, intimidation and are reminded that they are a blight on the council resources so any help given should be received with open arms and undying gratitude. Your council’s website, asserts that ‘every child matters’ and the council is ensuring that access to educational attainment is provided. I put it to you, Madame Mayor, that education begins at home. How can a child learn the social skills they need to interact with friends outside of school of they feel uncomfortable to invite them to their homes? How can children learn about personal boundaries if there are no doors to provide privacy to complete homework or escape family life? Would you, growing up with 3 brothers, have found the confidence to invite friends home if you knew they were coming to an open plan studio apartment with beds for settees?
Our purpose here is not recant past grievances with the council but to plead with all council members that our complaint isn’t pushed into the long-grass. Brimstone House residents have spent months, and years in our current situation and to ask us to wait patiently while another 228 homes are being built goes beyond the resilience required of any individual. The flats and homes standing empty on Carpenter’s Estate are a testament to the legacy that you will leave behind Madame Mayor, one that will not paint you in a good light should nothing be done or they are demolished. You and your fellow councillors have the power to change that and have tangible positive affect on the lives of your constituents at Brimstone House. Please enact our demands as listed in the legal complaint with immediate effect.
My name is Marsha and I am a resident at Brimstone House where I have been living for the past two years with my daughter. I am here today as one of the group of residents, part of this deputation to highlight the complaint compiled by us residents, PILC and Focus E15 campaign. We are representing BH residents, we are a collective of people standing up for our housing rights. The length of stay in BH is absolutely unaccceptable. The conditions at BH are unacceptable. The way we are treated is unacceptable. The place is damp, cramped, overcrowded and unhealthy.
Our children’s physical health and development is being deeply affected.
Our own mental health is suffering. We feel there a bullying and intimidating culture that we have been made a part of. I am speaking for myself and all the other residents of Brimstone House here today, that we are absolutely fed up with hearing how many people are on the housing waiting list. We know that there are empty council homes locally and around the borough. We see the majority of new homes built that are out of our reach. Where does this leave us as residents of Newham?
As we all know, having a decent home is the core to our lives. Having structure, having routines improves stability and maintains good health. We as residents of Brimstone House don’t have that, our children don’t have that. We live in constant worry about when we are going to be rehoused or even where we are going to live. As you now, many of us have been threatened and labelled intentionally homeless because we refused to be ripped away from our community and our families. How do we cope as parents seeing our children being traumatised by the stress that we have to live through and being powerless to even help ourselves. This is not what Newham stands for.
ROMESA (age 12)
(written in note form)
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
In my opinion, no one pays attention to kids who are young. The lack of freedom we have feels like being captured in a cage with an unbreakable lock. At the end of of the day, we are all the same and we have the same hearts. We don’t feel safe. How would you like it if you were in our situation? How would you like it if we did not listen to your voice and left you alone surrounded by the darkness of Brimestone House?
It is not only us, there are many more lives here, for example, disabled people, pregnant people, single parents. Small children have no space to crawl around when they are in their early stages of learning. Instead of making big flats in other buildings, allow our powerless hearts to be free. If you really are the council, help us all to gain freedom. You are the one with the power, not us.
Thank you for listening.
The very next day
Residents from Brimstone house are being called in for suitability assessments by the council and are being told that they have to accept their fate in the expensive private rented sector otherwise they are making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ meaning that the council will discharge their duty. As you can see from the issues outlined above by residents -the fight for decent secure housing is urgent. The council must open up the boarded up flats on Carpenters Estate and all other empty properties in the borough. We will be demonstrating for the right to housing in Newham at our regular street stall on Saturday 20 July outside Wilko’s from 12-2pm. Join us to plan the next actions with Brimstone House residents on the street stall.
Don’t make our babies homeless… Children in the housing crisis
People filled the hall in the Carpenters and Dockland Centre on the Carpenters Estate on Saturday 3 February at a public meeting, hosted by Focus E15 Campaign and with invited speakers from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, the Housing and Mental Health Network and Kate Belgrave, journalist and housing blogger. The meeting was held in the grounds of the Carpenters Estate, where over four hundred homes lie empty in a Labour-run borough which has a rising homeless population and many people sleeping out on the streets.
The meeting was proposed after hearing issues affecting parents in housing need, who are being labelled intentionally homeless and then finding out that the council no longer has a duty of care towards them, but has for their children – meaning that social services may be called to intervene – a frightening prospect for any family in housing need.
This is well documented in the recent post that Kate Belgrave has on her site and was well illustrated by speakers at the meeting, which included a retired social worker who spoke of her battles decades ago to challenge similar situations. Clearly our society is going backwards and we have to take a stand again and challenge any human rights violations, including the right to family life and stand up for the rights of children. Read what Kate Belgrave has to say about this on her excellent blog:
The chair of the meeting set the scene well by describing the 100s of thousands of children in B&B and hostel accommodation in Britain, which is the six richest nation on the planet. Over two million people, including children are living in privately rented homes in England that are so squalid their health is affected and over half of all children in Britain’s poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.
While almost eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, in the richest borough in London,100 households (including hundreds of children) of the 208 made homeless are still in emergency accommodation/hotel rooms.
The speakers from the Housing and Mental Health Network spoke very clearly about the link between housing instability and mental health problems and how people are being asked to parent in situations that are fundamentally not suitable. The end of short term rental tenancies are the biggest reason for people being evicted and forced into temporary accommodation.
From the floor, we heard from and about Newham residents fighting intentional homelessness and fighting to stay in the borough and Libby Liburd, actor and writer, spoke about her play Muvvahood and her next play about temporary accommodation… keep up with her work at http://libbyliburd.co.uk/index.html.
The speaker from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! put the current housing situation in the context of austerity and the crisis of capitalism. While Britain wages war abroad, plunders and occupies and destroys, at home it uses racism and attacks on the working class to pursue its policies in the interest of a minority, enriching themselves from the exploitation of working class people. In the words of Sylvia Pankhurst, revolutionary, communist, anti-imperialist fighter in the East End in 1918: ‘One of the election cries of the Lloyd George Coalition was Housing Reform, but with what unsurmountable obstacles are those tinkering reformers faced who are unprepared to abolish the Capitalist system.’
A Newham resident speaks out.
A brave woman spoke to the campaign at the end of the meeting, having been inspired to tell her story to help reach out to others and work collectively to raise the issues and find solutions and support. This illustrates everything and more that was raised in our meeting. She told us:
I am a single mother of three who was in private accommodation for seven years and was evicted when the landlord wanted to sell. The landlord became aggressive, and has currently kept the deposit and tried to sue me for contacting environmental health about the mould. My daughter was born extremely premature and has chronic lung disease. I can’t afford another place in the private sector and the landlord still has my deposit.
I suffer with Anxiety and OCD and both my children have medical problems.
My children are not currently staying with me and are staying with their father and grandparents.
I have chosen to do this because I don’t want them to be in the horrible temporary accommodation I have been given. I can’t cook adequately there.
I am staying at the property in the evening and leave early in the morning to get the children ready for school and to take them to school. I stay with the children until they go to bed and then I go back to the property. The house the children is in is overcrowded.
Newham Council is fully aware of my difficulties and have letters from my psychiatrist detailing how I am currently suffering a significant deterioration in my mental illness due to recent changes in my housing circumstances and made particularly difficult and unbearable due to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depressive illness.
The housing officer said that Newham Council has carried out their duty by giving me a house and that no one can say how long the temporary accommodation will be for.
I am very ashamed of being in this situation and more so having to put my children through it.
We demand housing justice for Newham’s residents.
Join us on our weekly street stalls, Saturdays 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford outside Wilko’s and come to the next campaign meeting, Saturday 3 March 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN. Robin Wales must go! The Carpenters must be saved!
Carpenters and Docklands Centre, 98 Gibbins Rd, E15, Stratford, 2.30pm
The number of children living in temporary accommodation in Britain has been steadily increasing since 2011, from 80,000, to an estimated 128,000 by December 2017. In England alone, at the end of 2017, 85,000 children, of which about 26,000 were under-fives, were stuck in temporary accommodation. Tower Hamlets had the highest number of under-fives in temporary accommodation last year, followed by Newham. This instability is damaging our children’s physical and mental health.
Come to our public meeting to have your say, discuss and debate these issues, educate ourselves, agitate in our communities, schools, workplaces, and organise to hold our local councils to account. Homeless children? NO WAY!
Speakers: Focus E15 campaign, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, Kate Belgrave (journalist and blogger), The Magpie Project, the Housing and Mental Health Network.
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
East Thames Housing Association in the limelight again…. Every week on the street stall Focus E15 campaigners meet people in housing need. We have recently met residents of East Thames Housing association who are worried about being evicted. Focus E15 campaign have had extensive dealings with this housing association in the past because it was East Thames that wanted to evict young mothers, when Newham council cut funding to the mother and baby unit in an East Thames managed hostel. These bullying and vicious threats gave rise to the Focus E15 campaign in 2013.
In December 2016, East Thames Housing Association joined forces with London&Quadrant Housing Association. Together they manage over 90,000 homes across Britain and pledge to build 100,000 new homes, 50% of which will be ‘affordable’ (we all know that that means 80% of market rent and this is not affordable). Their website states that they ‘combine [their] social purpose and commercial drive, investing all profits back into creating homes and neighbourhoods people can be proud of’. When you read the story below you are left to wonder what their social purpose is and whose interests are being represented.
Please read the story below which shows how East Thames Housing Association tenants are treated. Be ready to join us in the coming weeks to challenge East Thames in their shocking treatment of this grieving family.
East Thames tenants speak out
‘We have lived at our East Thames home for over 20 years. Sadly, our dad, the sole tenant, passed away before the summer unexpectedly. In the aftermath of his death we have gone through the correct channels and reported the sad news to East Thames.
We applied for succession of the tenancy but this has been declined due to their policy.
It has taken East Thames over four months to tell us something that is policy. We now have 28 days to pack up over 20 years of memories, forcing us to deal with our father’s belongings whilst we are still grieving.
Receiving this result from the housing association felt like a kick in the teeth especially for our parents who are both deceased. They have been London&Quadrant and East Thames tenants since 1982. All parents work hard to keep a safe place for their children growing up and in their absence hope the family home can remain.
East Thames did not present us with any other alternatives for housing just the news that we must vacate.’
Focus E15 campaign believes that these tenants must stay in their long term family home! There is no need for the housing association to evict them. Join with us on the Focus E15 campaign street stall every Saturday from 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford, outside Wilkos to discuss this case and make further plans for action.