Over the last four years Focus E15 campaign has constantly raised the issue of intentional homelessness and highlighted the vicious policies of Newham Labour Council under Robin Wales, the previous Mayor, who presided over policies whereby if a homeless family refused to be sent out of London and refused what they called a suitable offer, then they had made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and the council could discharge their duty to house them.
This frightening process is what happened to Sara and her two young children, one in school in Newham and one preschool age. Sara has been working with Focus E15 campaign since December 2017 and has been determined to get housing justice. Sara has family, friends and support networks in Newham and has employment in Newham as well. Read the latest on this story by journalist Kate Belgrave who rightly asks, ‘when will Labour Councils get stuck in’?
Since December 2017, there have been phone calls to Newham council about Sara’s case, letters, protests, and visits to the housing office as well as challenges to the impending eviction that Sara and her children face and attempts at an appeal on the council’s decision. Now there is a court case in Central London on Thursday 26 July to see if Sara even has the right to appeal.
Meanwhile since the beginning of May, Newham has a new Labour mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz and a relatively new Labour council. We ask the new mayor to support Sara and her children to be housed in Newham, for their long term health and well being.
We urge all supporters of Focus E15 campaign and campaigners for housing justice to join us at court to support Sara on Thursday 26 July. 10am at The County Court, Central London, R.C.J More Building, Royal Court, Strand, London WC2A 2LL
On Saturday 17 March, Focus E15 campaigners celebrated the news of Robin Wales’ deselection by riding through the streets of Newham in a open-topped bus. The bus was draped with placards, banners and flags displaying clear political messages about the lack of social housing in the borough. Campaigners sang out the good news that the Mayor had been deselected, chanting in unison ‘Robin Wales has gone -so long so long’ and received many thumbs up and happy waves from Newham residents amazed at the sight of a bus load of campaigners. There were many joyful beeps and hoots from supportive motorists. Back on board the bus, exhilarating live drumming kept the freezing temperatures at bay as did the constant chanting of ‘Robin Wales is Out’ all set to the sound of popping champagne corks and loud cheering.
This celebratory mood is understandable as the Labour Mayor Robin Wales has been in power for 23 years, leaving behind him a rotten legacy of 1 in 25 people homeless. Focus E15 campaign has been a constant thorn in the side of Robin Wales for the past four years by protesting at the lack of council housing in the borough at many Mayoral proceedings and full council meetings, as well as leading an occupation on the boarded up Carpenters Estate back in 2014, when the Mayor was forced to issue a public apology for the way he had treated the original 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel.
However Focus E15 campaign knows full well that the fight for decent council housing does not end with Robin Wales’s deselection.
With this in mind, Focus E15 campaign is already placing demands on the Labour Mayoral candidate Rokhsana Fiaz and demanding that Carpenters Estate is saved for all existing residents and is maintained as 100% council housing.
With the news of Robin Wales’ defeat, groups in Newham have started to push for a People’s Charter which has already been presented to Rokhsana Fiaz. It is printed in full below. We will continue to raise the rights of all residents of Newham and hold the incoming council and the next Mayor to account.
Join us at our public meeting on 7 April at 2.30pm at Sylvias Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd E15 4DN to discuss more.
The charter has so far been signed by the following groups and individuals:
- Kevin Blowe
- Focus E15 Campaign
- Newham People’s Alliance
- Unite for Change
- Newham for Change
- The People’s Revolt
- East London Revolutionary Communist Group
- Newham Green Party
- Sasha Das Gupta
- Nadia Johnson
- Valerie Johnson
- Joseph Johnson
Finally! Robin Wales has been deselected as mayoral candidate for Newham Labour after a tense battle against Rokshana Fiaz, who will now go on to face the electorate in the local elections in May and won by over 350 votes. The news of his deselection was announced on Friday 16 March 2018. It was Robin Wales, who told the original group of 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel (after cutting the funding to the mother and baby unit) that “if you can’t afford to live in Newham, then you can’t afford to live in Newham”. Robin Wales has been in charge of Newham council for 23 years as he was head of the Council from 1995 and Labour Mayor since 2002. He has been an unpopular and unreachable figure. He spent decades promoting policies that has led to social cleansing, forcing working class people out of the borough whilst leaving homes empty and boarding up Carpenters Estate. Today 1 in 25 people in Newham are homeless as a result.
Focus E15 Campaign will be pleased to see the back of Robin Wales – because he was an advocate of kicking out the poor and most vulnerable, running a council with £563m debt after reckless borrowing from the banks and lately using the equivalent of a staggering 125% of council tax revenue on debt repayment. However the campaign also knows full well that the pressure needs to be applied to the new (very likely Labour) Mayor to promote a sustainable housing policy that benefits and suits the needs of working class residents.
Before the next leg of the campaign is fired up, Focus E15 campaign will be reflecting on the last four years and celebrating Robin Wales’s deselection on Saturday at their street stall in Stratford by having a bit of a party and then carrying on raising awareness of all the above issues by taking an open top bus through the streets of Newham. Focus E15 campaigner Jasmin Stone explains that:
“Robin Wales is out! We have spent, four and a half years fighting his social cleansing and demanding the repopulation of Carpenters estate! So many times being locked out of council meetings, attacked by private security at the Mayor’s show, arrested illegally for protesting against wrongful evictions and now he is out! Good riddance. However the fight is not over. We must make sure that the Newham People’s Charter demands are heard and met. And Robin Wales I think you will need to use Workplace and find a new job… can’t imagine anyone wanting to employ you though….
Watch this and share… More about Robin Wales’ legacy…
Let us not let Newham Labour Party and the new Mayor off the hook -we must hold them to account immediately! Read more about the Newham’s People’s Charter which Focus E15 campaign is endorsing here:
Please do join us in our celebrations to mark an end of a long era for Newham at our weekly stall on Saturday 17 March – 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway, London E15 1NG and then afterwards for more adventures on the free Focus E15 bus trip around Newham. Bring children, placards, food and drink!
The following blog post is taken directly from a report written for the Revolutionary Communist Group’s website. Thank you for allowing Focus E15 Campaign to reprint this report in full below.
Robin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the end of his reign. Rokhsana Fiaz is standing against him for the Labour mayoral candidacy and the results will be announced on Friday 16 March after local Labour members have voted. This situation came about after a trigger democracy process which has forced Wales to accept a challenger for the first time. All Newham wards voted for someone to stand against him. Wales is running scared and after decades of vicious treatment of working class people in the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist leading a radical council. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Focus E15 Campaign has been working with Sara, a mother of two young children in Newham. Her story is outlined on the Focus E15 website here. Since she refused to be moved to Birmingham, Newham Council says she has made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ and has discharged their duty to house her.
On International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! stood with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign, alongside children and parents from Sara’s son’s school, Museum of Homelessness, Streets Kitchen and Newham Green Party, as we challenged Robin Wales at the Mayoral Proceedings. This meeting is where Robin Wales rubber stamps anything he likes surrounded by his hand-picked cronies from the council. Usually an hour long, on 8 March Robin Wales looked shifty and nervous as the public gallery filled up and he raced through proceedings. After only 22 minutes he and his colleagues made a swift exit. They saw and they heard but not one stopped to look at the messages on the banners or placards nor listen to the speeches and chants from the gallery, as we demonstrated our solidarity with Sara. There is no such thing as intentional homelessness and Sara must be housed in Newham, near her family and support networks, in her community and where her children go to school.
With news of the protest spreading on social media, the local press took interest and Wales’ challenger Rokhsana Fiaz asked to meet with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign. Newham Council was forced to issue a statement defending their callous treatment of Sara and her children and standing by their decision to refuse her any further housing support.
The pressure is on, but we must all remember that Sara is just one of thousands of people and families who are facing social cleansing in Newham and at the hands of rotten Labour boroughs all around London. We must also be aware that replacing Robin Wales, while a huge victory after his years of abuse of working class people, migrants and the most vulnerable in our communities, will not solve the problems of capitalism. Rokhsana Fiaz says that housing is first of her top three priorities. It is up to us to hold her to account. Focus E15 Campaign has pledged to do this. Join us!
Robin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the possibility of deselection by the end of this coming week. Rokhsana Fiaz is standing against him for the Labour mayoral candidacy and the results will be announced on Friday 16 March after local Labour members have voted. Robin Wales is running scared and after decades of promoting policies of social cleansing of working class people, forcing them out of the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist and a radical. We know that nothing could be further from the truth.
If this is the end of the reign of Robin Wales, now is the right time for community groups and campaigns to put maximum pressure on the new Mayor and not let the Labour council off the hook. Focus E15 campaign is endorsing a people’s charter for Newham. It is a work in progress and is intended to spark debate and discussion about what kind of Newham we, the people, want.
Focus E15 campaign presented this idea of drawing up a people’s Charter to the prospective Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz on Saturday 10 March 2018 at her surgery in Custom House. If your group or community would like to endorse the People’s charter please email the campaign and we will add you onto a list email@example.com.
Focus E15 campaigners presenting a People’s Charter for Newham to the prospective Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz.
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 .
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!
Public meeting happening on Saturday 3rd February
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.
Focus E15 campaigners started the new year as we mean to go on, as thorns in the side of Newham Labour Council. This is because Newham council continue to prevaricate about dangerous cladding, keeps hundreds of homes empty on the Carpenters Estate and continues to move people out of the borough and out of London, with no regard for the health and well being of adults or children.
On Thursday 11 January, Mayoral Proceedings were held at East Ham Town Hall. Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, due to contest his seat in May this year, opened by saying what a fair place Newham borough is, giving an example that all children, rich and poor, receive free school meals. He didn’t mention that 1 in 25 people in Newham are classified as homeless and many poor, vulnerable and immigrant families are being sent out of Newham and out of London for housing – which is not fair at all and just shows the corrupt mismanagement of the borough’s housing stock.
With vocal campaigners in the public gallery, and some fine umbrella-messages, these contradictions were pointed out and the proceedings were forced to end early with one very irate Robin Wales. Campaigners then made their way to a second meeting, The Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which heard (with a section on fire safety), superficial and inconsequential ramblings about safety in clad towers (seemingly satisfied with only having ‘fire marshals’ sitting by the front door), how important it is to engage with residents (clearly councils have to remind themselves of this regularly) and how most people are happy with their housing situation (allegedly 80% of people asked said the council are doing a good job). Yet every week on our street stall campaigners meet residents who are struggling with housing and are fed up and furious with Robin Wales and Newham Labour council.
It was at this point campaigners got to their feet with the new propaganda weapon. Impassioned speeches were made about the political reality of what is happening in Newham and the councillors were forced to adjourn to another room. Our intervention ended with a chant of ‘Newham Council, we are watching you’. We certainly are and will continue to do so.
Join Focus E15 campaign on the streets, in the meetings rooms, in the council chambers, and stand in solidarity with us to build a movement for decent, safe, secure housing for all.
The next campaign meeting, open to all, is on Saturday 3 February 2.30pm – What about the rights of children…their rights and the councils wrongs in the housing crisis. Come and discuss and make plans together.
Repopulate the Carpenters Estate!
Stop social cleansing!
Make our homes safe now!
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