Category Archives: women

News from Focus E15 Campaign

Come to the campaign meeting this Saturday to make plans for 2019.
Saturday 8 December 2.30-4.30pm
Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN
Hear about the effects of poor housing and insecure conditions on children and young people. A young speaker, who has recently been supported by our campaign will talk about her experience of standing up for her right to be housed near to her school. A speaker from Housing and Mental Health Network provides the bigger context, and also hear report of research on anger and how this affects us in housing.
Plus more on the Labour council, the Carpenters Estate and plans for 2019….

RESIDENTS FROM BRIMSTONE HOUSE STAND TOGETHER

Residents of Brimstone House have maintained pressure on John Gray, Newham’s Cabinet representative for Housing, to hold him to his word that the conservatory within the building will be cleared out and returned to a children’s play area, and the locked park outside the building will finally be opened up for the children to play in.

It is grotesque to think of the unsuitable and cramped conditions that families with young children are being forced into in Brimstone House while the play areas are kept locked up.

Therefore, on 1 December, residents of Brimstone House and Focus E15 campaign entered the opened park and the children played. Then we went to visist the conservatory in the building….. it was cleared out, but still boarded up and locked…. the next day however, the boarding had been taken down….this is a step forward and now it must stay  open and be filled  with toys and fun activities for the children.

Remember that Brimstone House is formerly Focus E15 hostel/foyer where the campaign started five years ago, when young mothers and pregnant women refused to be moved out of London.

Five years on, with a change in council and mayor, that fight is still going on, as families who refuse out of area housing are outrageously labelled intentionally homeless and face the real possibility of the council discharging their duty to house them, this is in the context of Newham as one of the poorest boroughs in London with worsening homelessness, overcrowding and social cleansing.

Read about this struggle here:
https://focuse15.org/2018/12/03/stuck-in-limbo-at-brimstone-house-newham/

And put it in the context of the ongoing revelations of financial mismanagement of immense proportions in the borough. Expose this rotten system….
https://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/council-investment-properties-1-5804846

It is clear that unless we fight back and resist, more and more people will be forced into unsafe, overcrowded, slum accommodation or made homeless.
We must fight for a world where land is held as a common good and housing as a human right. Which is also why we are campaigning for every new home on the Carpenters Estate to be a council home at council rent.

Capitalism is theft!
Stand with Focus E15 campaign on the streets, in action and at the meeting this Saturday and join the resistance!

 

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Former Labour Mayor Works For Right Wing Thinktank #spotthedifference

The previous Labour Mayor of Newham, Robin Wales, is now working for a leading right wing thinktank called the Policy Exchange who advertise themselves on Twitter with the strap line: Prosperity • People • Place • Patriotism. The Guardian reported on the influential link between the Conservative government and the Policy Exchange in 2010:

To understand Conservative thinking on housing policy, it is worth scrutinising some of the reports produced by their favourite thinktank, Policy Exchange. A 2010 report on making housing affordable argued that “social housing increases child poverty, mental health issues and inequality of opportunity and wealth”. It described the future of social housing as one that should focus primarily on the long-term severely disabled, with the rest of social housing let solely on the basis of residence and time spent on a waiting list. The report also called for new tenants in social housing to be denied a lifetime tenancy but put on “path to ownership”…

Focus E15 campaign is not all all surprised to learn that the mayor who tried to kick out working class pregnant mothers from a hostel has ended up working for such an establishment. It seems as if this man really has no shame: whilst failing to win the last mayoral election earlier this year, he had the gall to describe himself, in an article in the Huffington Post as a socialist and described Labour in Newham as being a ‘radical council’. The reality, as the campaign highlighted on this blog in March, is that Robin Wales is:

…an advocate of kicking out the poor and most vulnerable, running a council with £563m debt after reckless borrowing from the banks and…using the equivalent of a staggering 125% of council tax revenue on debt repayment. 

Therefore when Focus E15 campaign was alerted to the fact that Robin Wales was listed to speak at a housing event the Policy Exchange was hosting, it was clear that campaign objections needed to be heard. A demonstration took place outside the event on 19/11/2018 with people on the mic, banners laid out and placards held high. People going to the event were handed campaign leaflets.

Inside the event Robin Wales brazenly explained to the room:

….community is a really important… build places where communities can be created & people will see it as beautiful…

Let’s be clear. This man is responsible for ripping the heart out of the Carpenters Estate in Stratford which was a beautiful home to Newham residents for many years. He has no right talking about the meaning of community. During his time in office Robin Wales and Newham Labour party thought nothing of decanting residents, boarding up their homes and leaving 400 flats empty for over 10 years. These vicious attacks on residents will have life long damaging consequences – an outrage when considering the fact that these are the people whom the council is elected to serve.

The campaign also notes with great interest that details of corruption under Robin Wales’s administration in Newham have yet to be fully unearthed- according to a recent report in Private Eye about links between the council and organised crime, which is why the campaign says:

Robin Wales We Are Watching You – Still!

Newham resident bullied and threatened with ‘intentional homelessness’.

Focus E15 campaign has been working with residents from a hostel called Brimstone House in Stratford. People are living in this hostel with no end in sight as this ‘temporary’ accommodation stretches on for years. The residents are angry about their living conditions and are getting organised together as they want to move out, but they insist on their right to be housed in East London, near to their jobs, schools, families and support networks.

The following resident’s story highlights how being threatened with being moved out of London has an effect on mental health.

Focus E15 campaign caught up with this resident (who wishes to remain anonymous) at the Focus E15 street stall last Saturday.

A resident from Brimstone House’s story

This is a mother with a 5 year old child. She has been living in Brimstone house for 12 months and was initially told it was emergency accommodation for a short time only. However the council have subsequently told her that the accommodation is suitable as long term -temporary accommodation.She feels as if she was duped.

This resident  has depression and suffers from panic attacks. Due to this fragility her GP recommended that she is housed near her support networks in Newham especially considering she has a college place in Newham and her daughter has just started school. In other words her whole life is in East London.

She explains that she would be happy to be moved anywhere in East London, but that she does not want to be sent out of London.  If that were to happen she would loose contact with her friends and family who would not be able to afford to see her on a regular basis. She also does not want to loose her college place. If she was forced out of London she would be isolated and alone, with noone to help her look after her daughter if  she got sick.

However, to her complete horror the council, ignoring medical advice, offered her a place outside of London in Colchester in Essex. Her Doctor told her not to go and see the property due to her anxiety about train travel. This mother described a process and culture of being bullied to view this property out of London. She was told by council staff in the housing office that if she did not go to Colchester to view the property she would be evicted from Brimstone house and would be making herself ‘intentionally homeless’. She was also told that the council might only house her daughter and not her (this is someone in the housing department using the threat of social services to scare her). At this point her stress levels rocketed.

She got on a train to view the property in Colchester. Whilst trying to find the place that the council had forced her to view, she had a panic attack and ended up in hospital. A serious and disturbing consequences of the council ignoring known medical advice and it shows the stress that this young mother is under.

It seems as if the housing department are refusing to learn from this as she has subsequently been given another offer of a property outside of London in Tilbury. She has told Focus E15 campaigners that her mental health has deteriorated and is appealing this latest offer.

Focus E15 campaign is against the forced eviction of people from their communities and says no to social cleansing! We are demanding that Brimstone house residents are housed in their communities, close to the support networks, their jobs, their children’s schools and their medical provision. Brimstone house residents are human beings!

Join  the Focus E15 street stall this Saturday outside Wilko’s from 12-2pm.

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Newham families are being sent to live in Bradford.

Newham housing department decided that a disabled mother of two made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ after she missed a housing appointment due to emergency hospitalisation – now the council and social services are trying to move this brave family out of London all the way to Bradford in the North of England!

Focus E15 campaign was approached by this family at our street stall in Stratford and is featuring her story on our blog post below – as one of the many examples of enforced social cleansing that we hear about. Please read on to understand the battle people are facing to be housed adequately in their communities.

A resident tells her story to Focus E15 campaign

I am a disabled mother with two children, who has been living in temporary accommodation since 2008. In 2015 my family was moved into a room in a hostel by the Homelessness Unit. Here we had to share a bathroom with other tenants, rendering my equipment necessary to assist me with my disabilities useless. The council did not take into consideration my disabilities when placing me here, and it’s been extremely hard trying to cope without the use of my equipment.

After repeatedly informing the council of my condition there was a lack of response  so I sought legal advice to assist me in finding somewhere more suitable for my family and my disability. Subsequently we were moved to a two-bedroom home in Newham.

After living in temporary two bedroom accommodation for three years, the council offered us accommodation out of London in Basildon, with a date to view the property. On the morning of the viewing I had a severe panic-attack and was hospitalised in Newham General Hospital, thus missing the appointment to view the property. My solicitor informed Newham Council that I would be unable to attend the viewing due to this hospitalisation. The council did not reschedule the viewing or even enquire about my health, instead they stopped paying my rent and said I made myself intentionally homeless!

In fact, I had no knowledge that the council stopped my rent until I received a knock on my door with an eviction letter from my private landlord. Newham Council had decided to withdraw me from their duty of care sighting I “refused” the property offered. The council came to this decision without taking into consideration my medical condition or the medical evidence with my GP or Newham General Hospital.

I sought legal action to challenge this accusation of intentional homelessness, but the court decided to vote in favour of the council. I feel this is very unjust as no evidence has been provided by the council  to show I have refused the property in Basildon.

Furthermore, in June 2017, prior to the eviction notice, the ceiling fell on top of me while I was asleep in bed – I was rushed into hospital by emergency services and have been left with serve long term injuries. I have informed the council and MP Stephen Timms however they have simply brushed this incident aside despite the injuries I sustained – we even sent pictures of the incident and injuries sustained to the council however no action was taken.

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Pictures showing the fallen in ceiling and subsequent rubble

Following Newham Council withdrawing their duty of care to find suitable accommodation for my children and I, social services have stepped in to put us in a temporary two bedroom flat at the top of 4 flights of stairs, with no lift, despite my severe mobility problems.

To my horror social services are now saying they have no other choice but to send me and my family to Bradford –this is over 230 miles away,  a place where I do not know anyone. All my support networks would disappear and my children would have to start life all over again. This would make us extremely isolated. This treatment by the council is very stressful and is causing serious effect on our health. I am currently undergoing therapy to try and help with this.

The process and the lack of evidence-based decision making by the council is affecting our basic human rights to have a secure home. We have not had a fair hearing with all evidence presented. Instead our position has been ignored and a decision has been made by the council to unilaterally withdraw their duty of care to my family. My family saw Sara’s story in the Newham Recorder and reached out to Focus E15 campaign.

Keep people in their communities near their support networks! No more social cleansing! Join us on the streets this Saturday outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford and organise with those facing eviction and social cleansing.

A day in the life of Focus E15 housing campaign 

Focus E15 campaign split forces on the morning of Saturday 14 July. Our street stall was set up on Stratford Broadway by some, whilst others went to meet Newham’s new Mayor, Roksana Fiaz, at her surgery in East Ham library. Our determined group comprised of campaigners and residents from the hostel Brimstone House in Stratford, residents from the tower block Ferrier Point in Canning Town as well as local families facing eviction, all coming together to raise concerns.

We bartered a collective meeting with Roksana Fiaz and she listened to everyone’s concerns in turn which meant the meeting lasted over 1 hour. This was quite a difference from the Robin Wales experience we had been use to, where young mothers were treated with utter contempt and disdain.

Roksana Fiaz and the councillor Susan Masters who was also present were both updated about the dehumanising and prison-like security at Brimstone House, the ongoing battle against intentional homelessness, the fight against poor housing conditions and the horror of bailiffs, the inadequate housing provision for people with disabilities and children, and the way in which people are treated in the council housing offices. The message was clear, that people want permanent and appropriate housing in their communities. Roksana Fiaz instructed her staff about the issues that need following up urgently and said that her officers and the councillors need to meet with residents to hear these problems first hand. Focus E15 campaigners also raised the issue of the empty homes on Carpenters estate and she said that in the Autumn she will meet with Carpenters residents and others with updates and plans.

Focus E15 campaign will be following up all these pledges and promises.
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Meanwhile, at our stall we were joined by a very worried resident of Ebury Bridge Estate in Pimlico as Westminster Council has just voted to demolish their estate. We discussed our experience of campaigning and suggested the next steps and tactics – watch this space for an upcoming meeting in Pimlico which everyone is welcome to support!

As we ate some lunch after the street stall and the meeting, we were found by a group of housing activists from Denmark who had come to make links with Focus E15 campaign. They are part of an important new housing campaign in Copenhagen, fighting against the ‘Ghetto List’ – part of a shocking new Danish policy whereby areas are becoming known as ghettos, rights are being denied to those living in those areas – the people who live there are predominately non-western European and working class. Under the new law, children will be forced to attend day-care centres to learn ‘Danish values’, residents can receive lower welfare benefits than elsewhere, and punishments for crimes committed in the area could potentially be given double the amount of a normal sentence. Our new Danish friends said that they would be writing a blog for our website addressing their struggle, but in the meantime, see an article about this issue here: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/isolation-not-integration-minorities-targeted-danish-ghetto-policy-denmark-1826345568
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We finished our Saturday marching for Grenfell – the most shocking symbol of all the struggles in the housing crisis. We will stand with the Grenfell community until there is justice.
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Please join our housing campaign on the streets next Saturday – and remember there is a place for everyone!

 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