Sunday 29 April 2012

The housing emergency that will soon devastate Brent families

The entrance to a Chalkhill block of flats
 "They are making the poor, poorer," was the reaction of one parent when Chalkhill Primary School held a briefing about the Coalition's welfare reforms.

The school, recognising that many of its families would be hit in the near future had arranged for Reed in Partnership and Brent Housing to explain what was happening and 50 or so parents attended the meeting on Friday morning.

As the parents realised,that their lives were about to be turned upside down, the anxiety in the room deepened.

Brent Housing admitted there was little good news but emphasised the need for planning ahead of the main impact of the changes which will hit in April 2013.  They offered advice on how to bid for properties and transfers for council and housing association tenants (Call 020 8937 5211) and help for those renting in the private sector (020 8937 5211/4441/2369).

They suggested that the reforms might mean moving to Barnet or Harrow or further afield for some tenants. They were able to offer to help negotiate new rents with private landlords when the London Housing Allowance (LHA) no longer covered the full rent, perhaps with a 9 month protection if the rent was increased pending finding new accommodation.

For many, the combination of the reduced Housing Benefit,. the overall income cap, changes in the hours needing to be worked for Working Tax credit, and the likely charging of at least 20% council tax to all but the most vulnerable,  will bring about a drastic reduction in income The red columns add up to the £500 weekly limit):
Household size
Total Income
(IS/JSA, CTC, CB –approx)
Max HB from April 2013
LHA rate South Brent
LHA rate North Brent
2  adults, 2 children
£290 (2 bed rate)
£219.23 (2 bed rate)
2 adults, 3 children
£340 (3 bed rate)
£288.46 (3 bed rate)
2 adults, 4 children
£400 (4 bed rate)
£346.15 (4 bed rate)
2 adults, 5 children
2 adults,  6 children




It is clear that many families will not have enough to spend on food, heating and necessities after rent has been paid and thus will have no option but to move out of London unless they can find work.

This was where Reed In Partnership came in with its offer to help 'progression into work' , emphasising that it was not 'forcing people into work'. They offered:
  • Individual appointments to make 'better off' calculations comparing income from work with income from benefits. 
  • Opportunities to go on courses, develop English language skills, and help looking for long-term sustainable jobs.
  • Step by step help with housing, childcare, budgeting, connection with appropriate programme
  • Help into volunteer activities that would contribute to a CV
  • Help with interview skills and appropriate clothing
  • Help with public transport , providing travel cards while waiting for first pay packet
A mother who had received help from the programme spontaneously stood and said how much it had helped her. She said that they had helped her buy clothes for her job interview and that now she was employed she was better off than when she was on benefit and less socially isolated at home.

Reed In Partnership contacts: Marilyn Grundy 07534 189 557
Wembley Works, Forum House, Lakeside Way, HA9 0BU
Sessions: May 3, 17, 31 9am-noon

I am sceptical that with the numbers of people involved and with current high levels of unemployment in Brent how many people will be able to benefit but it clearly offered some a glimmer of hope. However for some mothers with very young children at home it does not seem to be an option. For many moving to 'cheaper' areas, probably with even fewer job opportunities (that's one reason why property is cheap after all) will be the only alternative to penury.  While Reed claims it isn't doing the forcing it is clear that the policy is doing just that and agencies such as Reed deliver that policy on behalf of the government.

Overall, the impact of all this must be to increase the number of children living in poverty with inevitable consequences for health and educational progress. If families are forced to move out of London children's schooling will be disrupted and nuclear families will be separated from support from their extended families and communities, finding themselves isolated and possibly facing racism and prejudice from the receiving communities.

According to Saturday's Guardian, back in 1994, Housing Minister Grant Shapps stood in what they call the London ward that represented Chalkhill, then a notorious concrete block estate.  Shapps boasts, "My brilliant slogan was 'Vote for me on Thursday and we'll start knocking your house down on Friday', and I came within 103 votes of taking a safe Labour ward".

I would like Shapps to come back to the Chalkhill Estate and  talk to people whose lives he and his Coalition colleagues are about to wreck.
It appears to me that this government is like the military, making war and killing people in a far away country. by clicking on a computer screen. They are as remote from the lives of ordinary people in places like Chalkhill and the impact these 'reforms' will have on their lives, as those military personnel were from the lives of ordinary people in Iraq. I suppose the question is are they oblivious to the consequences, or is that what they want?

For more on these issues go to this article LINK

The Chalkhill meeting showed the importance of outreach work by the Council at a venue where they can meet families affected by the welfare 'reforms' and rise awareness of the issues. I hope other schools will hold similar meetings.

From Shelter


Trevor said...

I really Feel sorry for the people that will be effected by the proposals from the hypocrites in power supposedly trying to get the country back on it's feet.

Martin Francis said...

For the record, I attended the meeting as Chair of Governors rather than a by-election candidate. My contributions elicited further details and did not make any political points or use the meeting as a political platform.

This complies with the 'purdah' requirements on schools.