On March 15, 2015, 22 events took place in the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada to raise awareness of homelessness, under the umbrella heading, “March for the Homeless.” I attended the protest in London, opposite 10 Downing Street, where campaigners had arranged for homeless voters to register for the General Election on May 7, and there was a free food kitchen.
Homelessness has increased by 55% since the Tory-led coalition government came to power, and, of course, has increased specifically because of the introduction of certain disgraceful policies — the benefit cap, which attempted to portray those receiving benefits as the problem, when the real problem is greedy landlords; and the bedroom tax, whereby a cabinet of millionaires, with more rooms than they can count, passed legislation forcing people on benefits living in social housing who are deemed to have a “spare room” to downsize, even though there are few smaller properties to move to, and many people, treated as worthless “units” by the government and kicked out of their homes, have had to be rehoused in the private sector, thereby increasing the overall housing benefit bill.
An article in the Guardian last June stated that, in 2013, “112,070 people declared themselves homeless in England — a 26% increase in four years. At the same time, the number of people sleeping rough in London grew by 75% to a staggering 6,437.” In addition, as the Streets of London website notes, there are also “around 400,000 ‘hidden homeless’ in the UK, living out of sight in hostels, B&Bs, ‘sofa-surfing’ or squatting.” Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign and share the Sweets Way tenants’ petition calling for their homes to be saved from demolition on Change.org, and see below for their story. Also see the postscript following the court decision on March 30.
London’s housing crisis is something that preoccupies me on a daily basis, although I don’t get to write about it anywhere near as much as I’d like. As a social housing tenant who has lived in London for 30 years, I can say that, since the Tory-led government came to power five years ago, I have never felt as vulnerable or as demeaned, and I have watched aghast as the current housing bubble has driven house prices beyond the reach of most families — and, perhaps more crucially, has also driven rents to levels never seen before.
With rents and mortgages easily reaching £15,000 or £20,000 a year, matching the median income in London, it is understandable why so many hard-working people are now paying out so much for a roof over their heads that they have little left over for their own enjoyment (and crucially, to put into the wider economy), or cannot make ends meet and are obliged to use food banks, or are having to leave London entirely.
In addition, for many social tenants, life is increasingly insecure, as cash-strapped councils claim that they are unable to afford the maintenance on aging estates, and, as a result, sell the land to developers to build new estates, from which existing tenants are priced out, replaced by foreign investors and relatively wealthy British buyers. These developments are supposed to include “affordable” social housing, but more often than not whatever social component exists is actually unaffordable for most workers, because, in September 2013, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, set affordable rents at 80 percent of market rents. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, I was delighted to be a speaker at the Not the Global Law Summit, held in Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament, and also to have an opportunity to take the photos you can see in my photo set here. The event was called as a protest against the Global Law Summit, a three-day event taking place in the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, where tickets are £1500 (or £1750 on the door), and 2,000 delegates are in attendance from 110 countries, including 90 government ministers (see the speaker list here). As I mentioned in the text accompanying my photos, the Global Law Summit purports to celebrate Magna Carta in the year of its 800th anniversary, but in fact celebrates the law as a facilitator for corporate greed and unaccountable power.
The Not the Global Law Summit was also part of an ongoing campaign by the organisers, the Justice Alliance, to resist savage cuts to legal aid proposed by the Tory-led coalition government, and primarily by its chief butcher of the legal world, Chris Grayling, the first Lord Chancellor who is not from a legal background.
The Not the Global Law Summit also took place after a three-day Relay for Rights, featuring a giant puppet of Chris Grayling as King John, in the stocks. The Relay involved a 42-mile walk from Runnymede, where Magna Carta was signed in 1215, whose most lasting outcome was the creation of habeas corpus — the right not to be arbitrarily imprisoned, and to have a fair trial — which has been exported around the world and is our greatest defence against executive overreach. Read the rest of this entry »
February 14, 2015 was the 13th anniversary of the arrival at Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who, disgracefully, is still held, despite being approved for release by the US authorities twice, in 2007 and 2009.
To mark the occasion, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with support from other groups including We Stand With Shaker (the group co-founded in November by Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes), the London Guantánamo Campaign, Reprieve and various Amnesty International groups held a lively protest opposite 10 Downing Street, with a number of speakers including Joy Hurcombe, the chair of SSAC, Katie Taylor of Reprieve, the journalists Yvonne Ridley and Victoria Brittain, the peace activist Bruce Kent, Andy Worthington and Shaykh Suliman Ghani, a teacher and broadcaster, and a friend of Shaker’s family. The speakers were ably coordinated by the campaigner David Harrold.
It was a great turnout, as I hope the photos show, and the particular focus of the event — just across the road — was David Cameron, the British Prime Minister. The British government claims that it is doing all it can to secure Shaker’s release, but that ultimately his fate is the in the hands of his US captors, but that is simply untrue. David Cameron could secure his return if he made it enough of a priority, which he should be doing, as Shaker is a legal British resident, with permanent leave to remain, and if any other legal resident found themselves imprisoned without charge or trial for years, and tortured, it is a safe bet to say that they would already have been released. Read the rest of this entry »
The last week has been hugely busy for campaigners working to try to secure the closure of Guantánamo; and, specifically, the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. February 14 was the 13th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo, even though he was first told nearly eight years ago that the US no longer wanted to hold him, and, in 2009, was approved for release a second time by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.
His continued imprisonment is an absolute disgrace — for both the British and American governments — and no more excuses are acceptable, although they continue to be furnished by both sides. Last month, Shaker’s case was raised by David Cameron when he met President Obama in the US, but that only led to the president promising to “prioritize” his case, which has led nowhere to date. In fact, the outcome of this meeting was pure evasion: if Shaker’s case was genuinely prioritized, he would be home in London with his family a month from now — after the required 30-day notice to Congress — whereas the outgoing defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who must make the certifications to Congress that it is safe to release prisoners, recently explained that he hadn’t even been given Shaker’s file.
On the eve of the 13th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo, the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which I established with Joanne MacInnes in November, planned to hand in a giant Valentine’s Day card for Shaker to the Ambassador, Matthew W. Barzun, with the following message: “We urge you to ask President Obama to secure the immediate release from Guantánamo of British resident Shaker Aamer. Please tell the president we want Shaker returned to his loved ones in London now.” Supporters were also encouraged to send smaller versions of the card directly to the Ambassador. Read the rest of this entry »
The first is at the University of Westminster on Wednesday February 11, when I’ll be discussing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture programme with Philippe Sands QC, a law professor at UCL and a barrister at Matrix Chambers (and the author of Torture Team), and Carla Ferstman, the director of REDRESS, a human rights organisation that “helps torture survivors obtain justice and reparation,” and “works with survivors to help restore their dignity and to make torturers accountable.” The discussion will be chaired by Dr. Emma McClean, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Westminster.
What an excellent event the ‘March for Homes‘ turned out to be.
Despite hideously inclement weather — it was bitterly cold, and the rain was almost freezing — an estimated 5,000 people marched to City Hall from the Elephant & Castle in south east London and Shoreditch in east London on Saturday to call for secure and genuinely affordable housing for all.
As I explained in the text accompanying my photo set on Flickr:
The protest had real passion and energy, which to be honest, was unsurprising, given the extent of the housing crisis in London, with mortgages unaffordable for ordinary working people, rents spiralling out of control, unscrupulous landlords unfettered by any kind of legislation to protect tenants, and developers making more and more unaffordable new properties for a marketplace swimming with foreign investors, vying with rich Britons to fleece ordinary workers and to drive the unfortunately unemployed out of London altogether.
I wrote my thoughts about the London housing crisis in detail in an article on Thursday, which I recommend for those who want know more of what I think about the single most severe problem currently facing millions of Londoners — the unacceptably disproportionate cost of their housing. It deserves to be a hot election topic, but it remains to be seen if the Labour Party will rise to the occasion — beyond their pledge to scrap the hated bedroom tax — or, if not, if campaigners for restraints on the private rental market, those in social housing and those seeking to preserve it, trade union representatives, members of the Green Party, left-wing Labour Party members and others interested in the importance of social housing can build and sustain a campaign that places housing at the heart of policy-making, where, along with jobs for all (a generally undiscussed topic), it deserves to be. Personally, I’d like to see another ‘March for Homes’ take place in the spring, before the election, when, with good weather, it could be a huge event. Read the rest of this entry »
This Saturday I’ll be joining the “March for Homes” in London, as campaigning groups and individuals call for controls on the private rental market and protection for social housing — and, ideally, a massive, not-for-profit, social homebuilding programme. One group who will be attending is People Before Profit, who, at the weekend, raised this excellent little house outside Lewisham Council’s offices. Campaigners have been sleeping in it at night ever since, and in the daytime collecting signatures on a petition to Lewisham’s Mayor, Steve Bullock, and educating passers-by about the deplorable housing situation in Lewisham — replicated across London’s 32 boroughs, of course — and calling for local housing needs to be addressed, and not the profits of developers, who are all over Lewisham like a plague. Spokesman John Hamilton said, “We want all new housing to be affordable,” and also highlighted the 600 families currently living in temporary accommodation in the borough. “We need drastic action,” he added.
On Saturday, campaigners from across London — myself included — will be marching to City Hall — that odd little lop-sided egg near Tower Bridge, part of the horribly corporate More London development — to tell London’s addled Mayor, Boris Johnson, that drastic action is indeed needed on housing. That’s at 2pm, and is preceded by two marches beginning at 12 noon — one from south London and one from the east.
The south London meeting point (see the map here and the Facebook page) is St. Maryʼs Churchyard, just south of the Elephant & Castle, London SE1 6SQ (nearest tube/rail Elephant & Castle), the protected green space next to two new developments — to the north, ‘One the Elephant,’ a 37-storey tower — with no social housing component — that is being built by Lend Lease (the Australian developers who snapped up the Heygate Estate from the Labour Council for a mere £50m) and to the south, a 44-storey tower — 360 London — that Mace and Essential Living are building, which “will provide 462 units, of which 188 will be affordable” (but only once the word “affordable” has been twisted out of all shape to mean 80% of market rents; in other words, unaffordable for most ordinary working people). According to the London SE1 website, “It will contain one of the largest number of homes for long-term private rental in the country when complete.” In addition, “The Peabody Housing Trust has been appointed to manage the affordable housing element with 159 shared ownership and 29 rental units.” Read the rest of this entry »
What a busy three weeks it has been — first with the launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside Parliament on November 24, and then, this week, with the release of our short film for Shaker for Human Rights Day (featuring Juliet Stevenson and David Morrissey) and, rather tending to overshadow everything else, the release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into CIA torture; in other words, the report examining — and condemning — the Bush administration’s torture program.
My first thoughts about that report are here, in an article for Al-Jazeera, entitled, “Punishment, not apology after CIA torture report,” which I’m glad to say has had over 6200 likes so far.
In addition, the We Stand With Shaker campaign continues to make waves. Just as revulsion at the torture inflicted in the “war on terror” seems to have become somewhat fashionable, so the unjust imprisonment of Shaker Aamer is awakening indignation within the British establishment. This week the Daily Mail got on board, calling for Shaker’s release from its front page!
Below I’m posting a short interview I did on RT, on the day of the launch, which was only made available a few days ago, but which, I believe, captures well Shaker’s plight and the unjustifiable nature of his ongoing imprisonment: Read the rest of this entry »
Congratulations to the tenants of the New Era Estate in Hoxton for mounting a major campaign to oppose attempts by the US property company that bought up their homes to price them out, in an act of naked greed that ought to make any decent person feel rather queazy about how greed has become the sole measure by which society as a whole measures success.
The New Era Estate — home to 93 families in several blocks of flats in Hoxton, where London’s hipsters mix with council tenants — was built in the 1930s as workers’ housing, a private enterprise by a socially responsible family whose activities echoed what was being undertaken at the time by the London County Council. The Lever family, which built the estate, ran it through a trust — and kept the rents genuinely affordable — until March this year, when it was sold to a consortium, led by the US firm Westbrook Holdings, in which Tory MP Richard Benyon’s family firm also had a stake — and the Benyons, it transpired, took over the running of the estate.
In June, the Daily Mirror reported how rents had already been put up by 10% and how, at a meeting with tenants — many of whom have lived on the estate for decades — Richard Benyon’s brother Edward “announced plans to refurbish the 1930s homes and build more flats on the roof,” as the Mirror put it.
“The goal, which is something I have had to say to all of you, is the fact that the rents will be going to market value,” he said, meaning, quite possibly, a tripling or quadrupling of the existing rents, because of the hipness of Hoxton and the complete absence of any kind of rent control. Landlords, if they can get away with it, can charge £2000 a month for flats whether they are new, refurbished or run-down (making a total of £24,000 a year), even though the average income in the UK is only £27,000. Read the rest of this entry »
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