don’t receive many letters anymore; almost all my admin work is generated
electronically. So when a letter arrives and it comes with an unfamiliar
letterhead, as was the case with a recent letter from Newham Council, some 200
miles away in East London, I sit up and take note.
It was effectively a begging letter addressed to me as chief executive of Peaks & Plains Housing Trust — we provide high quality, affordable housing in Macclesfield and hereabouts; the Chancellor, George Osborne, is our local MP.
Newham Council was asking us, as a Housing Trust working in the North, to re-house in Cheshire people from their register who are in housing need. The letter explained that Newham were prevented from assisting by changes to Housing Benefit Regulations, principally the changes that limit the amount of rent that would be paid by Housing Benefit. The implication being that, without our assistance, Newham would struggle to find the supply to meet their high demand.
With feelings of disgust, I promptly deposited the letter in our recycle bin.
Recession, or no recession, that Britain in the 21st century should have come
to this, a nation unable to offer a decent, civilised, caring response to some
of its most vulnerable citizens, left me feeling angry. The idea had all the
hallmarks of one of those responses to the tired old clichéd injunctions to
“think outside the box”, presumably not by front line staff or indeed anyone
dealing directly with vulnerable housing applicants.
I sympathise with Newham’s predicament. Trying to deliver a decent housing solution in the face of the Government’s Welfare Reforms in high rent areas can’t be easy. The warnings of this brewing crisis have been loud and clear — from the National Housing Federation and Chartered Institute of Housing, among others.
But asking people currently living in and wanting to continue to live in Newham to move 200 miles away to an unfamiliar new town is not the answer.
Well, we should have learned from some of the failed attempts at slum clearance in the 1960s and 1970s that breaking up communities and scattering folks to the four winds has long lasting negative consequences. Back then, people were asked to move just a few miles. What would be the impact be when it was a different part of the country?
Let’s look at that different part of the country. Arguably some parts of our Cheshire patch have more in common with that of the South East than the rest of the North. After all, Wayne Rooney et al choose to build their multi-million pound mansions in pleasant places — not low rent wastelands of low demand housing, which seemed to be the assumption lying behind Newham’s letter. Stoke. Prestbury, Alderly Edge — they’re all up North, so they must all have plenty of vacancies and be cheap.
That’s not a picture that would be recognised by many of George
Osborne’s constituents, many of whom live in our properties. There’s a certain
irony in the Chancellor, as architect of the Housing Benefit caps, being asked
to explain to one of his constituents on our 5,000 strong waiting list for
accommodation why they might have to wait for Newham residents to be rehoused
first. “I will never forget that my first duty is to those who elected me,” says
Mr Osborne on his website. “I am, first and
foremost, your MP and will always be here to assist you with any problems and
stand up for your views and concerns.”
At Peaks & Plains Housing Trust our vision is to “Create Vibrant Communities”. In my view we don’t create vibrant communities by uprooting families and friends, sending them 200 miles away to an unfamiliar town with no more job opportunities and crucially no available affordable housing. In future, Newham, save the stamps!