Tag Archives: Lambeth

Tonnes of housing action stuff

14 Nov

Detail from a decorated door that was left outside the occupation of the Southwark council house

Next week at 195 Mare street social centre in Hackney, there’s a Free School running with workshops, films, and discussions. Each day has a different theme with housing/homelessness/benefits, Do It Yourself day, queer-feminism, and art. The timetable for the week looks amazing – incredibly varied and full (there’s a talk on ‘Defence Against the Dark Arts’, I’m excited about raw cooking cos I had my first raw cake a couple of months back and it was mind blowing).

Thursday 21st is housing/homelessness/benefits day with a jam-packed schedule ranging from advice and support sessions, talks with local housing action groups, and a lock and barricade workshop at 3.30pm, with the day finishing up with some kick boxing. I’m super excited about the day as it looks like a great chance for people to come together, make links, share info, learn practical skills, and plan more projects around welfare and housing action. I’m excited by the whole week as there is so much interesting stuff on. Don’t miss it!

Other exciting housing things include:

The visit this week by members of Abahlali baseMjondolo and their inspiring piece in the Guardian.

Space Hijacker’s FOXtons HUNT this Saturday meeting at 2pm outside the pub at London Fields.

Lambeth protest at the town hall 6pm Wednesday 20th on housing, education, and welfare cuts.

Numerous successful challenges to the residential squatting ban including Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth’s occupation of a council house which was being sold off which attracted national media attention and massive support, including home baked cake.

Talks about future housing actions across London.

My mate’s housing based tweets from her Berlin visit and a promised article on it.

And beyond housing and linked in with housing, there is loads of inspiring stuff going on – including the 3 Cosas campaign, London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, South London Anti-Fascists, the Week of Action Against Sanctions and Workfare.

See you on the streets (and in the squats)!

Welfare and Housing Information day – Saturday 26th October 3pm-6pm

24 Oct

Lambeth council’s ‘welfare’ – cutting benefits, fighting for police

24 May

This has turned into quite a rant – it’s quite long and incoherent, but I wanted to talk about the welfare cuts in Lambeth, mental health, the police, and what scum Lambeth council are. I just got really sick of all of the propaganda they’ve been putting around. I hope some of it makes sense and is interesting.

Lambeth council benefit cuts campaign

Woman: “Hello, I was calling to get advice on the latest benefit cuts”

Benefits helpline: “It’s not us you want to speak to, I’ll put you through to Lambeth Living”

Gets redirected to Lambeth Living

Woman: “I saw some posters up with scissors cutting across a pound sign. I was calling for advice. My benefits have been cut because of the bedroom tax and council tax benefit cut. I work in the public sector so my pay has been frozen for the last couple of years. My pay check doesn’t get me to the end of the month any more and this was before the most recent cuts. I wondered if you had advice on income maximisation?”

Lambeth Living: “We haven’t heard about that [the benefits advice campaign that Lambeth are running, which advertised the first phone number as a place to get advice]. We don’t know about that…the cuts have come in, they’re happening”

Boy does my friend know that they’re happening. Before the crisis my friend had figured out a way to just about survive on low wages and low status at work both of which compound her already severe mental health issues. With the cascade of cuts things have got significantly worse for her.

Now all she has money for is food. She walks everywhere as public transport is too expensive – this means that she is then even more exhausted during the time free from work, making survival even more difficult and deepening her depression. Important time and energy is taken up fighting for the benefits she needs. I attended the housing office to support her with her claim and witnessed the suspicion you are treated with as you go through an exercise of humiliation proving how little you have.

Life at work has only got worse with the cuts. Whilst struggling to deliver a decent library service in the face of long-term underinvestment and the more recent cuts, library staff have been under increased pressure as well as surveillance and bullying from management. Council staff are not allowed to speak out against the council, but anyone who visits a library can see the diminishing welfare of the staff as well a witness a service that is only just functioning. Now the staff have been told that they will be providing welfare advice as well as the library service (which always doubled up as social services anyway as vulnerable people sought assistance here).

Supporting welfare cuts

“The cuts are happening” so goes the Lambeth benefit cuts campaign. Lambeth argue that this is the doing of central government, which indeed it is. But Lambeth council are implicated in it too. They are supporting these brutal cuts. Their posters, depicting scissors cutting through the pound sign, state what everyone on low incomes knew already. The posters encourage acceptance and acquiescence. The council could have written anything on these posters, how about “Lambeth let’s organise/loot – luxury for all” but instead they informed us that benefit cuts were happening and that is that. We can get some patronising advice about how to cope with deepening poverty apparently – although the phone call above suggests that the council has failed to tell its staff of this service/campaign. I resented seeing these posters in my neighbourhood which were effectively adverts for welfare cuts. Them enforcing their reality onto us as if their could be no struggle. The absence of any kind of opposition and outrage on what is being inflicted on our communities is complicity with the cuts. Lambeth have not spoken out against these brutal and violent welfare cuts and this is why they are scum – there’s (lots) more to come to support this.

Councillor Edward Davie shows his support for so-called ‘welfare reform’ in his article for the Guardian in which he expresses contempt and suspicion of those on benefits, repeating the myth that benefit fraud is actually a thing. The council’s Emergency Support Scheme (which replaces central government’s social fund which was cut this April) facilitates the role out of another disastrous aspect of ‘welfare reform’ – Universal Credit: “ The council wishes to encourage people to take up Credit Union membership so that they have access to mainstream support and a proper bank account in the run up to the implementation of Universal Credit. Making Crisis Loands conditional on membership achieves this, reducing the likelihood of people getting into difficulty in the future. Charging a small amount of interest allows money to be ploughed back into the pot to help more people.” http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s51837/05%20Cabinet%20report%20171212%20-%20Emergency%20Support%20Scheme%20-%20FINAL.pdf

Of course, in this document about the Emergency Support Scheme, those vindictive words ‘personal responsibility’ appear as a stated aim of the scheme.

More Lambeth council propaganda

Letter from Lambeth Welfare Reform Team

The Work Programme can help you LOL

Lies and misinformation

Another round of Lambeth propaganda posters informed residents that their council tax had been frozen for another year. Lambeth here are again smug and self-congratulatory. However, this is simply not true for 20,758 residents who have seen their council tax benefit scrapped and an increase in the amount they must now pay. On average, they will have to pay £2.12 extra a week, with the greatest amount being £7.68. This may not sound like a lot, but when your pay or JSA already struggles to get you to the end of the month, suddenly losing £2 a week is a big deal. Whilst other local authorities decided to maintain council tax benefit for those who need it, deciding it would be more costly to administer and collect from those who simply do not have it, Lambeth council decided to pass it on to some of its poorest residents (pensioners, disabled people, carers, those affected by the benefit cap will still receive council tax benefit). They are most definitely not on our side.

Lambeth council had apparently consulted on what scheme should replace the centrally administered Council Tax Benefit, however a friend who had responded to this ‘consultation’ told me how the consultation form had been guiding to what Lambeth wanted to hear. She had wanted to propose collecting council tax from second homes in the borough in order to keep council tax benefit but this was not presented as an option by Lambeth and there was nowhere for her to write this suggestion.

Letters from Lambeth Welfare Reform Team partnered with the homelessness charity Broadway have been sent to the 658 families who will be affected by the benefit cap, these letters have also appeared in my local library. A colourful scene of a residential street mocks the reader who is informed that they will be unlikely to remain in their home. “Work is an option that will have to be considered” we’re informed patronisingly by people who clearly have no understanding of the current crisis, one of the consequences being 1,700 people applying for 8 jobs at a local Costa cafe, meaning that waged work is simply not an option. Nor do they seem to know that many housing benefit claimants are already in paid work (over 90% of new claims made between 2010-2011 were made by those in paid work); or that those not in paid work do spend their days working but do not receive a wage. In order to ‘help’ people into waged work, Broadway claim to be working in partnership with the local Work Programme providers. These Work Programme providers sanction claimants with relish, taking away their only means of subsistence. You stand a better chance of getting paid work if you’re not on the Work Programme than if you are. Yet, as the letter acknowledges itself, people are mandated onto the Work Programme – if they do not participate they will lose their benefits. Lambeth Council and Broadway charity are working in partnership with providers who can further impoverish claimants.

Whilst Lambeth council claim to be powerless to act against central government cuts – which we know is false, seeing as they are happily enough driving them through – in areas where it does have significantly more power, Lambeth has consistently acted against its residents and on behalf of large developers and gentrifiers. The council have allowed developers to ditch their commitments to social housing on the Brixton Square development. The developers of Vauxhall Sky Gardens have also applied to ditch their commitment of 31% ‘affordable’ housing to 0%. Whilst the social housing that had been promised would have only been a tiny fraction of what is needed (in a borough which has severe overcrowding, an ever increasing housing waiting list, and hundreds of families being forced from their homes with the forthcoming benefit cap) it would have been at least some kind of tokenistic gesture that the council acknowledge the urgent housing needs of its residents. Instead, the ‘needs’ of developers gentrifiers are of greater interest to the council.

100 more ACAB

Social day cut


The most infuriating, sickening, and insulting part of all of this is that whilst Lambeth council fail to take an active stance against these brutal welfare cuts, they suddenly do speak out and campaign when it comes to police cuts. At my local GPs I was met with a pile of postcards depicting two cheery looking police hats perched upon the figure 100 demanding ‘100 more police’. Demanding 100 more police in a borough where communities are terrorised and targeted by the police, where the police bully and beat up and kill those with mental health issues shows Lambeth’s disturbing vision of ‘welfare’. Welfare provision has morphed into the policeman’s boot. Of course, welfare has always been a form of domination and control, but now the boot, which had previously nudged at us, is now kicking us in our stomachs and pushing our faces into the concrete.

100 more police will apparently ‘make Lambeth safer for women’ – says the council which is closing one o’clock clubs (one mother told me how important these places were for women, she identified domestic violence as being linked with women having nowhere outside the house to go to), drastically cutting their incomes, and taking away autonomy through their promotion of the Work Programme.

The disgusting and abusive treatment by the police of those with mental health issues (last year, a video went around on Twitter showing police men attacking a mentally ill man outside Brixton library. A protest was held outside the police station that evening against their violence to our communities) parallels the contempt that the council shows. In a borough which has a proportion of people with mental health issues in Lambeth is 12 times the national average, the council has taken away bus passes from mental health patients, ended a weekly social session (see photo above), and outsourced some mental health services to a charity which sees work as conducive to good mental health (rather than thinking more critically about the role of work and acknowledging its role in compromising mental health). No doubt there have been other cuts to mental health services which have been unreported. In the face of these cuts, it seems the police will be left to ‘deal’ with those affected by the cuts, as more police is what the council deemed important to campaign for over other, less violent, forms of welfare. This is the ‘welfare’ that Lambeth are promoting for our increasingly impoverished communities.

Isolation feeds sadness

Isolation feeds sadness

The letters dropping through people’s doors, telling them they may have to work, or ‘manage their money better’ or whatever other crap Lambeth have come up with, are part of individualising the welfare cuts. That they are a personal problem, that must be dealt with on this level, whether it means you are forced from your home, end up needing a food bank to feed your family, or walk yourself everywhere to exhaustion. As the 1968 graffiti declared, “isolation feeds sadness”. To combat this feeling of isolation, helplessness, and self-blame, local residents are organising together to deal with their issues collectively, to challenge the disrespect experienced by people trying to access housing and benefits” as London Coalition Against Poverty eloquently puts it. Residents have been coming together as South London Welfare Action and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth where, based upon and inspired by the models of LCAP and ECAP, they discuss the problems they are facing, provide support for each other, and collectively decide what direct action to take. These groups allow people to see that it is not an individual issue or failing to be struggling with benefits or housing, but one that is common to us all. Through leafletting and holding meeting for these groups, we’ve met our neighbours and talked with each other. It was inspiring to listen to people talk about their situation and be so enthusiastic about the groups and taking action together. As one woman said to me when we were discussing housing problems: “Everything is going up, but my wages are the same, my social rent has gone up again this year. Gas, electric, food are all going up as well. I would definitely like to be involved.” In the face of our communities literally being torn apart by welfare cuts, this coming together seems like the most important thing that we can do.

Lambeth have created an interesting ‘profiler tool’ which allows you to view the benefit cuts ward by ward. Worth taking a look at here to try and get an idea of what is happening to our communities. Does not come near to speaking with people about the cuts and crisis though.

The ‘Co-operative council’ – a ‘radical’ experiment with local governance?

27 Nov

As Lambeth council leader Steve Reed seeks election as MP in the Croydon North by-election it seems like a good time to take a look at his flagship project on which he has launched his rise to national politics. Lambeth council declared itself a “Co-operative Council” back in 2010 claiming to revolutionise the way in which public services are delivered. This new model of governance would, they claimed, empower communities by allowing them to make decisions about the way in which their services are run.

This rhetoric of shifting power to the people has proven popular amongst local councillors, with over 20 Labour councils piloting approaches in co-operative public services through the “Co-operative Councils Network” founded by Steve Reed. Other fans include the Guardian’s Zoe Williams who has written about the “constructive changes” by Lambeth and other councils as “heartening”. Steve Reed has even declared in a New Statesman article that his project “offers a model that can be extended right across public services nationally.”

But before the “co-operative council” attempts to go national, it is important to look at what it has actually done here in Lambeth – behind all the rhetoric, what do residents make of the “co-operative council”?

One o’clock clubs were declared by Lambeth council to be an “early adopter” of the “co-operative model” in 2011. The councils’ plan was for the one o’clock clubs to be run by “new co-operative entities” by April 2012. However, there were not adequate external bids for all the one o’clock clubs and so they remain council run for the time being. This process of transferring the management of one o’clock clubs has come under significant criticism from users of the service who highlight the undemocratic nature of the process and their concerns for the future of the service under this new model.

Fenton Forsyth brought his children to the one o’clock clubs 25 years ago and now his youngest son, who is three years old, attends their local one o’clock club. He has seen the service over the last 25 years. It is precisely this wealth of understanding and experience that Lambeth council claim that the “co-operative council” will draw from, yet Forsyth described how he has been left “disillusioned” by the whole process. “There’s a feeling of helplessness amongst people that it’s not done properly, they don’t have their say, people are anxious about what’s been done and how it’s done.” Forsyth describes how at a meeting arranged by the council the decision that the one o’clock clubs would be outsourced had already been made, “it wasn’t about the council there justifying why they’re getting rid of the service, it was more about who was going to win the bid. I missed it when Lambeth said, “look we’re sorry”, people didn’t have a chance to ask questions – so there was no accountability.”

After hearing bids from organisations looking to run the service, the attendees were given one vote. When Forsyth asked if he could have a ballot paper for his wife who was at work, he was told that only the people at the meeting could vote. He explained to me that this was “snap shot democracy” where only people at that specific moment could have a say, when it should involve the whole community. “When I started protesting at the level of democracy, they just didn’t have an answer.” Forsyth added that only 30% of votes went to the users, with the rest going to the council, so that whatever they voted for, it could be overridden by the council.

In the end Effra Nursery School won the bid for his local one o’clock club. Their plans include getting rid of a soft padded play area for children with special needs and bringing in a cafe. Forsyth expressed his worries at this shift from a universal service to a service that is actually more like a business which may exclude certain groups, “it’s more of a middle class, it will be a trendy coffee shop and that’s going to obviously stop a lot of people from coming in, the people that come there can’t afford to buy them, so you’ll have a group of people coming there, it won’t be just people with children and you can chill out, it’s a business.”

I visited my local one o’clock club and spoke with a group of women there about the service. They spoke with great passion about the importance of the one o’clock clubs in their lives. They described how the one o’clocks clubs were vital to creating a community; that through them they had made lifelong friends and had got to know their neighbours. They are “a way that you do actually, cohesively, join your community. Promoting community, strengthening communities is what one o’clock clubs is about,” one of the women explained. They also spoke of the well being that these places brought to them and their children. One woman cited a recent report which showed an increase in domestic violence because of the wet summer meaning people were couped up indoors to illustrate the important role of one o’clocks clubs.

Yet despite all their knowledge and commitment to the one o’clock clubs, Lambeth council, even in its co-operative phase, has not taken on board what they have to say. Speaking of the recent meetings where users could hear about the bids being made for the one o’clock clubs, one woman said, “we just listened to them tell us what they would do. We don’t feel that they do listen to us, because we live near Ruskin park, but they just shut it down, they didn’t listen to us at all, we weren’t given any notice, we were just told it’s going to shut in one week. It’s because they can’t quantify the value and the impact it’s having on the children, if they were to come and see the children interacting with each other, playing, exploring, discovering, and the opportunities that they have that they don’t get in your home – it’s because they don’t value that…” Instead, the women told me, the one o’clock club is now being rented out as offices.

The women’s sense of ownership, community, and empowerment that they feel for their one o’clock clubs shows up the “co-operative council” as being utterly redundant. The council are enforcing their “co-operative” model onto a community that already exemplifies many of the characteristics that the “co-operative council” claim to promote. And it is their model that is threatening the community of the one o’clock clubs as they are closed down or become like a business, as Forsyth described.

Lambeth libraries were another service that the council decided to restructure along their “co-operative” principles. A libraries consultation was set up earlier in the year encouraging residents to “have your say”. Councillor Florence Nosegbe described the model that is now being put in place: “every individual library has been allocated a budget and how that budget will be spent will be decided by local residents, friends of libraries groups and the ward councillors. It’s about being quite bold to say that if you value that library and if you think these are the things that should be in that library we’re going to give you that flexibility to go ahead and spend that. So we’re in the stage where we’re co-designing and co-agreeing the budget with the libraries at the moment.” But as with the one o’clock clubs, users felt frustrated and ignored by Lambeth council’s process and the outcome.

Lisa Sheldon is a student who grew up using Lambeth libraries. “We didn’t have much money and so the library was a really important resource. I did the summer reading trails as a child and used the computers and books for my homework.” She took part in the consultation process but said she has little faith that Lambeth took her views into account. “The documents we were supposed to fill out were huge. It took me 2 hours to plough through it and even then, it was clear from the wording of the questions that the council had already made up their mind as to what would happen with our libraries.” She explains that when the results of the consultation were announced they revealed that the majority of people did not want or were undecided about the “co-operative library” proposals, but the council ignored this and went ahead anyway. “When Lambeth talk about shifting power to local people, it is obviously disingenuous – handing people reduced library budgets and making them decide between books and staff is not empowering. The area has high levels of impoverishment – to tell people to enforce their own cuts on their library service is unforgivable. The council have been failing to invest in libraries and other services for years and now austerity and the co-op council are just yet more excuses to run our services down.”

As with the one o’clock clubs, Lambeth council’s imposition of “co-operation” fails to see the co-operation and community that is already there. As Sheldon explains, “the consultation spoke of creating ‘community hubs’ in libraries, but as anyone who has visited a Lambeth library knows, these places already serve the function of a community hub where all members of the community visit to access the great range of services provided. The staff play a particularly important role in this community, helping library users with their queries and comments despite often being very understaffed. I don’t understand how they can become much more co-operative than they already are, unless the council are proposing getting rid of mangers and creating a fairer pay system, which I somehow doubt.” As she points out to me, Lambeth council are completely re-defining the concept of co-operatives, for their plans are so far away from the true meaning and practice of the word – “they are bringing the term into disrepute!” she exclaims.

Lambeth council’s recent policies on “short-life” housing in the borough also shows its failure to understand co-operative values. Last July, the Cabinet made the decision to sell off “short life” properties, which had been people’s homes in some cases for up to 40 years. Many of these properties are run in housing co-operatives so the “co-operative council” is currently selling off housing co-operatives and breaking up long established communities. This will have the effect of of exacerbating the London housing crisis as yet more public housing is lost to the private sector and the occupants need to be rehoused. Private Eye has also shown that Lambeth council has spent at least £175,000 on bills for legal firm Devonshire.

Julian Hall, who has lived in his house for ten years, and has elderly neighbours who have lived there for 40 years, describes how the reality of Lambeth’s “co-operative council” has “fallen way short…These housing co-operatives have been here for 40 years now and that’s as old, well almost as old, as some of the councillors who are making these decisions that don’t really have a good grasp of the issue really historically.” He explains how Lambeth council have failed to engage with the residents despite their “co-operative” claims, “it’s frustrating, I find the situation we’re in a little bit surreal because on a personal level the attachment I’ve made to my house and my community, I find it hard to get my head around it, but I have been campaigning since February, linking up with other co-ops. I just find it frustrating that it’s taken so long and been so hard to get people around the table to engage in a co-operative solution given the rhetoric, it’s dismay I suppose.”

The housing co-operatives have grouped together into a “Super Co-op” in order to oppose the council’s sell-off of public housing and to propose a truly co-operative solution under the name of Lambeth United Housing Co-op. They have gained the support of Lambeth MP Kate Hoey and even some of Lambeth Council’s own “Co-operative council commissioners”, one of whom has stated, “I think it is important that they understand how to deal with legitimate challenges such as the ones you have raised. If they do not understand how to do this, there will be no hope for the development of a Cooperative Council.” Another commissioner said, “Next time I see Steve, I am going to encourage him to get a grip on matters before the project loses its credibility.”

But has this project ever had any credibility? Steve Reed’s “co-operative council” has failed to live up to its rhetoric of shifting power to communities. From the council’s actions one wonders whether this was ever really their intention or whether they were simply seduced by their own rhetoric. As users of libraries and one o’clock clubs and housing co-operative members explained, their experience has seen the council reject their input and continue with a top-down power structure, closing down or selling off public resources in the name of empowerment. Cllr Nosegbe’s comment is revealing, “the key driving force behind that [the co-operative council] is to get more local people involved in the vision that we as councillors are making.” The vision is very much of the councillors’ making with local people’s participation limited to flawed consultations. As Sheldon summed it up, “The only co-operation going on here is with the national government’s cuts.”

Councillor Steve Reed and Councillor Lib Peck did not respond to my telephone calls, emails, or tweets – raising concerns about their understanding of accountability by their unwillingness to discuss their project.