East Midlands Green Party Blog


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Housing

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Supporters of Margaret Thatcher and her legacy often point to her housing policies as her greatest achievement. By creating a “freedom of the market” and a “property owning democracy” through the sale of council housing and the removal of ” unnecessary red tape”   in the private rented sector,  she is claimed to have increased prosperity for all (except perhaps the “feckless”) and to have increased the number of “stakeholders” in a society which at other times she claimed did not exist!

As with the rest of the Thatcherite legacy the success of her housing policies is myth rather than reality. Indeed the consequences have been disastrous, particularly for most of those not even born when she began her destructive and disastrous rule.

The sale of council housing to sitting tenants was certainly an electorally popular policy. In truth it had very little to do with the principles of the market economy. Large discounts were offered to existing tenants who chose to exercise their “right to buy” and many, quite understandably took up the offer, particularly those who were tenants of the high quality homes built by local authorities in the decades before and after the Second World War.

While it may be hard to object to working class tenants being given a subsidy to buy a property, the problem was that the homes that were sold were not replaced. Indeed local councils, who had built and paid for the properties in the first place were not allowed to spend the money raised from the sales on building new homes.

There had never been “council homes for all” but within a decade or so there was a chronic shortage of “social housing” (including housing owned by housing associations and by companies set up to take over much of the remaining council housing) in many areas.

Today many areas has become most areas. In Nottingham there are 13,000 on the waiting list and only 2,500 properties become available per year. In Derbyshire Dales, where, like much of rural Britain, home ownership has become unaffordable for most of the local population, the council website warns against expectation of success for those needing social housing, pointing out that many properties receive over 100 bids in the new “choice based” letting system which they, like other councils, have introduced and which in reality offers no choice at all to most on the waiting list. Across the East Midlands as a whole 120,000 were on social housing waiting lists in 2012, a figure which is likely to have increased since then and which does not include the many more who have given up waiting or have been put off or barred from applying (its one chance only these days and if, for instance, you have ever been in rent arrears you can expect to be refused permission to even join the queue).

So what happens to all those who cannot get social housing and cannot afford to buy?

They have no alternative but to try and find somewhere to rent from a private landlord.

Which brings us on to the another, less publicised but equally influential Thatcherite housing reform: the reduced protection for tenants renting from private landlords. Alongside the reduction in the availability of council and other “social” housing, and offered as an alternative to it,  the Thatcher government sought to increase the number of private landlords and private tenancies. To make becoming a private landlord more attractive, and more profitable, rent controls were abolished and the eviction of a tenant was made straightforward, with the tenant having no defence and not having had to have breached any tenancy condition.

The consequence of this? There has been a huge increase in the availability of private tenancies, presented as offering “more choice in the housing market” but in reality, for those unable to afford rents at the luxury end of the market, tenants have fewer rights and little security. Of course not all landlords behave unreasonably, but there is almost no comeback on those that do, whilst even “responsible” landlords are tempted to increase rents and minimise expenditure on repairs and maintenance when their primary aim is private profit, whilst always keeping open the option of evicting the tenant in order to sell the property with vacant possession. For many  private tenants there is no opportunity to obtain a permanent home, with the threat of eviction always only two months away, or any expectation that profit driven landlords will carry out anything more than essential repairs.

Many private tenants no doubt continue to aspire to home ownership, which is likely to remain out of reach for many of them, with house prices rising again and wages continuing to stagnate. There is growing evidence that only those benefiting from inherited wealth and / or handouts from relatives can afford to become owner occupiers in large parts of the country, whilst many families face the prospect of moving from one short term private tenancy to another, their children often not in one place long enough to build lasting friendships, and not even being sure about which school they will be going to from one term to the next. With little or no hope of owner occupation or of obtaining the secure, affordable social housing that most of them would prefer.

What does the Green Party say ?

– that everyone is entitled to secure and affordable housing

– that better use should be made of the existing stock, with local councils being given strengthened powers against  speculative landlords and owners deliberately keeping housing empty.

– that where and when new housing does need to be built it is done to the highest environmental standards and is affordable for most of those needing housing, whether to rent or to buy.

– that private tenants should have more rights and better protection. In particular Assured  Shorthold Tenancies, giving landlords the right to end tenancies without good cause, should be abolished .

Our essential belief is that housing, like health, education and public services in general, is  too important to be left to the market to provide and that secure and sustainable housing is a right and not a privilege.

Decent housing for all, for the common good.

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Money, Money, Money – Must be funny

All pain no gain GP postertax bankers not bedrooms

This month East Midland’s Greens are putting banking and debt under the microscope. There are more posts to follow with this one giving an overview. In this age of globalised markets and globalised debts we need to re-examine the nature of money. In the USA there is a partial government shutdown as Republicans and Democrats battle out what to do about mounting debt. Their decisions may be behind closed doors and across the ocean but waves will be felt near and far.  Here in the East Midlands, at the time of the harvest we examine our national economic harvest of the year and the forecast ahead. Did you know for example that under the coalition government in the 2012 -2013 financial year borrowing had gone up £300 million, while at the same time the total debt had risen to 75.2% of our gross domestic product (GDP), up from 71.1% of GDP at the end of May 2012? These figures were reported by among others, BBC News Business, on 21/06/13. Such figures did not lead to a good economic yield at the year’s Autumn.

75 % of the UK economy is debt as borrowing rises. That is not a good harvest, with most of the crop spoken for. Much of this extra borrowing is subsidising banks and big business. Meanwhile public services are being cut and in certain areas shredded. Bankers bonuses are back in the billions while our national and personal debts are rising. Many people rely on payday loans with typical  apr at 3000 – 4000 % and more.  Amelia Gentleman’s article ‘Buy Now Regret Later? The Secret of Brighthouse’s Success’ The Guardian, Friday 4 October 2013 illuminates this culture of a society fueled, not by credit, but by debt.

Far from getting ourselves out of debt we have an economic system based on debt.  Our ability to pay off personal debts is being undermined. Thanks to savage cuts there are less full-time or secure jobs and more zero hours contracts, particularly for young adults, offering the most uncertain present and future. Students start their  working lives with huge debts and less employment prospects. It is no coincidence that one of the largest and ever growing proportion of homeless population are young people. Another group with rising debts and homelessness is families. Bedroom tax hits low income families, among many others, as do skyrocketing house prices. Austerity is increasing debt, with the cost of living far greater than a growing number of people’s ability to pay for even the most basic costs of shelter and survival. The Charity Crisis reports a 31% rise in homelessness in 3 years. This is attributed to rising debts, due to benefits cuts and rising house prices and living costs. Broken homes can become more common, along with domestic abuse. In the Independent 03/09/13 and The Mirror on 04/09/13 article accuse The Police (operating on decreased numbers and funds) of referring less domestic violence cases to Crown Prosecution  Service while allegation numbers rise by 10 % and prosecution dropped by 11.1% last year. This is one example of the harvest of our broken economic system, with police force targets having to be met under a 20% decrease in funds and a new level of red tape; Police Commissioners dictating regional priorities. There is toxic irony in the Tory’s rhetoric on family values when they are delivering policies across the board which raise the debts and threats to the majority of families, both in and out of paid work.

These insane policies are enabled by the Liberal Democrats, with inadequate opposition in Labour policies, with the nation remaining controlled by rising debt and a failing banking system. Credit Union Empowerment, measures to encourage responsible lending and banking reform are core Green Party policies.  The Green Party and Green Group Europe have long called for financial reform, including a Robin Hood Tax, or financial transaction tax which means bankers would help pay for high risk banking practices. This would encourage a more responsible approach and one in which cost of failure is not predominantly levied on citizens as it so far has been. This sensible taxing of bankers is something the coalition government are working against in both the UK and Europe. The government are not protecting a stable economy. They are ensuring one of high risk, imbalance and increasing debts and insecurity for most people. Citizens are being pushed into paying national debt by getting into more personal debt and it is not working.

The Green Party do not believe the poorest should be getting poorer while the rich get richer , nor that this is inevitable but a symptom of a broken system that needs fixing. One that has not been fixed by successive governments, each too lacking in vision and courage. Austerity is failing in its promise to build productivity in the private sector; small and medium sized businesses are not secure or significantly growing.  Foodbanks are growing. Rajesh Mirchandani reported for BBC Newsnight on 11th July 2013 that ‘the Trussell Trust, which runs food banks, reported a 21% rise in the number of people who said they did not have enough money for food because of problems with benefits. “A clear link” exists between the reforms and the increasing popularity of food banks, the Trust’s boss said. Conservative minister Lord Freud has said the two factors are unrelated.’

harvest

The Financial Times articles are often scathing about Government’s blinkered Economic Policy. One such article by Trevor Greetham is dated  02/09/13. Greetham states that ‘in encouraging a housing boom the government are forcing the next generation into debt in the hope the government can improve its own financial position.’ I personally wonder if it is so radical to suggest that a government should serve the interests of its citizens? We appear to have an inverted system under current policies. Trevor Greetham notes the failure of the government’s economic policy to recover the private sector and predicts people will have greater debt, not less, when recession does end. This will guarantee future turmoil.  The article recommends jobs creation and improvement of infrastructure to overcome the ‘economic stagnation’ caused by delays in recovery and unemployment.

Austerity is costing jobs and creating unemployment and an atmosphere of despair and blame.  The Green Party have long been calling for a Green New Deal of job creation, protecting and building valuable skills, sustainable infrastructures and lessening levels of unemployment  instead of increasing unemployment then using those without paid work (or not enough to live off)as scapegoats. We are calling for risky practices by bankers to be taxed in order to discourage and absorb  shocks and imbalances in the financial sector. The debt must not continue to rest on the shoulders of those least to blame and least likely to be able to carry the burden.  Current government policies are increasing debt for most people now and ensuring debt for most people in the future. We need not be tied to a cycle of debt. There is an alternative and the Green Party is at the heart of it. Be part of it.

Join the Green Party Link: https://my.greenparty.org.uk/civicrm/membership/joining

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The Voice / Soundtrack – just for fun:

Forbes is among the publications that has drawn parallels between the Great Depression and today’s crisis. There is a song from those bygone days by Bob Miller that is disturbingly appropriate today. This inspired me to write a soundtrack to banking reform.

Soundtrack for Calling for Bank Reform:

  • Bank Failures – Bob Miller
  • The Man that Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – Music Hall Classic
  • I Need a Dollar – Pixie Lott (original Aloe Blacc)
  • Umbrella – Rihanna
  • Hands – Jewel
  • Stand and Deliver – AntMusic
  • Money, Money, Money – Abba
  • With a Little Help From My Friends – Beatles