Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: RIP

The death was announced this afternoon (2nd April 2018) of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. She was known as the Mother of the Struggle for her role in the liberation movement during which she suffered greatly, not least her year of banishment with her two young daughters. She was harassed and imprisoned, and experienced great deprivations and humiliations. She was a symbol of the struggle and a brave resister against the brutality of the apartheid regime.

But her reputation was damaged by some excesses, financial and violent, that caused conflict with her then husband, Nelson Mandela.

In the 1980s, Madikizela-Mandela endorsed violent actions, including the use of ‘necklacing’ which is described on Wikipedia as “the practice of summary execution and torture carried out by forcing a rubber tyre, filled with petrol, around a victim’s chest and arms, and setting it on fire. The victim may take up to 20 minutes to die, suffering severe burns in the process.”

She allowed, even instigated, her bodyguards, known as the Mandela United Football Club, to carry out a regime of violence. Their most notorious killing was that of the teenager James ‘Stompie’ Seipei. Madikizela-Mandela did not intervene to stop the killing of this child and, alleged by Jerry Richardson, who was convicted of the murder, that he had been ordered to kill by Madikizela-Mandela.

Madikizela-Mandela‘s legacy will be mixed. She is often compared, unfairly in my opinion, to her husband. It is often forgotten that Nelson Mandela initiated and led the armed struggle against apartheid, and caused sorrow and hurt to others. His legacy frequently skirts over that. But the armed struggle was necessary and played a small part in the ending of apartheid.

My niece, Janice Winter, a great student of politics in Africa and South Africa in particular, wrote earlier today: “How much this pillar of strength sacrificed for and was ultimately sacrificed by the struggle. Liberation politics is ugly and unfair. But this mother of the struggle withstood unimaginable indignities and endured unacknowledged horrors for the sake of a liberated South Africa.”

She was clearly a hero of the struggle, still revered and adulatory by millions of South Africans. Yet she was guilty of crimes of violence and brutality. While I find it hard, actually impossible, to reconcile the killing of a child, I was not in her position facing constant threats to her life and to those around her. Therefore, it is not for me to judge her.

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Welcoming the government’s U-turn on denying housing benefit to 18 to 21 year olds. How about reviewing other measures that contribute to homelessness?

In March 2017, I wrote that “Denying 18-21 year olds the right to claim housing benefit is bad, bad news, and bad, bad policy”.

I wrote: “If there is one measure that will lead to an increase in rough sleeping amongst young people, it is denying them the automatic right to claim support for their housing costs.”

I returned to this theme in April last year: “11,000 18 to 21 year olds lose the right to claim housing benefit”, concluding that “this policy makes no sense in economic on humanitarian grounds.”

I had been quoted in the Brighton Argus (5th April 2017): “For most 18 to 21-year-olds life is a big adventure but for those on the streets it can turn into the worst of all nightmares. They have hopes and aspirations but if you are on the streets it is a day to day struggle for survival.”

“Denying 18-21 year olds the right to claim housing benefit is bad, bad news, and bad, bad policy”

Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey

Last week, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, released a written statement to parliament announced the government would be reversing this cruel measure, by changing the  regulations so that it allowed all 18 to 21-year-olds to claim support for housing costs in Universal Credit”.

She said: “Currently, 18 to 21-year-olds who make a new claim to UC (universal credit) in UC full-service areas need to meet certain requirements to receive housing support. The change I am announcing today means that young people on benefits will be assured that if they secure a tenancy, they will have support towards their housing costs in the normal way.”

She said the decision was “in line with the government’s launch of the Homelessness Reduction Act and our commitment to eradicating rough sleeping by 2027.”

I am delighted that the government has seen sense on this one.  In line with its launch of the Homelessness Reduction Act and its commitment to eradicating rough sleeping by 2027, there are plenty of other measures that are contributing to the increase in homelessness.  Perhaps the government would care to look at them, too?

I’m guilty of failing to solve the housing crisis, for not bringing about world peace, and for not finding out who framed Roger Rabbit

(On Tuesday 20th March there was a letter in the Brighton Argus criticising me for various government policies and other matters over which I have no control.  This is my response, published on 21st March 2018, although the sentence below in italics relating to world peace and Roger Rabbit was, sadly, not included in the published letter)

Your correspondent, Spencer Carvil (Look at the reasons we are facing housing crisis; 20th March 2018) makes some points which I do not fully understand.

He implies that it is the fault of councils that council houses have been sold. This was, in fact, a decision of the Thatcher government that gave tenants the right to buy and not, as he suggests, because they were badly built and it was costing too much to maintain.  Those council houses sold have not been replaced because successive governments have restricted the borrowing powers of councils.

He is correct to say that the growing student population in the city has exacerbated the housing crisis, but so too have the better off, selling up in London and moving to the coast.

Mr Carvil implies that the licensing of houses in multiple occupation has facilitated the growth in student housing. If anything, the opposite is true. Licensing restricts the number of family homes that can be turned into student housing.

He then names me, asking what I have done to address these issues, and concludes that it is “not a lot”.

In this he is correct.  I hold no public office and, therefore, have no power over the right to buy, government fiscal policy or the licensing of HMO properties.  While I am about it, I would admit to failing spectacularly in bringing about world peace and I am yet to discover who framed Roger Rabbit.

I will continue to ensure that Brighton Housing Trust does its bit to tackle homelessness by providing accommodation for over 700 people each day, advice services that prevented 817 households from becoming homeless last year, and a range of other services to those in most need in Brighton and Hove.

The work of First Base Day Centre in severe weather, on Christmas Day and throughout the year, and why we need more from government

(The Brighton Argus ran an Opinion piece by the Member of Parliament for Hove, Peter Kyle, regarding the need to look out for homeless an vulnerable people in bad weather.  In order to clarify a couple of matters in his article, I wrote this letter to the Argus which was published as an Opinion piece on Wednesday 14th March 2018).

I am grateful to Peter Kyle MP for highlighting the need to look out for homeless and vulnerable people in bad weather (Opinion, 9th March 2018).

In case there is any confusion regarding First Base Day Centre, when Peter says: “This is the kind of service our country should be providing year-round”, he is referring to the severe weather shelter we provide ay First Base when the elements pose an immediate threat to life.

The day centre service is, of course, open throughout the year. In fact, we were the only day service for homeless people open on Christmas Day.

I do disagree with Peter if he is suggesting that we need severe weather shelters year-round. Such shelters should only open in the most severe weather.  A winter shelter, such as that run by the City Council, is a very different provision, as are hostels where accommodation is provided in individual bedrooms.

We need proper accommodation for all homeless people, including rough sleepers.  Severe weather shelters and even winter shelters are not the answer.

The number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010.  Ending rough sleeping requires government intervention. The current government has pledged to end rough sleeping, but only by 2027.  That is not good enough.

The fact that the rough sleeping task force, announced by the government last year, has only just met for the first time (last Wednesday) is another indication that rough sleeping is a low priority for the government.

Useless announcements in Westminster and Whitehall that will do nothing to address the housing crisis

“Never in the history of housing policy, has so much been announced by so many, whose achievements are so few”, as Winston Churchill never said.

The first announcement was the new job title for Sajid Javid, the Cabinet member responsible for housing, who went from being the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  Could it be that the purpose was to celebrate  that Mr Javid is responsible for the worst housing crisis in living memory.

On a similar note, Mr Javid’s department, the Department for Communities and Local Government, which has always been responsible for housing, is now to be called the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  Please, please someone, tell me that this is more than mere window dressing, that the policies responsible for the 60% increase in homeless households since 2010/11 will change.

Receiving less publicity, and not noticed by anyone other than housing anoraks like me, was the change in the name of the Homes and Communities Agency, the government quango responsible for social housing development and regulation.  It is now to be called Homes England.

At its launch this week, Sajid Javid said: “This government is determined to build the homes our country needs and help more people get on the housing ladder. Homes England will be at the heart of leading this effort.”

Actually, that was the key purposes of the Homes and Communities Agency.  But at least we are being presented with the appearance that something is being done.  Perhaps he is hoping that we will not notice that nothing is changing at all.

Lastly, the social housing regulation function of the Homes and Communities Agency is forthwith to be known by the cunning title ‘the Regulator of Social Housing’.  Where do they get this talent?

At least Fiona MacGregor, the Executive Director of Regulation, has the honesty to set out the huge anticipated impact of these changes when she wrote in a letter to housing associations this week: “This change is to the regulator’s operating name only and does not alter our regulatory framework, approach or powers and we will continue to promote a viable, efficient and well-governed social housing sector able to deliver homes that meet a range of needs.”

Lots of people in Westminster and Whitehall have been very busy this week, earning their salaries by making sure that, at the end of the day, nothing is changing other than a few letterheads, business cards and signs outside government departments and quangos.  God forbid that they do anything meaningful to tackle the housing crisis.

Introducing our latest here today, gone tomorrow Housing Minister, Dominic Raab

In June we got our 15th housing minister since 1997 when the MP for Reading West, Alok Sharma, was appointed to replace Gavin Barwell who had lost his seat at the general election.

Today Alok Sharma moved to a new position as minister for something other than housing. Appointed to succeed him is Dominic Raab, the member of parliament for Esher and Walton. According to Wikipedia, “the constituency is in the north of Surrey, bordering Greater London, in the affluent London commuter belt. It is partly rural, with heathland and reservoirs, as well as towns such as Esher and Walton-on-Thames, and lower density Cobham, Claygate and Molesey and the villages of Oxshott, Thames Ditton and Hinchley Wood.”

The good news is that Mr Raab comes with a reputation for being very competent. The bad news from a housing perspective is that he is tipped to go places in government and is likely to be moved long before he will be able to bring his enormous ability to bear on the housing crisis.

It doesn’t have to be so. He could tell the Prime Minister that he will not accept any promotion or move this side of the 2022 general election so that he can make a difference. He could also lead by example by saying he will support housing development, ideally for social housing, in the “lower density Cobham, Claygate and Molesey”.

I won’t hold my breath. I am not sure whether I will bother reading the inevitable profile and interview with the new minister that will appear in Inside Housing magazine because he will be gone before I have reached the end of the third paragraph.

So what do we know about Mr Raab. According to the website ‘They Work for You’, Mr Raab:

  • voted for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the “bedroom tax”)
  • consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices
  • consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
  • consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits
  • almost always voted against increasing the tax rate applied to income over £150,000
  • almost always voted against a banker’s bonus tax
  • consistently voted against an annual tax on the value of expensive homes (popularly known as a mansion tax)
  • almost always voted for reducing capital gains tax

Why should any of that suggest that he won’t move heaven and earth to help the poorest of the poor, to ensure that council homes with social rents are built, and to ensure that “the operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving” universal credit (as described by former PM, John Major) does not continue to wreck the private rented sector and lead tenants into unprecedented levels of rent arears and debt?

Answers on a postcard and sent to anyone but me.

(This Post was originally entitled ‘How can those interested in social housing and the wellbeing of tenants have any confidence in the new housing ministers, Dominic Raab?’ but I preferred the title used above)

David Gauke says that all that is wrong with Universal Credit is that criticisms go without challenge

David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has denied that the introduction of Universal Credit is causing hardship. He said: “I strongly believe we have got a really good policy with this that will transform lives, but there is almost a sort of knee-jerk criticism and a temptation in particular with universal credit that you can almost say anything critical about it and it goes without challenge.”

That’s alright, then.  Just the same as when Iain Duncan Smith repeatedly claimed that Universal Credit would be delivered “on time and within budget”. The massive overspend, the wasted millions on a failed IT system, and the massive overrun on its delivery must be Fake News.

And what about the hardship being caused to those claiming Universal Credit. Fake News, Fake News, Fake News.  It just goes without challenge.

What about the excellent and well-researched article by Heather Spurr, once with Inside Housing and now with Shelter.

And what about this item by the Resolution Foundation, or this from the Institute for Government, or this from Citizens Advice, or BHT’s own research following the roll out of Universal Credit in Hastings.

I know I have had a word or two to say about Universal Credit, such as the blog post entitled “Universal Credit is a disgrace, and those who have advocated it and continue to defend it should hang their heads in shame” or this one “Another day, another report on the disaster that is Universal Credit” or this one “More evidence of the disaster zone that is known as Universal Credit” or this “Should the roll out of Universal Credit continue at this time? Watch the evidence to Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee”.

Noi doubt it is all Fake News that has gone without challenge.

The problem, Mr Gauke, is not that criticism goes unchallenged.  The problem, in the words of the former Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, is that Universal Credit is “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving” (see here).

The problem, Mr Gauke, is that you, Mr Duncan Smith, the DWP and the government as a whole carry on regardless, in spite of the evidence.  The most modest reforms imaginable announced in the autumn won’t resolve the fundamental flaws inherent in Universal Credit. A lick of paint would not have saved the Titanic after it brushed up against an iceberg.

Universal Credit has become Mrs May’s poll tax. (I vlogged on this recently).  No matter how well Mr Gauke defends the indefensible, Universal Credit remains flawed, it remains operationally messy, it remains socially unfair, and it remains unforgiving.