An MP whose sense of injustice is very different from what some of his constituents experience

Will Quince

Will Quince, the Member of Parliament for Colchester, tweeted on Saturday: “Just had to pay a parking fine for being 10mins late when in Devon, genuine mistake but caught on ANPR. Is it me or is £54 unreasonable”.

If his £54 parking fine is unreasonable for an honest mistake, perhaps he could say whether he thinks losing your entire income for a week or 4 weeks for an honest mistake like being late for an appointment at Job Centre Plus.

Do MPs really know what is happening to their constituents and the impact policies made and voted for by them are having in the real world? According to PoliticsHome, Ministers don’t. One can just wonder about some MPs.

Every Vote Matters – Minister for the Constitution visits BHT to discuss registration and voting by homeless people

Chris Skidmore MP (centre) with Simon Hughes (BHT senior manager) and me.

Yesterday (Monday, 7 August), the Minister for the Constitution, Chris Skidmore MP, visited Brighton Housing Trust, as part of his Every Vote Matters tour to hear first hand about the experiences homeless people have faced when voting or registering to vote.

The Minister later visited Blind Veterans UK and Brighton & Hove Speakout. He heard from all three charities about how they raised awareness of participation in the democratic process for the General Election 2017 and what support they provided to residents and clients.

Chris Skidmore, Minister for the Constitution, said: “Brighton Housing Trust, Blind Veterans UK and Brighton and Hove Speakout are fantastic organisations that ensure people experiencing homelessness and those with disabilities feel confident, empowered and remain an active part of their society.

“A big part of this is being able to register to vote and remain a part of our democracy. Today’s visits have helped me understand how we can support vulnerable people to ensure that ours is a truly inclusive democracy.

“Nearly three million applications to register to vote were received online between 18 April and 22 May but there are still under-represented groups we can improve the processes for. Regardless of who you are, or how you vote, every voice matters and we encourage you to register to vote.”

I told the minister that homeless people, especially those who are street homeless, can be multiply excluded. To know that their right to vote is being considered at the highest level in government is a great encouragement. Voting changes things, not always in a way politicians want, but it is at the heart of our democracy. Chris Skidmore showed a deep understanding and awareness of many of the issues we deal with on a daily basis. He was keen to learn how voter registration and voting itself can be maximised amongst people who are often invisible and ignored.

A government-designed system that is creating homelessness and forcing people to use food banks

Research published by Sheffield Hallam University on behalf of the Residential Landlord Association shows that landlords are, increasingly, refusing to let their properties to those under 35. There are a number of reasons for this, not least that the landlord might not get paid on time or at all.

32% of landlords (of the 1,996 questioned) have said that that they have actively reduced lettings to those under 35.

The situation is more acute for those under 35 in receipt of housing benefit or universal credit. Two-thirds of landlords say they are unwilling to let to this group because of a higher risk of rent arrears as payments are delayed through administrative delays and payments are made to the tenant rather than direct to the landlord.

We used to have a system that almost used to work but then some idiot decided that a higher priority would be to prepare claimants for the reality of work by mirroring the conditions of those in work. He (it was a ‘he’) then introduced a system that has been so poor in its design and execution that people are becoming homeless and others reliant on food banks to survive. It takes some sort of genius to drive people into destitution because of his own arrogant, self-belief.

I’m not going to name this person. Choose any name. It could be Iain, perhaps Duncan, or even Mr Smith. Whatever works for you.

Alan Ward, chair of the Residents Landlord Association, said: “We have already held constructive talks with the Government about this and we will keep the situation under review, but there is a need for policymakers to engage further with landlords to consider what more action can be taken to address this decline. Without this many under-35s are likely to struggle to access any accommodation” (my emphasis)

So where will those under 35 live? I challenge any of my Conservative friends, and I have quite a few, to tell me.

And while they are about it, will they say, hand on heart, that they are proud of what the welfare reform agenda is delivering, that it is a strong and stable system…..

And please don’t come up with the twaddle about rescuing the economy crashed by the former government or that there is no magic money tree. There is money there. There wasn’t a problem when the government needed £1 billion for its friends in the DUP.

One simple measure the government could do, and it will cost next to nothing, is to continue making payments direct to landlords. That might, just might, improve confidence.

I can’t stand politicians who pick on the vulnerable and marginalised for cheap political laughs

Rt Hon Peter Lilley, a powerful man who picked on the vulnerable and marginalised.

Peter Lilley was Secretary of State at the Department of Social Security (DSS) under John Major. Shortly after his appointment, Lilley became the darling of his Party’s annual conference by taking on the ‘something for nothing society’, with a re-writing of the Lord High Executioner’s ‘little list’ song from The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan:

“I’ve got a little list
Of benefit offenders who I’ll soon be rooting out
And who never would be missed, they never would be missed.

“There’s those who make up bogus claims in half a dozen names
And councillors who draw the dole to run left-wing campaigns
They never would be missed, they never would be missed.

“There’s young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue
And dads who won’t support the kids of ladies they have … kissed
And I haven’t even mentioned all those sponging socialists
I’ve got them on my list
And there’s none of them be missed, there’s none of them be missed.”

Oh, how they loved it. How they cheered. How they applauded. How they lusted for blood.

But some in his Party, rightly, found it distasteful and unpleasant. A few years later Theresa May asked why some people felt the Conservatives had become the “Nasty Party”.

The commentator, Mark Lawson of The Independent (son of Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, and brother of domestic goddess Nigella) said at the time that if Lilley stayed in his place as the Secretary of State for Social Security, it would be “equivalent of Mary Whitehouse becoming madam of a brothel”!

But that was then, and now is now. Or is it?

The successor to the DSS, the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) provided an analysis for a judicial review in the High Court which ruled the benefit cap unlawfully discriminated against single parents with children under the age of two because their childcare duties meant they would not be able to work the required 16 hours a week to be exempt from the cap.

The analysis showed that lone parents made up 63% of the 88,000 households that have been hit by the lower benefit cap. 55,200 lone-parent households were estimated to be affected by the lower benefit cap in 2016/17, of which 78% were lone parents with a youngest child under the age of five.

I’ve got them on my list, young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue,
benefit offenders who I’ll soon be rooting out, they never will be missed.

More evidence of the disaster zone that is known as Universal Credit

“Universal Credit is designed to mirror the way many people in work are paid, and we have budgeting advice and benefit advances available for anyone who needs extra help”, so says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

A report published this week by Citizens Advice has found that 57% of claimants are having to borrow money to get by while waiting for the first payment, and that 39% by having to wait for longer than the six weeks it should take before the first payment is made.

It seems as though what is being mirrored is the struggle that many ordinary people have to make ends meet and that universal credit has created a culture where borrowing is necessary to get by.

I have written, time and time again, about the failures of universal credit and how it is being implemented.

When Ian Duncan Smith was the Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions he repeatedly said that universal credit would be delivered “on time and within budget”. I think he should apologise and until he does, nobody should take seriously anything he says.

Universal credit has been an unmitigated disaster. The Citizens Advice report says that some claimants are having to call the helpline more than 10 times to sort out the mess of their claims and it is not uncommon for people to have to wait more than 30 minutes to get through on the phone.

Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Universal credit is already failing too many people, pushing them into debt and leaving them without the means to make ends meet. The government needs to pause plans to accelerate the roll-out of full-service universal credit this autumn and devote the time and resource needed to tackle the key problems which mean the system is not working.”

I am reluctant to quote anyone from the DWP because, frankly, I am tired of it providing assurances that all the complete travesty of reality, but in the interest of balance (!), I will.

The DWP said the study did not reflect the experiences of the 500,000 people claiming universal credit. “The vast majority of claimants have told us they are satisfied with universal credit. We are rolling out universal credit in a gradual, safe and secure way, and in the rare cases where issues arise, we work closely with local authorities and landlords to support people when they need it.”

You decide who to believe, Citizens Advice or the DWP which has consistently failed to provide the full facts, tried to suppress reports, and whose Minister assured us that universal credit would be delivered “on time and within budget”.

Citizens Advice has called on the government to remove the seven-day waiting period at the start of a claim, introduce an online system for booking appointments, and make the helpline free of charge before the large scale roll-out of universal credit.

Someone close to government recently asked why people constantly mention food banks. Is it any wonder when the system provided to help those in the most financially desperate situation are not getting the service or financial support they need and are having to turn to food banks to feed themselves and their families?

Around the World Cycle Challenge

One of the Stars of the Day, River Isaacs, who rode 15 laps of the Velodrome

The BHT Around the World Cycle Challenge took place last Sunday (25 June 2017) at the Preston Park Velodrome. It was a fantastic day.

On behalf of all staff and clients at BHT I would like to thank those who came along to cycle and support us. It was a fantastic day, and wonderful to see so many people jumping on their bikes to support such an important local cause. My legs (and bottom) are just about recovered!

The laps have now been collated and while we didn’t make it around the world, it was a great effort. Perhaps we will get closer next year.

Huge congratulations to all those who got involved, and especially to those who pushed themselves further with extra laps to support the challenge.

Please click here to view photos from the day.

The current total raised stands at just over £15,000 which is phenomenal. We are hopeful that we will reach £20,000 so if your friends and family haven’t yet sponsored anyone, there is still time. Every penny raised will help people who are sleeping rough to move off the streets and to make long-lasting positive changes in their lives.

We were generously supported by our sponsors, not least our main sponsor, G Saunders and Co. with whom BHT has been working for well over 30 years. Our thanks also to other sponsors, including Groundscapes, Robert Heath Heating, and Kemp Town Flooring.

Many, many thanks to all the riders, to their supporters, to the BHT tenants and clients who helped on the day, to the staff and Board members who volunteered, and a massive thanks to Sara Peskett who organised the whole thing so brilliantly well.

Once again, thank you so much for supporting BHT.

See you next year!

Daniel O’Connell, BHT’s Head of HR, Learning and Development, rode the equivalent distance from Tipperary to Brighton

Facing the Future: Embracing the Unknown

(This a post I have written for the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce for its Brighton Summit 2017 website. More information on the Brighton Summit 2017 and to book a place, please follow this link)

Death and taxes are the two certainties in life. All businesses need certainty. We need to understand the future so that we make the necessary plans. But so much is currently unknown – the consequences of Brexit and the outcome of the general election, to mention just two.

For some, Brexit will see a complete meltdown of the UK economy, regardless of who leads the negotiations. For others, in a hundred years the history books will say that Brexit saw a minor adjustment in the UK’s trading arrangements with its nearest neighbours.

Next week’s general election will bring some certainty, depending on the result which no longer appears to be the foregone conclusion that some felt it was just one month ago. A month ago I heard someone joke, regarding the next Prime Minister, that he wondered who she might be! The line was stolen from Obama who made the same crack about the US Presidential election, and look how that went.

Oh, for a glimpse of the future. But it is not to be. An old friend of mine could not see why we found merriment when he announced that he did not have crystal balls!

Many of these issues will be explored at the Brighton Summit 2017 on Friday, 13th October. The theme is ‘Embracing the Unknown’.

A critical issue for me is how the 2017-22 government will deliver on its housing agenda, and whether they can deliver the affordable homes needed for a healthy economy, particularly in areas like Brighton and Hove.

At BHT we are in the process of preparing our next five year business plan. We, of course, look well beyond just 5 years. We have recently completed our latest stock condition survey and are finalising our thirty year planned maintenance programme for our homes.

We would like to deliver new homes for rent. Much depends on land values, borrowing opportunities and interest rates. We don’t know what will happen to these, nor to interest rates.

But we will embrace the unknown. We can understand the risks facing the business, we can model worsening scenarios, and we can stress test the organisation to destruction. We do all that. Being risk aware, not risk averse, is how to move forward and grow. Yes, mistakes will be made along the way but as long as you get more right than wrong, you are reasonable in your judgements, you have risk strategies to mitigate the likelihood and consequences of things going wrong, you will get through.

And cash, as always, remains king. Lose control of your cash and you will sink.
The future, the advert used to say, is Orange. No longer. Orange became 3 (a daft name if ever there was one). The future is uncertain, but be ambitious, be aware, be courageous, and the future can be rosy.