My reaction to Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference

At the Conservative Party Conference today (4th October 2017), Theresa May said whether someone hopes to buy their own home or has been waiting for a council home “help is on the way”.

She said that the government will invest an additional £2bn in affordable housing, taking the government’s affordable housing budget to £9 bn.

She said that the government “will encourage councils as well as housing associations” and she promised to provide certainty over future rent levels.
We’ve been waiting a long time for that certainty. What a shame Sajid Javid didn’t provide it two weeks ago at the NHF conference and what a shame that Mrs May didn’t give it today.

She said: “In those parts of the country where need is greatest we will allow social rented housing to be built, at well below market levels, getting the government back into the business of building houses.”

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, described it as a “watershed moment for the nation”.

I hope so. When Mrs May previously spoke about sub market rents she meant rents at 80% of the market.

In Brighton and Hove that equates to rents of c£750 per month for a on bed flat, unaffordable for those on benefits who can receive £612 per month, and then only if they are over 35 years of age.

The ongoing freeze of Local Housing Allowance – the amount people can get towards their housing costs – means that rents become more unaffordable with every passing month, including so-called affordable rents.

Mrs May promised homes with social rents. I hope she has been properly briefed and that we will in fact get such homes.

£9 billion is a lot, but much of it goes towards Help to Buy which doesn’t stimulate supply but rather fuels housing price inflation.

Those benefiting from Help to Buy are already the better off, not those in the most acute need.

We need social rents, within Local Housing Allowance and even below that so people on low incomes do not have to rely on housing benefit. We need a massive programme of council house building, equivalent to what Harold MacMillan achieved when he was Prime Minister, and we need clear action on homelessness and rough sleeping. She was silent on this.

For today I will give Mrs May the benefit of the doubt. The devil is in the detail. I hope this is truly a watershed moment. The next few days will tell us whether it is, and I reserve judgment until we have seen the detail.

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Job vacancy at BHT: Sexual Health Worker at First Base – Fixed Term Contract until March 2019

BHT’s First Base Day Centre in Brighton provides support to assist people who are homeless or vulnerably housed to move on from the streets or insecure accommodation and realise their aspirations.

First Base operates client-centred specialist services to support people to address their healthcare needs, start realising their aspirations through work, learning and leisure and find a place they can call home.

We have a vacancy for a Sexual Health Worker (fixed term contract until 29 March 2019). 

The salary is £23,830 per annum for a 37 hours per week, based in Brighton.  Annual Leave entitlement starts at 25 working days and a 4% employer’s pension contribution (the level of this is reviewed annually).

The post holder will be responsible for the delivery of sexual health services, advice and training to housing and day centre staff and to hostel residents, people living in temporary or emergency accommodation and clients of First Base.

Essential requirements for this post are significant experience and knowledge of work in the area of sexual health / HIV, an excellent understanding of sexual health promotion as well as proven team work and good interpersonal skills.

Experience of working with people who are street homeless is not essential; however candidates should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the issues people with multiple and complex needs face and a commitment to meeting the needs of adults who are homeless.

For full details and to apply please go to our website or email our HR Department.

Closing Date: 12 noon, Monday 16th October 2017

Interview Date: Monday 23rd October 2017

John Lees, the Gentleman of Sport: thanks for bringing such enjoyment and heartache

John Lees

At 8.50 this morning (30th September) the Gentleman of Sport, John Lees, will make his last broadcast on BBC Sussex. One of the great pleasures for me when doing an early morning interview on BBC Sussex is the prospect of a few minutes chat with John, a conversation that has been known to continue out of the door of the studio as I try to head off to work. John’s knowledge of sport is encyclopaedic and his enthusiasm for everything Sussex cricket is infectious.

John has been a fixture reading the sports news on BBC Sussex for as long as I remember, and his commentary on Sussex CCC games has brought me great pleasure, even when the performance of Sussex disappoints as they go down to yet another defeat!

I imagine that the high point in his commentating career must have taken place a few minutes after 2.00pm on September 18th 2003 when Murray Goodwin hit the run that secured the bonus point that guaranteed Sussex its first ever County Championship.

John Lees singing ‘Sussex by the Sea’ after Sussex CCC had won its first-ever County Championship

I was there that day, and I was there when John fulfilled his pledge to sing ‘Sussex by the Sea’ live on radio at the end of the game. His singing, it has to be said, was not as good as his commentating!

John might be known and loved by thousands because of his time on BBC Sussex, but his own sporting prowess goes back several decades, not least his historic, 1972 record-breaking feat of race walking 2,981 miles, coast to coast across America, in a new record time of 53 days 12 hours, 15 minutes, taking some eleven hours off Bruce Tulloh’s previous record. You can read an account of John’s amazing achievement here.

Enjoy your retirement, John, enjoy being able to spend more time pursuing your other passion, bird watching, and I hope to catch up with you next spring at the County Ground as Sussex start their campaign to gain promotion and achieve a one day and T20 double (the pre-season optimism of a Sussex supporter before cruel reality intrudes).

Thank you for bringing such enjoyment and heartache to this Sussex supporter.

(Note: the original version of this said John had beaten Tulloh’s record by eleven days. It should have read eleven hours).

Universal Credit is a disgrace, and those who have advocated it and continue to defend it should hang their heads in shame

At first there were warnings that the ambitious plans for Universal Credit were not deliverable. But the government dismissed these warnings. There were warnings that Universal Credit could not be delivered in the way it was planned, but Iain Duncan Smith said, time and time again, that it would be delivered “on time and in budget”. It wasn’t and an IT programme was abandoned at a cost of millions of Pounds.

Universal Credit pilots highlighted the rising levels of rent arrears and the hardship being caused to claimants, but the government pressed on regardless. I have written about Universal Credit on more occasions than I can recall, probably on more occasions than on any other social policy issue or government policy.

Advice agencies warned of the increasing numbers presenting themselves with increasing problems with debt, but these warnings fell on deaf ears in the Department for Work and Pensions and in government.

Landlords warned that they would not be able to accommodated those on Universal Credit, but still these warnings were not headed.

Social and private landlords have highlighted the problem of arrears caused by Universal Credit. BHT’s arrears currently stand at 1% other than for those on Universal Credit where arrears are 15% notwithstanding the work we do with our tenants.

Food banks have said that the increasing demands for their services are being caused by Universal Credit.

News reports, over months and years, have highlights individual cases of hardship and homelessness directly resulting from Universal Credit.

Time and time again, warning after warning, the government carried on regardless.

Last month Citizens Advice produced a compelling case for the roll out of University Credit to be paused but the usual platitudes were repeated.

Then today (29th September) came news that Conservative Members of Parliament have called on their own government to think again about Universal Credit over fears about the impact on claimants already receiving Universal Credit in trial areas.

Later in the day, Dame Louise Casey, who has advised successive governments on a wide range of social policy issues, said that pressing ahead with Universal Credit was like “jumping over a cliff” and that it made her “hair stand on end”.

If the government fails to act now it can only be because it and its ministers are deluded about their own righteousness, cruel in their disregard of evidence of suffering and hardship, or too arrogant to listen to those who see, on a daily basis, the impact of this policy.

This policy is a disgrace, and those who have advocated it and continue to defend it should hang their heads in shame.

Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking: BHT’s Policy

(The BHT Board recently agreed the following statement on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking)

Modern slavery is an international crime, affecting an estimated 29.8 million slaves around the world. It is a growing global issue that transcends age, gender and ethnicities. It includes victims who have been brought from overseas and vulnerable people in the UK, who are forced to illegally work against their will across many different sectors such as agriculture, hospitality, construction, retail and manufacturing.

Our Policy

Our policy is underpinned by our values of Inspiring Change; Empowering People; Collaboration; Delivering Excellence; and Being Accountable.

BHT has a zero-tolerance position on violations of anti-human trafficking and anti-modern slavery laws.  We will not knowingly do any business with organisations involved in, or suspected to be involved in slavery, human trafficking, forced or child labour.  This includes such activities known to exist in their supply chains.

Through our services, not least the Immigration Legal Service and our frontline homelessness services, BHT will seek to represent and protect the victims and potential victims of slavery, human trafficking, forced or child labour.

If we find breaches of these laws amongst any of our contractors or in their supply chain, we will terminate any contract with them, and will as far as possible build such provision into any agreements with them.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires commercial organisations supplying goods or services with a turnover of above £36 million to prepare and publish an annual ‘Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement’.  All the while that BHT has a lower turnover than £36 million, we will publish a statement on our website and elsewhere setting out our policy.

All actual incidents or suspicions regarding slavery, human trafficking, forced or child labour (with the exception of cases being managed by BHT’s advice and legal services where client confidentiality exists) will be reported to the Chief Executive at the earliest opportunity and we will alert the appropriate authorities so that safeguarding, legal or other enforcement action might be taken.

(This statement also appears on the BHT website)

With colleagues like that …..

I was speaking to a colleague about media work. He said he didn’t mind public speaking at all but hated hearing himself on radio or television, which is why he avoided it.

I said it was common for people to feel that way and I, too, do not like hearing my voice. He responded, a bit too quickly: “Neither do we!”.

With colleagues like that…

Am I alone in being bitterly disappointed by Sajid Javid’s speech at the National Housing Federation’s conference?

Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP

Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, spoke yesterday (19th September 2017) at the annual conference of the National Housing Federation. In brief, he spoke about the importance of housing associations and promised to forward a green paper on social housing in England which will be a “wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector, the green paper will be the most substantial report of its kind for a generation. It will kick off a nationwide conversation on social housing.”

Hello? Where have you been, Mr Javid? Have you not been listening? There has been a conversation about social housing, and housing in general, going on for a number of years and it goes something like this:

  • There are not enough homes
  • There are not enough new homes being build
  • The homes that are being built are not affordable for ordinary people
  • Rents in the private rented sector are increasingly unaffordable
  • The freeze of Local Housing Allowance means those on benefit can’t afford even the cheapest private rented accommodation
  • There has been a massive increase in homeless households since 2010/11
  • Rough sleeping numbers have increased by 146% since 2010/11
  • The benefit cap is causing homelessness
  • Universal Credit is seeing tenants getting into arrears, 77% for the first time
  • The threatened LHA cap has seen the development of new specialist supported housing grind to a halt
  • Grenfell Tower

Mr Javid, you are the Secretary of State with responsibility for housing. Your party has been in government since 2010. Surely you must have been thinking about these issues since then? Surely you must have some idea of what the current situation is? Surely you must have some idea of what needs to be done? We need more than platitudes.

Of course the government hasn’t stood idly by since 2010. It has been active in welfare reform, although we are yet to see the benefits promised while the hardship being caused is obvious to all to see and the consequences are being felt by tenants and landlords alike.

Mr Javid, you recognised that “businesses need to know that economic regulations aren’t going to dramatically change without warning.” Do you mean regulations dramatically changing such as the decision taken by your government in 2015 to tear up the rent settlement between government and housing associations and to impose a 1% year on year reduction in rents we can charge?

Mr Javid, you said: “They (businesses) need a stable, predictable base on which to build – literally, in your case! And of course lenders need to know that a company is a reliable investment prospect before they’ll put up any money.”

So, why, Mr Javid, did you fail to make the announcement on rents that we have long been promised? You said: “Right now, you’re trying to make long-term investment decisions without knowing what your rental return is going to be after 2020. It’s not ideal, of course I get that. You need certainty and you need clarity and you need them sooner rather than later. That’s why I’ve been pushing right across government, as hard as I can, to confirm the future formula for social housing rents. I would have liked to stand here today and tell you exactly what it is going to be. Unfortunately, I have to tell you, the t’s are still being crossed and the i’s dotted. But I can promise you this: an announcement will be made very, very soon.”

We don’t need more conversations. We need action. We need homes, and those homes must have social rents. The hopes and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of households depend on this announcement. Please don’t let them down, Mr Javid.

(You can read the whole of Mr Javid’s speech here.)