Sunday, 29 April 2012

The housing emergency that will soon devastate Brent families

Acknowledgements to Martin Francis


 "They are making the poor, poorer," was the reaction of one parent
 when Chalkhill Primary School held a briefing about the Coalition's
 welfare reforms.

The school, recognising that many of its families would be hit in the
near future had arranged for Reed in Partnership and Brent Housing
to explain what was happening and 50 or so parents attended the
meeting on Friday morning.

As the parents realised,that their lives were about to be turned
upside down, the anxiety in the room deepened.

Brent Housing admitted there was little good news but emphasised
the need for planning ahead of the main impact of the changes which
will hit in April 2013.  They offered advice on how to bid for properties
and transfers for council and housing association tenants
(Call 020 8937 5211) and help for those renting in the private sector
 (020 8937 5211/4441/2369).

They suggested that the reforms might mean moving to Barnet or
Harrow or further afield for some tenants. They were able to offer
to help negotiate new rents with private landlords when the London
Housing Allowance (LHA) no longer covered the full rent, perhaps
with a 9 month protection if the rent was increased pending finding
new accommodation.

For many, the combination of the reduced Housing Benefit,. the
overall income cap, changes in the hours needing to be worked for
Working Tax credit, and the likely charging of at least 20% council tax
to all but the most vulnerable,  will bring about a drastic reduction in

It is clear that many families will not have enough to spend on food, 
heating and necessities after rent has been paid and thus will have 
no option but to move out of London unless they can find work.

This was where Reed In Partnership came in with its offer to help
'progression into work' , emphasising that it was not 'forcing people
into work'. They offered:
  • Individual appointments to make 'better off' calculations 
        comparing income from work with income from benefits. 
  • Opportunities to go on courses, develop English language skills,  
        and help looking for long-term sustainable jobs.
  • Step by step help with housing, childcare, budgeting, connection 
        with appropriate programme
  • Help into volunteer activities that would contribute to a CV
  • Help with interview skills and appropriate clothing
  • Help with public transport , providing travel cards while waiting
       for first pay packet
A mother who had received help from the programme spontaneously
stood and said how much it had helped her. She said that they had
helped her buy clothes for her job interview and that now she was 
employed she was better off than when she was on benefit and less 
socially isolated at home.

Reed In Partnership contacts: Marilyn Grundy 07534 189 557
Wembley Works, Forum House, Lakeside Way, HA9 0BU
Sessions: May 3, 17, 31 9am-noon

I am sceptical that with the numbers of people involved and with
current high levels of unemployment in Brent how many people will be 
able to benefit but it clearly offered some a glimmer of hope. However 
for some mothers with very young children at home it does not seem to 
be an option. For many moving to 'cheaper' areas, probably with even 
fewer job opportunities (that's one reason why property is cheap after 
all) will be the only alternative to penury.

Overall, the impact of all this must be to increase the number of
children living in poverty with inevitable consequences for health
and educational progress. If families are forced to move out of
London children's schooling will be disrupted and nuclear families
will be separated from support from their extended families and
communities, finding themselves isolated and possibly facing racism
and prejudice from the receiving communities.

According to Saturday's Guardian, back in 1994, Housing Minister
Grant Shapps stood in what they call the London ward that represented
Chalkhill, then a notorious concrete block estate.  Shapps boasts, "My
brilliant slogan was 'Vote for me on Thursday and we'll start knocking your
house down on Friday', and I came within 103 votes of taking a safe
Labour ward".

I would like Shapps to come back to the Chalkhill Estate and  talk to
people whose lives he and his Coalition colleagues are about to wreck.

It appears to me that this government is like the military, making war
and killing people in a far away country. by clicking on a computer screen.
They are as remote from the lives of ordinary people in places like Chalkhill
and the impact these 'reforms' will have on their lives, as those military
personnel were from the lives of ordinary people in Iraq. I suppose the
question is are they oblivious to the consequences, or is that what
they want?

The Chalkhill meeting showed the importance of outreach work by the
Council at a venue where they can meet families affected by the welfare 
'reforms' and rise awareness of the issues. I hope other schools will hold 
similar meetings.

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