Thursday, 18 April 2013

Letter 104: Some sensible solutions for the UK housing crisis

"Dear Dave and Nick,
My daughter Bern, writes to you weekly. However, she has been in hospital recently and she asked me if I could to write to you in her stead. As I have 30 years of working for the community I'd like to concentrate on some of the news that has come out in the last few weeks in relation to housing issues in Liverpool and elsewhere.

First, some history; in the 1980s Liverpool City Council built new houses with money borrowed from Japanese banks. The Thatcher government decided that this would never happen again, and they decreed that from then on, all monies for house building would be given to the Housing Corporation, and in 1987, 47 Councillors were expelled.(Google 47 Liverpool Councillors for information).

It would appear that in Liverpool the wheel is turning full circle. With 70% of all housing in the lowest  council tax band there, before his successful election Mayor Joe Anderson's Manifesto included a promise to build 5,000 new houses with a large number of Brownfield sites earmarked for the project. ( Compare this to the situation in some boroughs in London which are being forced to decamp whole families away from neighbours, jobs, schools etcetera, I understand even as far away as Stoke on Trent due to the twin evil of high rents and the bedroom tax. 

In another development, the Mayor is also offering a pilot scheme, where the people of Liverpool can make application to buy a house for one pound. The successful bidder will be expected to take on a house in a run down area, bring it up to a good standard, and will be required to live in the house for three years. Initially it only covers 20 properties, but can be developed further ( Mayor Anderson cannot take all the credit for this project, as it has already been tried in Stoke on Trent, but for derelict houses there (

My question to you is, why, (with the cost of borrowing lower than it has been for many years) your government is not taking the opportunity to borrow monies at this rate to build the new houses that are so desperately needed (not only in London) in order to alleviate the extremely serious shortage of affordable housing  all around the country?

Allies to that, you may give serious consideration to dealing with the issue of high rents in the (private) housing sector

Yours sincerely, etc"

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Letter 103: On £10 million, unemployment, minimum wage & funerals for the rich and poor

With everyone in the Cabinet attending Baroness Thatcher's funeral, you might have missed the news  that unemployment figures are up by 70,000 today, hitting 2.56 million. Ouch! Couple that with pay rises for those IN work raised by just 1%, plus inflation running at 2.8% and people on lower incomes are experiencing a further squeeze in living standards. Do you think that could be why one in four were opposed to taxpayers footing the bill for such a lavish funeral? Or is it as the Bishop of Grantham said "asking for trouble" to spend close to £10 million on such pomp and ceremony when Margaret Thatcher's legacy is still considered to be so divisive? No-one would begrudge a significant politician their dignified farewell, but it does seem quite outrageous to spend so much on one person, Prime Minister or no, especially when there has been such a sharp rise in pauper's funerals. Embarrassingly your Government rejects nearly half of the applications for funeral payments. Did you know that £10 million could buy 11,111 public health funerals?

Maybe it's best to think about something else until you publish the breakdown of the cost for today...

How about we imagine all the luxuries that my daughter will be splashing out on with that extra 12p an hour she'll receive if she's still on the Minimum Wage in October? I can't say it's what either of us hoped for as she diligently worked her way through GCSEs, A levels and good degree at a prestigious Russell Group uni...

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Letter 102: Welfare reform will brew a perfect storm of misery

"Dear Dave and Nick,
What terrible weather we've been having. And hasn't it been a turbulent week for your welfare reforms? Described by housing experts as creating"the perfect storm", there is a widely held fear that your policies will result in vulnerable and blameless people becoming destitute.

I'm curious...have you ever worked with people living on benefits or in poverty, Dave? I mean worked alongside, as opposed to through the prism of a spread sheet, think tank or SpAd? I have - and shock horror - some of my friends and family members are poor and/or on benefits. 
Maybe like me, one of you will have worked with families where one or more adults turns out to be disturbingly dysfunctional? No? Well, it's been my experience that the need and receipt of benefits does not cause dysfunction. But, what would I know? Maybe my opinion, having worked in Social Services, is less valuable than that of the man booed by 80,000 people in a Paralympic stadium... 

Talking of which, was it "the cynical act of a desperate chancellor" or just crude political opportunism that to link Mick Philpott's terrible behaviour with your need to cut benefits? Bad enough having the strivers v shirkers rhetoric being ramped up by ministers cutting through the Easter break in concerted defence your reforms; but to use the tragedy of the deaths of six innocent children for political gain, by either a newspaper or such a senior Minister as George (with your backing I now see) is frankly beyond the pale. It is in my opinion not only dishonest, but socially irresponsible to encourage misinterpretation and attempt to capitalise on public anger. 

And "bedroom blockers" Nick  - was that article written with your approval? Dearie me, you may want to distance yourself from the distasteful use of the Philpott tragedy, but the direction that both sides of Coalition are willing to take the debate, appears to reinforce prejudice against people caught in a system of politician's making. Have a look at your LibDem constitution. Do you detect some dissonance? 

On one thing though, George is right: there is a need for a proper debate on Welfare spending. Only this time instead of ambushing the deaths of six kids at the hands of their dangerously abusive father, how about you look at the real issues? Spare room subsidy? Surely you mean landlord subsidy? The shortage of appropriate social housing, combined with lack of rent control, means far too much money goes on extortionate private rents. You could introduce a private rent control, build more social housing, reducing the homeless number, under occupancy and Welfare costs all at the same time.

Striver or skiver? You talk of "lifestyle choice" deliberately ignoring there are not enough full time jobs. Many are very badly paid, resulting in people being forced to rely on benefits to survive. If you brought in a living wage, Welfare costs would again be reduced - plus taxpayers would no longer subsidising the inadequate wages that you allow unscrupulous employers to offer. 

Were you really brave, we could take an honest look at how Welfare breaks down. At 42.3% of the total, OAPs count for a huge chunk of taxpayer's money. Your unerring protection of pensioners would be commendable were it not that older people are more likely to vote Conservative.

Philpott aside, let's look at two people claiming taxpayer's money who might open themselves to further scrutiny:
Firstly Iain Duncan Smith. If as he says, he can live on £53 per week, why then are his expense claims  alone an average of £105,305 per yr over an eight year period?

Secondly, George could explain why he claimed expenses for a paddock which had no horse. Was he considering riding to Westminster? And what is his understanding of the eligibility requirements for disabled parking? Are the rules different for those who make them?

Yours, etc "