Thursday, October 17News For London

March for homes: London’s urgent call for affordable social housing

The benefit cap for working age out-of-work households has resulted in an average estimated decline of £62 benefit income per week, according to homelessness charity Crisis. This has impacted an estimated 52,000 households and families in England, almost half of these live in London. By Alex Leonards. Sub editor Sohini.

photo 1Bright-eyed tourists sit in a quiet café by London Bridge station.  They chew on organic oatcakes, and slurp soya milk Lattes, blissfully unaware of the nearby crowds that gather.

Frustrated protesters stand side by side outside City Hall. Thousands have marched from opposite ends of the city. One group from the south, Elephant & Castle, the other East London’s Shoreditch; joining in solidarity at the heart of the capital.

The crowd addresses a growing crisis that has seen house prices rocket to seven times the average yearly income of a buyer, and left millions of families waiting for affordable social homes.

As demonstrators chant, “who’s home? My home!” Nora, 27, stands modestly at the back of the crowd.  Nora holds a large banner reading ‘justice’ in the rain.

“We are fighting for human rights, supporting those people who have lost housing or benefits,” she says. Nora is visibly frustrated by the benefit cap policy, “the government are cutting benefits, they don’t care if you are disabled or not”.

The benefit cap for working age out-of-work households has resulted in an average estimated decline of £62 benefit income per week, according to homelessness charity Crisis. This has impacted an estimated 52,000 households and families in England, almost half of these live in London.

Crisis believes the benefit cap policy is dangerous for homeless families living in temporary accommodation, but who are having to pay private rent. And the number of homeless families is growing.  According to a 2014 National Statistics report, between 2013-2014 there were 58,440 families in temporary accommodation, an increase of six percent.

Nora is optimistic about the future, “ we are together on this,” she proudly says. Like many at the protest, Nora believes solidarity and persistence will prompt change.photo 2

Ian Patterson, 25, is campaigning for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Whilst patiently ignoring the fierce wind, Ian highlights some of the housing issues effecting Londoners:

“There are a million different things regarding housing, particularly in London, that are affecting people.  Like the astronomical rents, the sell off of council and social housing, the bedroom tax”.

Becky Tunstall, Joseph Rowntree professor of housing policy, describes social housing as a positive “redistributive major aspect of the entire welfare state” and as “pro-poor”. Yet, over the past decade, the number of families waiting for social housing has almost doubled.

Mr. Patterson blames both austerity measures and the recession for growing housing problems. He looks to Greece for inspiration:

“Greece shows there is no light at the end of the tunnel with austerity measures. It only makes it worse for living standards.  Greece was sick to death of austerity, and elected a left wing anti-austerity party. We are trying to get a bit of that spirit here”.

The majority of banners address an urgent need for social housing. One reads,“Rent control. Build council homes. Take the wealth off the 1%”, another demands “ Stop playing monopoly with homes”. Scepticism about the redevelopment of council estates was also a common theme amongst the signs and chants.

It is not only austerity that contributes to the disappearance of social housing in London. The introduction of the affordable homes programme, alongside benefit caps, is a relationship that is considered a major concern at Crisis. The pricing of “low-income households out of ‘affordable’ social housing,” means social homes are becoming non-existent in expensive areas of London, and more families are without homes.

With homes becoming increasingly unaffordable, and social housing slowly disappearing, families are forced to move out of the capital.  Whilst families pack their bags, leaving the city they know and love, the holidaymakers bin their decaf coffees and head off, oblivious, to freely enjoy London.