Over 80,000 Families to leave London if Coalition’s Housing Cuts get through Parliament

Labour Party

Simon Hughes was clear that the Coalition’s housing benefit cuts will not get through parliament when he spoke on Channel 4 News yesterday evening.  The Liberal -Democrat Deputy Leader is clearly no lightweight and his warning should be taken seriously.

Hughes has obviously taken on board the reports that London local authorities have block-booked bed and breakfasts and other private accommodation outside London – in Reading, Luton, Hastings and other places – to house those who will be priced out of the London market. According to yesterday’s Observer Councils in the capital warned that 82,000 families – more than 200,000 people – face losing their homes..

The Coalition is set to drive poor people out of wealthy inner cities and London councils are preparing a mass exodus of low-income families from the capital because of the cuts in  benefits.

Housing is as important to our welfare as a city and a country as health and education. I therefore find it puzzling that while the Coalition has ring-fenced NHS spending and agreed the £1billion education premium for disadvantaged children, housing is up for grabs. While I would never deny the importance of health and education, welfare and housing are equally important.

The statistics are very telling. According to Shelter nationally more than two million people find their rent or mortgage a constant struggle or are falling behind with payments. Over 1.7 million households are currently waiting for social housing. Some homeless households – many with dependent children – wait for years in temporary accommodation.

Furthermore 1.4 million children in England live in bad housing. 7.7 million homes in England fail to meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard and in 2008/09, more than 79,500 households were found to be homeless by local authorities.

Given these figures, and never forget the statistics represent real people, families living in appalling conditions, Shelter is absolutely right when they say: “The UK is now more polarised by housing wealth than at any time since the Victorian era.”

And the Coalition is determined to polarise it even further. Housing Associations will now charge new tenants 80% of the market rent as opposed to the one third previously in place. The additional money is supposed to be used for new build, the target for which is 150,000 homes nationally in the next four years. While new homes are badly needed, this is not the way to do it.

George Osborne is meanwhile capping housing benefit from April next year at £400 a week for a four-bedroom house, £340 for a three-bedroom property, £290 for two bedrooms and £250 for a one-bedroom property. From October 2011 payments will be capped at 30% of average local rents.

At a meeting of the Commons work and pensions select committee last Wednesday, the day Osborne announced £81bn of cuts in the spending review, MPs were told by London council chiefs that the housing benefit cuts could have devastating results.

According to the Observer Nigel Minto, head of sustainable communities at London Councils, who works closely with the capital’s housing directors, told the committee that since June London councils had been “procuring bed and breakfast accommodation” in outer London and beyond. Jeremy Swain, chief executive of the homelessness charity Thames Reach, said he was particularly worried about the impact on numbers sleeping rough in London. “We have reduced rough sleeping dramatically and we have a target of zero rough sleeping in London by 2012. For the first time I’m thinking that we will not achieve that,” he said.

Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North and shadow work and pensions minister said: “The sheer scale and extremity of the coalition proposals means almost a million households are affected across the country.”

Karen also appeared on the BBC Politics Show London yesterday along with Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon and three very angry Londoners about to lose their homes. While Karen made the excellent point that the Coalition is indulging in “government by anecdote” and making huge cuts to deal with the problem of relatively few excessive claims in areas with high housing costs, Mr. Hammond tried to deny that the IFS claim that the spending review would hit the poorest the hardest. Meanwhile Mayor Boris Johnson appeared to deny there was a problem at all.

The Coalition’s true colours were  well and truly nailed to the mast last week when Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said the unemployed should “get on the bus” and look for work. Reminiscent of Norman Tebbit’s infamous “get on your bike and look for work” exhortation, Duncan Smith’s comment takes us fairly and squarely back to Thatcher, another demonstration that their cuts are ideologically driven.  

Dagenham and Rainham Labour MP John Cruddas, put it very well:”It [benefit cuts] is an exercise in social and economic cleansing”…”It is tantamount to cleansing the poor out of rich areas – a brutal and shocking piece of social engineering,”

Helping Karen Buck fight the Ashcroft millions

Labour Party

It is an annual pleasure to attend Westminster North MP Karen Buck’s magnificent fundraising dinner.  It has found a spiritual home at the Phoenix Palace restaurant in Marylebone. Word has spread far and wide and tickets sold out weeks ago. Karen commends a strong personal loyalty from both activists and constituents.

Arriving early I had the opportunity to catch up on City Hall affairs from London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi.  Murad and I are pictured with Camden Labour activist Diana Broad and my partner Chris Underwood.

Guest speaker, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, gave us a rousing speech with his trademark stringent intellectual analysis.  David’s contention that there are three myths we need to rebut – that Labour is going backwards, that there are no great causes left and that the Tories have changed – resonated with his audience.  I certainly know from my own experience in Europe that the Tories are still the hard right nasty party and that there are more than enough great challenges, reducing poverty and improving education to name but two.  It is also nonsense to believe that Labour is doing anything other than progressing, as the Prime Minister’s support for the Robin Hood tax shows.

The event was again compered by Mathew – I’m going to tell you lots of funny stories about Joanne “Cash for Questions” – Taylor.  Mathew is gaining such a reputation for being very good at doing this sort of thing that he’s now in demand by Labour Parties across London.  A special thanks was also given to Helen Hegarty who organised the whole show as she also did last year.  Helen did a fantastic job in ensuring everything ran smoothly- no mean feat with 150 guests and a celebrity speaker.  My personal thanks to the Phoenix Palace restaurant who put on their customary excellent spread.   

Karen rounded off the evening with a call to all of us to campaign as hard as we can, or even harder if we can manage it.  We know now that Labour has a strong fighting chance and it’s up to us to make sure Labour is returned to govenment in a few months time.  Karen is one of the most respected and highly regarded MPs in London and, I suspect, in the country as a whole.

Tributes were paid to Karen during the evening, in particular from three local government colleagues, Paul Dimoldenburg, Leader of the Labour Group on Westminster Council, Jane Roberts, former Leader of Camden Council and Lambeth Councillor Florence Nosegbe.  They will,of course, be candidates on the London Borogh elections due on 6 May.

We owe it to all our Labour councillors, to Ka ren and to the Labour Party to do everything we possibly can to make sure Labour gets back into government and wins for Labour in London.  The Tories may have Lord Ashcroft’s millions.  We have something far stronger – a real belief in our policies and our government and the will to win.

Westminster North Candidate gets on with people – shock!

Labour Party

I see that the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary candidate for Westminster North Joanne Cash has resigned as candidate.

It is not for me to speculate as the Daily Mail and Conservative Home have done as to why Joanne is no longer a candidate.

My London office is in the same building as the constituency office of pictured Karen Buck Labour MP for Regents Park and Kensington North (there are boundary changes and a new name for the seat). I can exclusively reveal that Karen gets on famously with her party workers, indeed it is not going too far to say that many of them love her (politically of course). Karen has an excellent close working relationship with her constituency Chair Nilavra Mukerji. I confess I do not know which school her husband Barrie went to, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t Eton.

Karen unites all strands of views in her local Labour Party and has all her Parliamentary staff working in her constituency office not the House of Commons.

Having campaigned on many occasions in her seat both with and without Karen I know that her constituents appreciate all her work and that they can bump into her on the bus or tube.

I will be supporting Karen’s next fundraiser on 24th February. Contact me if you would like details of how to support one of the hardest working MPs, and ensure she returns to Westminster at the General Election.


China, Labour Party, London
Mee Ling Ng OBE

Mee Ling Ng OBE

I have been involved with Chinese for Labour (CfL) since its inception. My longstanding friend Mee Ling Ng, then Deputy Leader of Lewisham Council asked me and I have been very happy to support events and activities since then. Street stalls in China Town are a favourite activity, preferably with the chance to have some Dim Sum before or after. I have met a number of outstanding activists, Dr. Stephen Ng, Soon Hoe Teh and Lady Katy Tse Blair who all work hard for Chinese for Labour. All were present last month fundraising for Karen Buck MP. This blog was prompted by the latest excellent Chinese for Labour newsletter,  The Orient, reaching me. Bilingual, it has a crisp design and benefits from the expertise of Chinese for Labour’s Chair Sonny Leong.

I will be out campaigning with CfL for the European elections. I am pleased to see that a celebratory event to recognise the contribution of Chinese women is being organised for the autumn. The Chinese community is significantly under-represented in public life. 300,000 people should mean at least 2 MPs and dozens of councillors. As well as fundraising for the Labour Party, Chinese for Labour needs to talent-spot and nurture young Chinese people so that more of them are selected, and then elected.

With the Olympics coming to London after Beijing we also should be working with the Chinese community for them to act as a bridge. The largest Chinese community in Britain is in London, and it is a privilege to represent them. For more information click here.


Labour Party

Karen Buck’s annual fundraising dinner is becoming something of an institution.  Held last Friday in the excellent Phoenix Palace Chinese restaurant in Marylebone, this year’s event lived up to its promise.  Top of the bill Alastair Campbell was witty, funny and occasionally deadly serious.  He has become one of the best speakers for this kind of event, and on this occasion donated the profit made on his books sold during the evening to Karen’s campaign.  He takes an especial interest in the constituency as his partner Fiona’s mother Audrey Millar has been activist for decades.

The final message of his speech – that we will win a fourth term but to do so have to defend our record and be much more aggressive in attacking the Tories – is well taken. Compere Mathew Taylor, who did the same job last year, gave a great performance.  If I ever need someone for that kind of thing, he’s the  person I would ask.  In addition to Karen herself, the other speakers were Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group on Westminster Council, and your truly on the European elections (June 4 this year). 

My thanks to the organisers for this opportunity.  Since 150 people attended with several excellent auction and raffle prizes, the dinner will have brought in much needed campaign finance.  With boundary changes, Karen’s seat Westminster North is now marginal.  She’s a great MP, very popular and very hard working.  We need her back.