The welfare system is letting rough sleepers down. Some things never change.

I am dealing with a really horrible homelessness case at the moment affecting a single man and his 13 year old child. It is harrowing, in fact. I can only imagine what going through this is like for the actual people involved.

It strikes me how well the welfare system is designed – if the intention of the system is to keep people sleeping rough, and to destroy families and individuals.

Bearing in mind that we have nowhere near enough social housing:

1) it is absolutely imperative that we ban ‘no DSS’ landlord advertising and contractual arrangements. Homes come before work, not the other way around. Landlords need to cover risk, but they should not do so at pain of discriminating against tenants.

2) we should tackle the genuine financial risk that housing benefit claimants do have to landlords by a) removing sanctions from the system b) if we have to have sanctions, providing a ‘strikes’ system c) disassociating HB from JSA generally, and especially in terms of sanctions.

3) Councils should strike a national deal with Royal Mail to provide PO Box type addresses to rough sleepers.

4) each rough sleeper within a local authority area should have a single caseworker contact, spanning housing, social work, mental health and addiction, etc. We have to stop people getting lost in bureaucracy and disengaging.

5) Councils could finance it, so we must must must build some bloody council houses.

If you care about your country, you should want it to be a place where people look after each other.

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Brent tenants move into new Council houses for the first time in 30 years

One of my chief frustrations with both New Labour and the current Tory government is the failure of both when it comes to housing supply – particularly at the social and affordable end of the spectrum.

Private developers typically ask for a 20% profit forecast before they plan new builds, so it is quite clear to me that building Council houses is very important. This is however very difficult to finance because the Thatcher government cynically banned Councils from boring against rent because they feared that tenants would vote Labour. This is a ban which is ludicrously still in force, stopping us from building housing which can fund itself from rent income if this is properly ringfenced. No Council can build and manage properties in large amounts for this reason. In Brent we share additional problems with developers and Housing Associations: the low availability of local land.

But I am proud of Brent Council today. My Labour colleagues Cllr McLellan and Cllr Farah have seen the council start to directly build new housing on former garage sites. Only seven units have been completed so far, but it is a very good start and movement in the right direction.

Cllr Farah and Council Officers seeing the first families in

Willesden fire response times – people at risk

 
New data from the London Fire Brigade has revealed that in the first full year after Boris Johnson forced the closure of 10 London fire stations, including scrapping one engine from Willesden, fire engine response times increased in two thirds of London’s wards. In Brent 11 wards have seen an increase in response times. The analysis from Navin Shah AM, comes as the London Fire Brigade prepares to launch a consultation on proposals to meet £6.4m of cuts demanded by the Mayor. Amongst the proposals are plans to permanently cut 13 further fire engines, but Mr Shah said “Londoners should be aware that there is an alternative that won’t see their fire engines cut, and that will prioritise their safety.” Continue reading

Boris urged to rethink Willesden fire engine cut

Councillors in Willesden Green, myself included, have teamed up with the local Fire Brigades Union and local London Assembly member Navin Shah AM to start a petition against Tory plans to cut a fire engine in the ward. We were also joined by a very supportive Dawn Butler MP.

  
The Mayor of London is planning to remove 13 fire engines from service in the capital. In addition to being present at the petition launch London Assembly Member Navin Shah AM wrote to the Mayor after it emerged the proposals included removing a fire engine from Willesden fire station in Brent. We expect this to have a serious impact on staffing safety and response times. Continue reading

Housing update

Residents often ask what we can do about the housing crisis. It keeps young people sharing for years on end, and makes sure a big chunk of our tax money goes towards keeping homeless people in often far from ideal temporary accommodation.

National government needs to let local councils borrow and encourage social building in particular. We need a mayor in London who is committed to a sensible definition of affordability and to getting us building.

I will also soon be bringing together a group of local Councillors to scrutinise the local work of Housing Associations including how government policy and their strategies will affect residents over the next five years.

But the most important thing we can do is build. Labour in Brent are pleased to be able to report some good progress against our manifesto for 2014-14:

1693 new homes were completed over the 2014/15 year, including 773 new affordable homes (46%). Amongst the 773 new affordable homes, 499 were social and affordable rented homes and 274 intermediate homes, that is a ratio of 65:35, broadly in line with Brent planning policy.

This is great news. Continue reading

Racism on public transport – letter to Newspapers

I have sent the following letter to the Evening Standard and the Brent and Kilburn Times.

– – –

Dear Editor,

I am disappointed to see a Willesden woman caught on film in what appears to be a bigoted attack on a young Muslim mother in Brent. It would be bad enough if this was a one-off, but this was quickly followed by a similar incident in which an elderly Muslim man was cruelly attacked and his walking frame thrown. 

Racial aggression in this second case was also directed against welfare support, itself a frequent target of ignorance. Too many wrongly believe that immigrants, or in this case those who ‘look like immigrants’, a racially tinged judgement, somehow have ‘special’ privileges. This is a divisive and obvious myth.

Sadly, in both cases, the alleged perpetrators were from ethnic minorities themselves – a depressing state of affairs. 

Most Londoners take pride in our diversity. We understand that our strength lies in community, mutual respect and understanding. But on public transport, a space we must all share, this seems increasingly and inexplicably stretched. 

It is welcome to see Police taking such abuse seriously – we can’t allow George Osborne’s cuts to put this at risk. But we also need to see a zero tolerance approach from TfL. Passengers and staff both deserve to feel safe when they travel. The small but loud minority taking part in bigoted, abusive or violent behaviour should be immediately removed and banned from using the buses and tubes we share. We must be open to each other, but we do not have to put up with them.

Warm regards,

Cllr Tom Miller

Willesden Green Ward, Brent

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