Friday, May 18, 2012

John McDonnell's Radical Alternative to Austerity - sign up now

This blog has been reproduced from Another World is Possible. Please consider adding your name by emailing 

The Radical Alternative to Austerity

Cameron and Osborne have repeated again throughout this week that there is no alternative to their failing austerity programme.
I feel that there needs to be a clear statement from the Left that there is an alternative to austerity and it goes beyond just cutting less deep and less fast.

I have set out below a brief statement of what that alternative could contain.

It is not meant as a definitive statement but at least a broad depiction of what a radical alternative would comprise.

I am asking people to consider putting their name to it so that we can continue to circulate it to the movement.

Please let me know if you are willing to put your name to the statement by emailing me on

You can help greatly by circulating the statement as well and putting it up on your website or blog or tweeting it.



The Radical Alternative to Austerity.  

The austerity programme of the Coalition government is not just failing; it is prolonging and deepening the recession. Cuts in investment in public services, in jobs, wages, pensions and benefits are creating mass unemployment and mounting hardship.

Austerity is creating a spiral of economic decline as cuts produce high levels of unemployment which in turn reduces tax income and prompts another round of cuts and job losses.

The Government’s austerity measures are also unfair as the only people the Government seems intent on protecting from the recession are the rich.

There is an alternative to austerity.

There is no lack of wealth and resources in our country that we can draw upon to tackle this recession. The problem is that this wealth and these resources are held in the hands of too few people and are not being used productively to create the growth and jobs we need.

If we can release these resources, we can overcome the current recession and start to build a prosperous future for our country, linking with others across Europe and the United States to overcome this global economic gridlock.

Releasing the resources within our own country is not difficult.

It simply requires the introduction of a limited range of redistributive measures which will raise the funds we need from those most able to pay and who have profited most out of the boom years.

This redistribution can be achieved through;

a wealth tax on the richest 10%,

a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions,

a Land Value tax,

the restoration of progressive income tax of 60% on incomes above £100,000

and a clamp down on the tax evasion and avoidance that is costing us £95 billion a year.

Investing the resources released can halt the spiral of decline.

With unemployment rising month by month we urgently need to get people back to work and earning a decent living.

We can do this by investing the resources we have released through taxation in modernising our economy, its infrastructure and our public services to meet the needs of our community.

Instead of cutting and privatising our health, education and local services, this means:

Investing in a mass public housing building and renovation programme, in universal childcare, in the modernisation of our public services, in the NHS, in creating a national Caring Service, in our schools and colleges, in our transport infrastructure and in the extension of broadband.

Investing in alternative energy, combined heat and power and insulation to both tackle climate change and create one million climate change jobs.

Establishing a national investment bank with the resources levied from the banks so that there is no shortage of funds to lend for manufacturing growth and research and development.

To be successful the recovery programme has to be fair.

We will need the support of a significant majority of our people if we are to drive through this type of radical regeneration and redistribution programme.

To gain this level of support means the Radical Alternative must be seen to be fair. This means addressing many of the inequalities of our current system.

For those at the top it means ending the bonuses and limiting high salaries to no more than 20 times the lowest paid in any company or organisation.

For all others it means replacing the minimum wage with a living wage and a living pension and living welfare benefits, reducing the working week to 35 hours, closing the gender pay gap, controlling rents and energy prices, and restoring rights at work.

For young people it means a guaranteed job, apprenticeship, training or college place for every young person with the burden of fees abolished.

There is no shortage of resources to implement this programme of reform.

The problem is the distribution of these resources.

The Radical Alternative simply releases the resources we have to regain control of our economy and invest in our future.

Never again can we let them say that there is no alternative.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Safe in their hands? Another lie - Letter to my Tory MP

Take Action and write to your MP now - here's my letter to the Tory MP for NW Hampshire, Sir George Young.
The NHS - "It will last as long as their are folk left  with the faith to fight for it."
Dear George,

I am writing to you about the Health and Social Care Bill with a plea to you to demand that the government, of which you are a part of, halts the Bill now.

The Bill will destroy our NHS and the lives of millions of vulnerable people who rely on it. It is a Bill that leaves me asking how my family and millions of others will secure health equality or be able to afford it – the thought of an US-style health care system fills me with dread.

But of course a government of millionaires is unlikely to worry about such things when it has never needed for the very precious public services that the majority of us rely on daily. 

The MPs who spend our taxes on duck houses, or in case claimed £127,159 in second home expenses on your London flat between 2001 and 2008, claimed £699 on a washer-dryer and £449 on a dishwasher. (For further details see the blog post: A government of looters)

We’ve all seen how successive governments have undermined NHS dentistry, and this Bill will do the same to our NHS. The billions of pounds of our taxes used to make a profit for the few rather than to meet the needs of the majority.

We all know the impact on safety and democratic accountability that privatisation has had. 

Services become more expensive and out of reach for the most vulnerable – privatisation does nothing towards meeting the needs of everyone.

The government of which you are part of has no mandate for destroying our NHS and allowing privateers to snaffle billions of pounds of our taxes for private profit.  

There was no mention of your government’s ill-thought-out plans in its manifesto. 

In fact Cameron cynically used his disabled child to convince the electorate that the NHS would be in safe hands. 

I feel very sad that Ivan was used in this way – he like many millions of others are the real victims in this sordid tale. (Time to talk about Ivan)

The government is failing to listen to the evidence from experts and shamelessly putting the demands of the greedy privateers and their shareholders ahead of people’s needs in this country.

What your government is doing is undemocratic and it is removing democratic accountability from one of our most treasured public services, our NHS.

I want to see the risk register - it is absolutely disgusting that the government is pressing on with their attack on our NHS without putting this information into the public domain, and I very much hope that you will support the call to release this information as soon as possible.

I hope that you do not consider yourself to be above the findings of the Information Officer and an appeal tribunal.

I very much doubt you'll do anything to halt this Bill, but I hope you will if you have one ounce of decency and commitment to communities across the country, and to the constituents you represent.

It is very hard to write a polite letter to my Tory MP at this time – everywhere we look a government of millionaires is attacking everything this country holds dear – doing things that even Thatcher would not have dared.

We have a government so ideologically opposed to our precious public services that they are willing to put profit before need and destroy democratic accountability and ruin the future life chances of millions and their chances of health equality.

This government is turning tax payers into benefit claimants and increasing debt with its economically illiterate policies.

And of course the majority of the government will never know what it feels like to rely on our public services, our state schools, our welfare system and our NHS because they are the millionaires, the one per cent who have never really needed anything or have a clue about real lives and real people.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Proud to support public sector workers striking to defend their pensions on November 30

I am proud that NW Hampshire Labour are supporting public sector workers striking to defend their pensions on November 30, and that they have pledged to join picket lines.

I will be joining picket lines in Andover at the MOD HQ at MonxtonTest Valley Borough Council, Weyhill Road, Andover and Andover Job Centre Plus, London Street. To find out how you can get involved in your area, see the links at the end of this post.

The government’s proposals are not a genuine attempt to make the schemes more sustainable, but a cash-grab by the Treasury, imposing an additional tax on workers already facing a pay freeze in an attempt to make them pay debts resulting from the banking crisis.
It is a myth that public sector pensions are unaffordable, and the reality is that the cost of public-sector pensions is set to fall. Visit the TUC's
pension myth-buster to find out more.
It is scandalous that the government is targeting low-paid public-sector workers’ pensions when every year bankers, big business and wealthy individuals get away with £120 billion of unpaid tax – this attack on pensions is about paying for the biggest-ever act of corporate welfare seen in this country.

There are already far too many people living in poverty in old age, and if the government does not step back it will be increasing the number of people who die every winter of cold-related illnesses because they have to choose between putting food on the table or heating their homes.
Read more about pensions and why private and public sector workers should support the strike.
Read NW Hampshire Labour's statement in support of the strike.

Find out where picket lines are in Hampshire.
Visit the TUC's False Economy site or the PCS website to find out what is happening in your area.
Read the letter of support for the strike by Labour MPs and councillors in the Guardian.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fair pensions for all - support the November 30 strike

Visit Andover TUC's website for further info

In January it will be 103 years since Pensions Day in 1909, when the first general old age pension was introduced by the old Liberal Party under Lloyd George.

At the time they were denounced as socialists by the Tories for enacting such a terrible policy – a policy which had taken the working class 24 years to win, from the campaign’s inception in Southwark in 1885.

There were huge numbers living in poverty in 1909, so the pension was a major step forward, but its limitations reflected the Victorian attitude that some poor people were more deserving than others – an attitude that is resurfacing today under the current government.

In 1909 the pension was available only to people over 70 who could prove that they were of good character, had never been to prison, and were not in a mental health institution or a workhouse.

These lucky few were deemed to deserve a paltry sum of between one and five shillings – a fraction of the average unskilled labourer’s wage of 25 shillings.

It was set deliberately at a low level, supposedly to encourage people to make their own pension provision.

The similarities with today’s Tories are striking: the creation of division through the myth of the undeserving and deserving poor, turning working people on each other rather than the policy makers, who carried on looking after the interests of the monied few.

The Labour Party had not be around long in 1909 – it had been set up because trade unionists were fed up with being let down by the Liberals – but Labour’s 29 MPs welcomed the pension.

To their credit, they also criticised the paltry amount and the fact that it was means tested.

It was only 35 years later, after the Second World War, that Labour established the Welfare State, with the aim of providing decent basic living standards from the cradle to the grave.

It was an approach that saw the country’s economy and the wellbeing of its people as completely intertwined, and that the fairest way was for everyone to contribute to the pot so that basic needs of health, housing, education could be met.

But over the past 30 years we have seen successive governments chip away at that principle, and the very concept of a society that responds to need rather greed.

A century on, the 21st century Tories and their LibDem allies have rebranded the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor, and nearly every day we see stories in the right-wing press villifing single mums, the disabled, the feckless, the jobless.

They have gone to town on ‘greedy’ public-sector workers and their ‘gold-plated pensions’ who have such a ‘better lot’ than people in the private sector.

Of course the reality is that both private- and public-sector workers, as well as the jobless, the disabled, pensioners and children, are all suffering from the effects of a society that for more than three decades has worshipped greed at the expense of compassion and mutual help.

We all need a decent pension to retire in dignity, but the reality is that very few people outside the ‘one per cent’ in the city of London get a gold-plated pension – certainly not public servants for whom the average pension is £5,600.

We all too need a decent wage, a roof over our heads, healthcare, heating, education and food, but government policies that increasingly deny these things to working people and concentrate wealth in the hands of the one per cent sow the seeds of division.

The government’s attack on public-sector pensions is based on myths.

The government’s own Hutton report rejected the idea that public-sector pensions are gold-plated, while the National Audit Office affirmed that the present arrangements are not only affordable, but will in fact cost the country less as years go by.

The government is fond of peddling the divisive argument that it is time for the public sector to take the same medicine that private-sector workers have already endured.

It was of course the Tories’ friends in the banks and city who enjoyed the perks of lengthy ‘pensions holidays’ when private-sector pension funds were deemed to be rolling in it.

But having starved those funds – and in some cases (like Robert Maxwell) literally robbed from them – there was of course no question of making up the contributions that had been withheld when those funds hit trouble.

And it was the last Tory government that started the long process of killing off the safe state earnings-related pension – SERPS – by conning people to place their faith in the casino of private markets instead.

That is why only one in three private-sector workers now has even an inferior occupational pension scheme.

It is nothing to do with sharing the pain of paying off the deficit, it is about daylight robbery by the very bankers and corporate bosses whose unregulated greed got us into the mess we are now in.

Those without occupational schemes are also now faced with the massive squeeze on their incomes imposed by the present government in order to provide welfare to the bankers, leaving them with less, if any, money to invest in private schemes.

The uptake of private pension schemes is now at its lowest since the 1950s, and many of us are paying in far too little to provide a dignified and secure retirement.

And the proportion of Britain’s overall product, the GDP, paid in wages has been steadily falling since the Tories were last in power, thanks to laws imposed by Thatcher and, to its shame, maintained by Labour, that stop trade unions fighting effectively to defend pay and conditions.

The reality of the 2008 crash and the recession gripping the economy has shown the folly of leaving pensions to the markets – effectively gambling our retirement nest-egg on little more than a roulette wheel.

For those whose only cushion is the state pension, they are forced to live on between £61 and £102 per week – one of the lowest in Europe and below the official poverty line.

So it’s no wonder that every winter around 30,000 pensioners die of cold-related illness – vulnerable people forced to make the choice between putting food on the table and heating their homes.

And that is a problem faced increasingly by others too, the jobless, the disabled, people with serious or terminal illnesses, families with young children and increasingly people in work, but whose pay simply doesn’t stretch that far.

Last year demand for food banks grew by 50 per cent over the previous year.
And here in supposedly affluent Hampshire, Andover was the third-busiest food bank of those run by the Trussell Trust, and just up the road Salisbury came second.

In 2010 the Trussell Trust distributed nearly 3,000 food parcels in Andover.

And just as our own MP, George Young, once described the homeless as the people you stepped over on the way home from the opera, so Salisbury MP John Glen told Channel 4 News that the poor were spending their money on the wrong things if they needed help from a food bank.

Back in 1909 between 25 and 35 per cent were living in poverty in London’s East End and we thought we had seen an end to that.

But today we have upwards of 22 per cent living poverty, and it is getting worse.
Working people are being made to pay for a global crisis with the biggest attack on our living standards, public services and welfare state that we have ever seen.

Now is not the time to allow them to divide private-sector from public-sector workers, now is the time for us to work together and to reject any notion that some are more deserving than others – although we could instead focus on the underserving rich.

Let us be clear.

The government’s pensions reform is not about making public-sector pensions affordable.

It is a straightforward cash-grab that will see wealth taken from public-sector workers to help pay the bail-out and bonuses of the bankers.

It is about paying for the biggest-ever act of corporate welfare ever seen in this country.

Next Wednesday millions of workers, including here in Andover, will be taking a stand against those who would rob from the less well-off to give to the rich, and we should applaud them and stand with them on the picket lines.

For anyone who doubts this – think of your children and your grandchildren and ask yourself if you want them trying to eke out an existence having to choose between putting food on the table or heating their home.

We must expose the lies behind the attack on pensions.

Most public-sector pensions are less than £5,600 per year, only £3000 for local government workers.

For part-time workers, the majority of the women, it is even worse.

In a YouGov poll 44 per cent of people who were asked, thought a public-sector pension should be more than £15,000.00, nearly three times what it is.

And 49 per cent believed the average public sector pension was more than £10,000 – the average answer was £17,000.

£5,600 per year is £107.00 per week. The state pension is only £102.00 per week and we’ve already identified that that is below the poverty line.

This shows just how the government’s myth-making, lapped up by the right-wing press, has had a major effect, and we must stop the government exploiting its own myths to divide us.

But even if public-sector pensions did average £17,000.00 per year, there is still no case for cutting them.

The battle should be to raise everyone’s pensions to that level and beyond, and not to join a race to the bottom.

The reality remains that public-sector pensions as they are are affordable, and if anything there is a case for raising them.

Just as destroying jobs is making the crisis worse by turning taxpayers into benefit claimants, so lowering pensions will reduce the amount of money that people have to spend in the economy.

It is part of a downward spiral.

The government’s line that cuts in services, jobs, benefits and pensions is part of the big lie.

The government says that it wants to raise an extra £3 billion in public-sector pension contributions.

But every year £120 billion of tax owed by wealthy individuals and big business goes uncollected.

Vodafone alone has just avoided an £8 billion tax bill with a nod and a wink to Revenue and Customs.

Britain’s debt in 1945 was twice what it is now as a proportion of gross domestic product, yet the 1945 Labour government set up the health service, built hundreds of thousands of council homes.

The national debt is a smokescreen for a government that is ideologically opposed to the provision of public services.

The total personal wealth in the UK is £9,000 billion, a sum that dwarfs the national debt, and more than half of it is held by the richest ten per cent. (read more about a wealth tax).

It may sound like a crazy idea, but a YouGov poll from June 2010 suggested that three-quarters of the population would favour a one-off tax on the wealthiest six million people in Britain.

The government has no case for attacking public-sector pensions, just as it has no case for destroying jobs and services and taking benefits from the sick and disabled.

I applaud the stand being taken by the 28 unions whose members will be on strike next Wednesday.

As a Labour Party member I believe that my party’s leadership should stand shoulder to shoulder with us, with trade unionists - with the 99 per cent - on November 30.

I will be out there on picket lines in and around Andover and I hope that November 30 will go down in history as the day that the government’s attempt to rob pensioners to subsidise bankers’ bonuses was nailed.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Labour's resistance - LRC conference 2011

From the LRC website and the Hampshire LRC website.

Speakers from Britain’s sharpest front-line campaigns, including OccupyLSX, the UNITE electricians’ dispute and the defence of Dale Farm, will lead debates at the Labour Representation Committee’s annual conference, Labour’s Resistance, in London on November 19.

They will be joined by firefighters’ leader Matt Wrack, pensioners’ convention general secretary Dot Gibson, leading left MPs Katy Clark, Jeremy Corbyn and LRC chair John McDonnell MP, and by Haringey community and youth worker Symeon Brown.

The conference comes as people across the globe are making the link between corporate greed and joblessness, poverty and homelessness, and are increasingly prepared to take direct action – giving rise to one of the most inspirational movements seen for years.

The line-up of speakers reflects the growing resistance in Britain, where it is increasingly apparent that the global economic crisis is being used as a smoke-screen for the destruction of public services, jobs, and welfare.

With the most vulnerable in society being targeted and criminalised while the Tories’ wealthy chums have their corporate noses in the trough of privatisation and patronage, never has there been a more important time to build Labour’s resistance.

LRC chair John McDonnell MP said: “The government’s brutal and ideological attack on everything we hold dear marks a turning point for the movement – a turning point that could, if we all stand together, see the reversal of three decades of neo-liberal policies.

“Not in many of our life-times have we seen so many working people taking a stand against capitalism in the way that we are now – the student protests, the occupy protests, the anti-war protests and trade unionists’ action in June and on November 30.

“This is the final battle for our welfare state, our NHS and everything that Labour fought for in 1945: it is vital that Labour takes its place at the helm and provides the movement’s political voice to demand and win a society based on need, not greed.

“There has never been a more important time for maximum unity.”

The speakers:
Symeon Brown, Haringey community and youth worker has played a leading role in campaigning against cuts to youth services.
Symeon is an outspoken critic of the government’s failure to fund community infrastructure properly, and played a leading role in standing up for young people in the aftermath of the summer riots.
He will speak about his experiences and explain the issues facing young people in inner city London.

Dale Farm campaigners will share their experiences of the brutal attack on their rights by Essex County Council and the police, which has made their community homeless.
Travellers are vilified in the media, their rights frequently ignored and their way of life mis-represented.

Unite electricians will share their inspirational stand alongside UCATT workers against attacks to pay, terms and conditions by greedy building contractors intending to pull out of the Joint Industry Board (JIB) and impose a 35 per cent pay cut.
Despite heavy-handed police tactics the sparks have succeeded in marching along Oxford Street and demonstrating in London to call on the contractors to return to the JIB.

OccupyLSX campaigners who have been camped outside St Pauls Cathedral, Finsbury Square and across the UK will share their demands for an end to global greed, and for a more democratic and sustainable system which represents people’s needs instead of big-business greed.

Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, will outline the NPC’s campaign against the government’s attack on pensioners and its demands for an end to fuel poverty, a decent pension and better care services for the elderly.

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack will outline how public sector workers are fighting back against government cuts and in defence of pensions and jobs.

The details
The LRC conference is on Saturday, November 19, from 10am to 4.30pm at the University of London Union, Malet Street, London (see map)

Please register online for the conference. Or to register by post, download the individual member’s form or the affiliate delegate form  Please register in advance to save time on the day.

A free crèche will be provided, but please email to register.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Our national housing crisis - the case for council house building

Published in the Morning Star: Time to build again a sustainable future.

Council housing can play a central role, not only in ending the massive housing crisis that we face, but in helping to end the economic crisis that was caused in no small part by the shameless exploitation of housing need by bankers, spivs and speculators in the sub-prime mortgage scandal.

Anyone who watched Michael Collins’s excellent BBC documentary, the Great Estate, a few months back, will know how far the very concept of council housing has been undermined since its heyday in the late 1970s, when a third of Britain’s people lived in council housing, including a fifth of the top ten per cent of earners.

Today there are just four million people still living in council accommodation in England, Wales and Scotland.

Today, the government would have us believe that what remains of the council-housing stock is something akin to charity: something that only the deserving poor are grudging allowed, but only as long as they remain poor and remain deserving.

It is the return of Victorian values – the values of the poor law

If you haven’t seen Collins’s documentary I would urge you to: it is an inspiring piece which shows the aims and aspirations of the visionaries who developed council housing, where council estates were not there as a safety net for the poorest in society, but were there for all, regardless of status, income or employment.

How far things have come since the days of Nye Bevan, when the NHS and hundreds of thousands of council homes were built out of the rubble of the Second World War when the country’s debt was, in real terms, twice what it is today.

Successive governments have bit by bit chipped away at our welfare state – our NHS, our state education system, our public services and our council homes – and the current government has set out to dismantle it completely – finishing the job started by Thatcher in 1979.

For council housing the rot started when Thatcher conned the country into believing that the “right to buy” council houses would create wealth and opportunity for all.

We know now how wrong that was.

For instead, alongside the criminal disposal of the vast bulk of the country’s best council housing stock and an effective ban on new council-house building, we have seen negative equity, homelessness and overcrowding rising relentlessly and house-price inflation that has put access to decent housing out of the reach of a generation.

To its eternal shame, new Labour not only carried on the Thatcherite policy, but even managed to sell off more council homes than the Thatcher and Major Tory governments.

So what do we have today?

  • We have five million people in 1.8 million households on council housing lists.

  • We have a hyper-inflated housing market that has benefited no-one expect the spivs and speculators who lent money at eye-watering interest rates to the poorest and most vulnerable in society who didn’t have a prayer of meeting their payments.

  • We have an almost unregulated private rented sector which allows people to be fleeced for often sub-standard accommodation by landlords some of whom make Rachman look like an amateur.

(Remember Shelter’s excellent campaign which pointed out that if the price of food had risen at the same rate as that of housing a chicken would cost something like £25.)

  • We have families told to use their living room as a bedroom, parents forced to share bedrooms with their children and families of five in one-bedroom accommodation told that they are not overcrowded.

  • We have local authorities like Westminster Borough Council in the wealthy west end, renting bed-bug ridden hotels in Hackney, one of London’s poorest boroughs, so they can unload their housing problem on a poorer borough’s social services.

  • We have a generation of sofa-surfers who do not even register on the homeless statistics.

  • We have working people encouraged to turn on one another in competition for what little housing there is.

  • And now we have a government that vilifies council tenants as scroungers, aided by the Mail, the Express and the Sun, in order to justify massive benefit cuts

The present government’s response to the housing crisis will not only make it worse, but will place even more of the burden on the very people who are already its victims.

Instead of regulating rents, the government has capped housing benefit.

Tory Westminster City Council estimates that some 5,000 households – and this is just one London borough – will no longer be able to afford to live there.

Across the country it will mean tens of thousands of families forced to uproot in what even Tory London mayor Boris Johnson describes as social cleansing, with the breakup of communities, and even more breakdown in social cohesion.

The amount of taxpayers’ money that ends up in the pockets of greedy private landlords is stomach-churning, but what kind of sick logic is it that aims to cut it by forcing people out of their homes and neighbourhoods rather than regulating rents and providing more homes?

So what is the long-term solution?

The housing crisis is part of the wider economic crisis.

Having seen the bitter fruit of housing hyper-inflation, caused by shortage of housing exploited by bankers and speculators, you’d have thought that the government would want to stop that happening again.

But you’d have thought wrong.

The government is determined to leave housing to the market, when all our experience has shown that market mechanisms cannot deal with the problem precisely because shortage means bigger prices and bigger profits.

What the market wants is exactly the reverse of what the people need.

Relying on the market to build its way out of this crisis is like living in cloud cuckoo land – Capitalist supply and demand dictate that reducing supply keeps prices high.

The privateers who are out to profit from houses will not – indeed cannot – do anything to bring prices down.

In 1945 Britain faced an even more dire economic situation than today’s.

The national debt in 1945 was twice what it is today as a proportion of GDP.

Yet the 1945 government created the National Health Service and embarked upon a massive council-house-building programme.

That approach not only began to solve the massive housing problem that had existed even before the blitz made it worse, but it also helped to kick-start the economy by creating tens of thousands of jobs.

Today’s economic crisis is no less dramatic, and the government’s slash and burn approach to public services is making it worse.

Turning taxpayers into benefit claimants by destroying their jobs is not cutting the debt, but making it worse.

The economy needs investment, and what better investment could there be than a massive council-house building programme?

The benefits are massive.

No-one can deny that we need the homes.

No-one can deny that we need the jobs.

And only the bankers, spivs and speculators who got us where we are would deny that we need to bring down house prices in the private sector.

Alongside that we need legislation to allow local authorities compulsorily to purchase the half-million empty properties around the country, and that allows councils to buy back council homes that have been sold.

But there is another benefit to council housing that the ConDem government, Blair and Thatcher would have us forget.

Council housing is democratic.

If your council does a bad job maintaining its council homes you can vote them out. You cannot do that to a  private landlord, a bank or even a housing association.

And that is true of all our public services – as the ConDem government erodes the welfare state and our rights to council homes it is also taking away democratic accountability.

The last Labour government spent millions bribing, persuading, blackmailing council tenants to transfer to housing associations, arms-length HATS and the like.

Housing associations may once have played a positive role as a minor co-operative sector, but today they have become undemocratic monoliths, with vested interests – corrupted by the process and far too often unable to deal with tenants any longer as individuals.

It is my view that the economic stimulus created by a massive house-building programme would be enough, easily, to outweigh its cost.

Shelter, which has a proud record of campaigning for housing rights since 1966, calculated that for every £1 spent on building homes, £3.51 would be generated in the local economy – that’s reason enough to get building.

By contrast, for every £100 million cut from the capital investment budget, national economic output will fall by £351 million, with 2,500 fewer jobs in the construction sector and 1,650 fewer new homes.

But to those who still worry about where the money is going to come from, let’s remind ourselves of a few facts.

Every year, around £120 billion in tax remains unpaid, evaded or avoided.

Since 2008 you and I have forked out £850 billion to bail out the banks whose greed got us where we are, and we continue to underwrite them by tens of billions each year.

Like health, like social care, like education, I believe that housing cannot be seen as a commodity but as an essential requirement for life.

Council housing is a model that has provided homes, jobs and economic growth for generations.

Today we need all these things more than ever.

To find out more visit Defend Council Housing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My experiences of squatting - don't criminalise, build council houses

A shorter version of this article has been published in the Morning Star: Britain's Squat scandal

THE ConDem government’s plan to criminalise squatters (on Tuesday) is typical of an approach that will penalise the victims of Britain’s housing crisis rather than tackle the problem itself.

It is the sick Tory logic that sets out to criminalise homeless people forced to squat because of the failure of successive governments to provide adequate council homes and jobs.

And it is to the Labour front bench’s shame that it has declared support for the move, contained in clause 26 of the Legal Aid and Punishment Bill.

This is particularly galling for me because I remember watching Labour come to power in May 1997 from my draughty, leaky bedroom in a squat and can still remember the feeling of hope and happiness that the Tories were gone, and that we would see some justice at last – or so I thought.

People do not squat out of choice, but because the only other option is the street or a sofa.

Just like people on benefits, squatters are vilified in the media, but a quick look at the facts exposes the myths.

More than three-quarters of squatters have previously contacted their local council for help, but have been turned away because of the shortage of homes.

According to the charity Crisis, there are five million people in 1.8million households on council waiting lists.

Homelessness is a national crisis, not something to criminalise – and the problem is about to get a whole lot worse as the government imposes its vindictive housing-benefit caps.

The ranks of the army of the homeless will be swelled by up to 40,000 people because the government is attacking the victims rather than the perpetrators, and is unprepared even to consider the no-brainer solution of building new council homes.

The Tories tried to kid us – and maybe themselves – that capping housing benefit would bring private-sector rents down, just as they have tried to convince us that rail privatisation would bring down fares, or that private-sector discipline will improve the health service.

Despite the cap already imposed on new housing-benefit claimants, the index has noted that “rental prices are continuing to rise at a startling rate”.

For me the experience of squatting lasted about eight months – eight months I hoped I would never have to repeat.

I met some lovely people in the squats by London Fields in the east end London borough of Hackney, and it was their campaign that brought houses left to rot back into proper use.

But squatting is not easy.

Fresh out of college in the mid ‘90s I was in what I thought then to be horrific debt of £5,000, which had built up over two years on a full-time university course despite working part-time as a support worker.

I had received the last dregs of a frozen grant and grudgingly took out one of the first student loans – though today I look back and think how lucky I was not to come out of my education with the sort of debt students are expected to shoulder now.

After college I couldn’t stay in my shared student digs – which had been in a sorry state of repair – and, wanting to stay in London to find work, considered myself lucky to be asked to look after a friend’s room in a squat for the summer.

I had never thought of squatting and was not too sure I wanted to, but my financial circumstances made the decision.

The squat's internal drainage system routed rainwater that came through the roof back outside: in one room it made use of an upside-down umbrella suspended from the ceiling and makeshift guttering through the window.

I soon got used to the squat’s cats, which kept the mice at bay, the mould, the leaning walls and the gaping holes between the floorboards and walls.

When the room’s ‘owner’ returned, I was invited into another squat a few doors away, which was a massive relief because I still didn't have a regular income.

There were no cats in this house, so whenever anyone visited the kitchen mice jumped out from the oven, from cupboards, from the sink and from under the table, and they even nibbled your chocolate if you left it around.

The plus side is that if you have mice you do not have rats.

When winter came I would wake to find ice on the inside of the windows, something I had never seen before and never want to see again – but an everyday reality for so many living in fuel poverty who have to decide between putting food on the table or heating their homes.

I was lucky enough to be able to borrow enough money to pay for a deposit on a rented house, and a friend and I moved into a privately owned two-bedroomed, terraced house nearby.

We had to claim housing benefit and were signing on, but somehow we managed to convince the landlord to rent the house to us without him knowing we were on benefits. 

The house had central heating, carpets and hot water, and for a while it felt like luxury.

I managed to find a job and, despite low pay and absence of health and safety, considered myself lucky, until we received a letter from a bank informing us that the house was being repossessed because the landlord had defaulted on his mortgage.
A lawyer advised us to hold on to the rent, as the bank might have a claim on it, but the landlord, who denied any mortgage problems, began making threats and we decided to move out – and it was with mixed feelings of relief and dismay that I moved back into the squat.

It was there in May 1997 that I sat up all night watching Labour’s election victory, and even shed a tear.

I remember the song by D:ream, Things can only get better.

I hoped so.

But here we are in 2011 with an even wider gap between rich and poor, and even fewer council homes, and things have got a whole lot worse for the most vulnerable in society.

But at least we are now seeing the growth of one of the most inspirational movements we have seen for years, and across the globe people are making the link between corporate greed and poverty and homelessness – and are increasingly prepared to take direct action.

The opportunities of 1997 were squandered, and it is a sad fact that under new Labour more council homes were sold off than under Thatcher, when what we needed – and what we need now more than ever – is a massive programme of council house building that would help end the housing crisis and would play a key role in rebuilding the economy and creating jobs and apprenticeships.

Labour’s new leadership would be compounding new Labour’s failure if it is complicit in criminalising the homeless rather than standing up for them.

We do not have much time to change their minds, but try we must: email your MP and ask him or her to oppose clause 26 of the Legal Aid and Punishment Bill. For more information visit the LRC website.

Listen to Andover Sound's report: Squatting row