South of the River – Stop breakin’ down

Compass-SouthComment logo 2The news agenda for the next four months will be dominated by the European referendum. This is the most important decision the country will make in a generation so of course it must get the coverage, but it’s not the only decision being taken that will dramatically affect our lives here in South Leeds.

Changes to housing, health, benefits and more are being brought in with little public debate and now that debate will be drowned out by EU referendum. These aren’t minor changes either taken together ….

Social housing hasn’t been the same since the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher introduced the Right To Buy, but stopped Councils building replacement housing. Since then we’ve seen swathes of council housing departments turn themselves into housing associations. The balance of grant and loan for building new homes has shifted until there’s no grant any more.

Rents have risen and housing benefit has taken the strain (for those tenants that are eligible). So the way subsidy is paid has shifted from capital investment to individual expenditure and now that’s under attack. The current housing bill before parliament – yes there’s a housing bill, you probably haven’t heard about it unless you work in the sector. Anyway the bill includes extending the right to buy to charitable housing associations and a new idea, ‘pay to stay’.

Pay to stay means that if the household income is above £30,000 your rent goes up to encourage you to leave. This is the latest of a long line of ‘reforms’ based on the premise that social housing should only be for the destitute. New homes for rent won’t be built, instead that money will go to build starter homes to buy. But these will be too expensive for families on a £30,000 income to buy.

I have spent a large part of the last fifteen years working on various aspects of the problems of population ‘churn’ that affect parts of Beeston. An unsettled population leads to all sorts of other problems: disrupted children’s education, anti-social behaviour from residents who don’t care because they’re not staying. Pay to stay will spread these problems to every community with council housing.

There’s more and I haven’t even mentioned the Bedroom Tax, but I need to move on because the government has a wider agenda than just housing.

The NHS is being dismantled before our eyes. Private providers are being brought in left, right and centre. The service may still be free at the point of delivery for now, but it is being fragmented.

Half of the probation service is in private hands and can longer share data with the public sector half. How are staff supposed to keep us safe when they don’t have all the information about the people they’re working with?

Schools are moving out of local authorities and becoming academies at an increasing rate. Not because they are ‘failing’, but in order to increase their income as the funding playing field has shifted. And yet council’s still get blamed for poor education standards. In fact it’s Whitehall that is in charge now.

There’s a theme here of the government’s rhetoric being about freeing up local organisations, reducing red tape, but actually centralised power and control in their own hands.

This week councils were told they couldn’t choose to boycott certain providers and suppliers. Yet this is contradicted by the anti slavery legislation that says you must check the practices of your supply chain.

All of this is happening in the context of austerity. Savage cuts in public spending, based on the erroneous premise that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by high government spending, rather than an unregulated credit bubble. We have all suffered and yet the debt hasn’t been dented.

This week’s council budget saw another big cut imposed from Whitehall. You may think that despite the recent cuts, the council still seems to be functioning. The thing about council services is that you only notice the change to services you actually use. For example if you don’t use the library service, you won’t have noticed that library hours have reduced.

The welfare state was supposed to be about strong support for large sections of the population. We all benefitted directly or indirectly by having a strong stable society. Today the welfare state has been residualised so that the bits that are left are only for the worst off. This means less help for those people and a worse deal for the rest of us as services are broken up or disappear completely, leaving our communities more unstable.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.


2 Replies to “South of the River – Stop breakin’ down”

  1. Excellent explanation of the changes that are happening. I would only expand to say that this disgusting government is using the EU and migration panics as smoke screens to obscure the fact that the real danger to ordinary working people is the Tory government itself .

  2. I’m no fan of the current ‘Conservative’ government, but at least I can console myself with the fact that there’ll be an election in 2020 and I can pay a visit to the local primary school and cast my vote.

    With continued transfer of power from our own parliament to Brussels and the unelected commission there, our legislature becomes less powerful, and the decision makers less accountable to the people.

    How many people can name any of the commissioners in Brussels? Yet it is they who have the sole power to propose legislation in the EU, where the Parliament is basically a rubber stamping body.

    What we need is a swift exit from the EU, together with meaningful electoral reform so that every vote matters, and everyone feels properly represented.

    Who someone living in Beeston votes for matters far less than who someone in Churwell votes for in a general election, which surely isn’t right?

    Ultimately though people had their chance to vote for change and rejected it in protest against Nick Clegg and because their lovely Labour or Conservative MPs to do so.

    The one good thing to come out of the election of Jeremy Corbyn is that the two main parties are now distinguishable from one another, whereas for years it’s largely been Blairite Blue vs Blairite Red.

    If the Conservatives ditched Cameron and went for someone with half a clue like Dan Hannan, they’d be difficult to shift. As it is, with Cameron staring down the barrel of a lost referendum there could be another GE around the corner.

    Who knows what happens then…

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