The scandal of the families being forced out of their homes in Beeston this week is all the worse because I suspect it all quite legal. It is however another symptom of this country’s housing crisis, just as much the guys sleeping in doorways on Park Row, or the sofa surfers in Belle Isle.
PlaceFirst appear to be a reputable landlord/developer. Their business model is to refurbish old properties and bring them up to a high spec, then let them to ‘professionals’. They aren’t targeting those who rent because they don’t have an alternative, they’re after people who can choose to rent or buy.
So far, so good. Part of the solution to the housing crisis is to improve existing stock. If they are buying up empty properties to fit out I don’t have a problem. Where I do have a problem is where there are existing tenants, an existing community, that doesn’t fit their vision for the future.
I’ve heard several people say the Council should have stepped in and bought the estate. I can’t argue with that, but I must point out that it would fly in the face of forty years of housing policy. That’s how long ago it is since Councils built (or bought) homes on the sort of scale the country needed.
In the 80s and 90s local authorities were forbidden to build council houses. They had to sit and watch their assets dwindle through Right To Buy sales. Leeds is still losing 400 homes a year through the scheme. In recent years they have been allowed to build again, but the money they have do it has been pitiful.
There is an answer to this and I suspect a pretty popular one. I think it’s one of the things that led many to vote for Brexit. The answer is to reject austerity and pump money into a house-building programme.
As well as creating much-needed homes this would create jobs, those workers would spend their earnings, boosting the economy and they would pay taxes, boosting the exchequer. It’s a win win win.
It’s not just housing, health and social care desperately need more funds. Not for new drugs, but for doctors, nurses and wards to treat people in. There’s been a lot of terrible things on TV recently, but what really made me angry was the sight of consultant surgeons spending half their day looking for beds for their patients so that they could proceed with an operation.
This is madness! These consultants are paid high salaries because they are highly skilled in their field. I don’t want to disparage administrators who also do a vital job, but I don’t want to see taxpayers money, not to mention their skills and time, wasted on trying to find a bed.
Apparently hospitals are more ‘efficient’ these days because of the high bed occupancy rate. No one wants to see the waste of empty hospital beds … except there has to be a level of empty beds for the system to work. It’s called turnover.
The underlying problem of social care is that the job isn’t valued and paid properly. Sorting that out would reduce staff turnover, but it has to be paid for. Local authorities are not being given the money to pay proper rates in contracts. As a result care providers spend half their time trying to find staff, or increasingly, just handing the contract back because it’s impossible to deliver.
Austerity is a political choice and it has been pushed by that very small but very powerful group of people. Austerity doesn’t benefit most of us, but it does benefit them. The rich are getting richer whilst the rest of us suffer.
The austerity manta is cut costs, cut costs, cut costs. Sack staff, offer less pay new starters, tell people they are self-employed and then charge them £800 to be off sick. Demand the “wasteful” public sector makes efficiency savings year after year.
I suggest a better mantra would be invest, invest, invest. Build more homes, open more hospitals, train more staff, pay proper salaries. If we can bail out the banks, why can’t we bail out the NHS?
And why can’t we buy up Kirk Beston Close and Cross Heath Grove and protect the people who live there?
I’ll be on back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.