Wednesday, June 19, 2019

UNISON NDC19: Composite E - The Housing Crisis

This is the speech I gave yesterday evening. The debate continues this morning.

"Conference, John Gray, speaking on behalf of the NEC in favour of this composite which quite rightly highlights that the housing crisis is not only the lack of housing - it is also all about the money. The truth of the matter is housing is simply unaffordable for the many and this is blighting the lives of our members and their families.

Our members need truly affordable homes near their places of work but often they are forced into homes that are beyond their reach in the private rented sector since they cannot afford to buy and cannot get a social tenancy.

And while the crisis is much worse in the private rented sector, it is also in the social rented sector.

A new report by the Affordable Housing Commission says that 1.3m households are in unaffordable housing in the social rented sector.

This is mainly due to cuts and caps on basic welfare benefits and the rise in Tory defined “affordable” homes that are up to 80% of market rents. In my part of East London, some housing associations are charging £1100 per month for a 2 bed flat

The government continues to define affordability based on private market rates, which has no link to what our members actually earn. That is why we need a new definition of affordable housing that reflects what people earn and what they can afford.

Conference, this year marks the 100 year anniversary of council housing! A hundred years ago councils were given a duty to build homes “fit for heroes” to solve the housing shortage.

At the time councils were supported with land and government funding – and they went on to build over a million homes!

A hundred years later we face another desperate housing crisis, and councils – alongside housing associations - need to be given a new national duty to build new quality homes at scale and quickly.

Just like 100 years ago, the government must support councils with more money to return to their historic role of building homes. Remember, someone has to provide the difference between what people can really afford and the private market provide. If you have no subsidy, you have no truly affordable housing.

Remember, also, that for the first 18 years of my life governments of all political colours use to compete on who could build the most council homes and who can provide the cheapest rents.

Finally, Conference, Why is it in this country that we only build affordable homes after wars? If we can build homes in 1919 after the end of World War 1 and then do the same again in 1945, we can build homes now. Please support this composite

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

UNISON National Delegate Conference 2019: Day 1

I arrived in Liverpool yesterday afternoon in time for the Greater London delegation meeting. Some of us then went for a meal at a local spoons. I was back in the hotel for 8.30 pm to catch up on emails and speech writing.

Up early for a slow jog along the Mersey then arrived slightly late for the first 8.30am NEC meeting.

Conference itself started with us showing our respect for members who have passed away during the previous 12 months. Then standing order committee reports and questions; UNISON annual report and financial statements.

Now listening to our President,  Gordon Mckay give a typically funny but passionate speech to Conference on his year in office. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Kent Street ASB, Cleaning & Parking Walkabout

Last Wednesday I took part in a "Walkabout" in Kent Street, Plaistow South ward, West Ham with local Councillors, residents and our new ward based housing officers. There are a lot of problems with Anti-social behaviour, parking, communal disrepair and cleaning.

I am really pleased with the approach of the new Housing officer's liaison team. They are tasked with inspecting all tall tower blocks with local Councillors and residents every month and low rise blocks every 3 months. There were a number of actions agreed to tackle the problems we found.  Some more easy than others.

We are also introducing controlled parking zones on all housing estate land and car parks (subject to consultation) which will help stop its misuse by non residents.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"Murder graph shows how London killings compare to US cities" - the hypocrisy and cant of President Trump

The level of deaths from knife and gun crime in London and other major UK cities is simply unacceptable and we must do everything possible to reduce it. This of course includes reversing the 20, 000 Tory cuts in Police numbers and the 23% cut in police civilian staff.

However, hat tip to the Metro for the above chart which shows the hypocrisy and cant of recent attacks by President Trump against London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. 

US Cities murder rates are staggeringly high compared to London. Unbelievably high. New York is twice the rate of London, Washington is over 10 times as high and St Louis has a gut wrenching 64.9 murders per 100,000 citizens compared to London's 1.5.

My nephew is currently living in Chicago which is about 17 times more dangerous than living in London.

Will Trump be calling for all his US city Civic leaders to resign (followed hopefully by himself)? I will not hold my breath. 


Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Great Housing Housing Rip-Off! - When will you be able to buy a home

UNISON have produced here an online calculator (called appropriately https://housingripoff.org/) about how long it would take you to save enough money to buy a home up and down the country.

We bought a flat in Newham in 1989 for £55,000 (just before the housing crash but that is another story) with a 100% mortgage. Nowadays, you cannot get a 100% mortgage but for anyone who is on my substantive salary as a Housing officer (which is significantly above the average wage in Newham) it would take 20.8 years to save enough for a deposit to buy an average home in Newham.

What a scam.



Friday, June 14, 2019

Newham goes green for Grenfell

Newham Council has gone green for Grenfell to commemorate those who lost their lives in the tragic fire two years ago.

Both the Old Town Stratford and Newham Town Hall in East Ham were lit up last night (Thursday 13 June) in recognition of the anniversary and to show support for those directly affected by the devastating event that occurred on 14 June 2017. The Mayor and councillors also wore green to demonstrate their solidarity with the community.

Today (14 June) marks two years since the Grenfell tragedy where 72 people lost their lives after a fire broke out in the 24-storey block of flats in North Kensington. In the days after the fire, the Grenfell community came together in a great show of unity and support and an enormous amount of support poured in from across the whole of the UK. As part of the Green for Grenfell campaign, the campaigning group Grenfell United is asking communities and schools to come together to promote unity, spirit and resilience by wearing green.

Councillor John Gray, Deputy Mayor for Newham and Cabinet Member for Housing Services said: “We must never forget the Grenfell fire tragedy and this is why we are going green for Grenfell. We want to show solidarity with the community changed forever in the early hours of the morning on June 14, 2016. These lives must not be lost in vain. This must never happen again and as a council, we must ensure we learn from the mistakes made. The safety of our residents must never be taken for granted and is our priority. We have learnt valuable lessons and we must carry on doing all we can to protect our residents.”

Since the Grenfell disaster in June 2017, Newham Council has carried out significant work on all its tower blocks to improve fire safety. Three council owned tower blocks – Ferrier Point in Canning Town and Nicholls Point and Tanner Point in Plaistow North – all used Aluminium Composite Material cladding, the same material on Grenfell Tower. This material has been removed and a non-combustible material (EWI) is currently being installed on the three blocks. This work is due to end at the end of July and is funded in part by a successful grant from the Ministry of Housing and Local Communities.

Additionally, a resident engagement team was set up in 2017 to work with council tenants and leaseholders to ensure all the necessary safety measures were in place, both in communal areas an all individual flats and implementing anything further which might be required. The team has led on a robust programme of work in partnership with London Fire Brigade, visiting all blocks across the borough to carry out fire safety checks. This includes:

85 high rise blocks
1,169 low rise blocks
Thousands of enhanced fire safety visits to individual residents
An extensive programme of tenancy audits
New fire safety signage fitted across the council’s housing stock.

All Fire Risk Assessments to tall blocks are up to date and will continue to publish them on www.newham.gov.uk

The council also received a grant of £20,000 from London Fire Brigade to fund a range of fire safety equipment.

For further information visit www.grenfellunited.org.uk or follow the hashtag #Green4GrenfellDay​

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Newham recruiting 33 youth workers - the biggest expansion of youth services anywhere in London


Hat tip Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz "**Please share widely** We want the best youth workers for our children and young people in Newham! 👌🏽

Am really pleased to announce that today we launched the largest recruitment campaign for youth workers in Newham for a generation - that’s 33 full time posts, representing the biggest expansion of Youth Services anywhere in London! 🙌🏽

Read more below and if anyone’s interested in applying find out more via this link:https://www.newham.gov.uk/Pages/Services/Youth-work-jobs.aspx

****************************************
The expansion, bolstered by a £1.4million investment, will deliver the Mayor of Newham’s vision that children and young people in the borough have access to the best youth service in London.

As part of the expansion, 33 full time roles will be created with jobs available for experienced managers, for specialists in particular aspects of youth work, and for those who have just started out on their youth work careers. There are also roles designed to promote participation and increase volunteering opportunities.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said: “Here in Newham, we want our young people to have access to the best youth service in London. They have told us loud and clear that expansion of the current youth offer is a priority for them. Despite falling budgets and huge pressures to spend more in other areas, we are committed to investing in our young people. Our expanded youth service and youth empowerment function will be designed for young people and with their input.

“To help us deliver on our ambitious plans, we need the best people. We want the most inspiring mentors and the best informal educators. We want a team that understands what it is like to grow up in an Inner City borough like Newham. A team that can get to grips with the challenges and also make the most of the amazing opportunity that such an environment brings. More than anything else, we are looking for people that share our enthusiasm, with passion and imagination who can work with young people and help them thrive.”

A decision was made to expand the service following feedback from Newham’s young people and residents through Citizen Youth Assemblies, borough wide Adult Citizen Assemblies and the Annual Youth Zone satisfaction survey.

A report was agreed by Cabinet in April which set out the significant increases to services. These will include:

1. A huge rise in the number of sessions delivered through each the four existing ‘Youth Zones’ which are located at the Shipman Centre, Beckton Globe, Little Ilford and Forest Gate.

2. Increased access to consistent, trusted youth worker role models.

3. Establishing a detached youth work team.

4. Enhancing provision for young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), those who are looked after, LGBTQQ young people and young carers.

5. New and improved links across Children’s Social Care for the benefit of vulnerable young people in Newham.

6. More opportunities to undertake accredited volunteering, for example through the Duke of Edinburgh programme.

7. A massive programme of work designed to support young people to have a greater say.

& coming soon: delivering on the promise to increase the number of youth zones from four to eight.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Hamfrith walkabouts then residents meeting (& being 91 years young)

This morning I went on my 3rd recent walkabout of the Hamfirth estate area with Newham Council Technical, Caretaking and Repairs officers to produce an action plan to this evenings' meeting with residents at the Atherton Leisure Centre, E7.

We are going to do 3 things on this estate to tackle serious Crime and Anti-social behaviour. Firstly, work together collectively with residents, stakeholders such as the Police, Council officers and Councillors. Secondly, improve cleaning, caretaking and maintenance of green spaces and thirdly design out crime by fencing off, closing criminal escape routes and improved lighting/security.

Tonight meeting was a little tough in parts since many residents feel they have been let down in the past and that the ASB problems on the estate impact so badly on their every day lives. Local resident Sian and I don't always agree on everything but we both know we are in our different ways trying to deliver the best for residents.

There is now an action plan which will be distributed to all residents, we have for the first time in many years, named Newham Housing officers who are responsible for the estate and we will support residents in setting up a much needed local tenants and residents association.

Many thanks for attending to our Newham Council Housing liaison officers, our enforcement officer and Councillors Winston Vaughan, Maz Patel and James Beckles (Cabinet lead for ASB/Enforcement)

The star of our show tonight,  was our oldest Hamfirth resident (we think) who is 91 years young and has lived on the estate for 66 years. As the badge says (bottom left of college) a "very kind 91 young lady" (she is bottom right of college standing to my immediate left).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"Last Week they were thanking us for saving the free world in 1944...This week they have taken our TV licence off us..."

Shocking but the blame lies with this Tory Government for this cut - not the BBC.

Free TV licences for the over 75's was a long standing policy which was paid for by the Government. Then the Government said they will not pay for it anymore.

Are we now going to start jailing D-Day veterans for not paying for their TV licences?

What a cruel and incompetent Government we have.

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-48583487

Local Service Champions TRAILER


"Coming soon! UNISON local government's new campaign film. Watch the trailer and keep your eyes peeled for this summer's blockbuster."

The single most satisfying thing I used to do as a housing officer is showing people around their new home. Mind you It didn't always go very well....

Monday, June 10, 2019

Mass in B Minor by JS Bach. 29 June 2019 at 7:30pm



Mass in B Minor by JS Bach. 29 June 2019 at 7:30pm

All Saints Chorus takes on another big sing concert. Book now on Eventbrite.

Jon writes

“Bach’s Mass in b minor, one of the greatest works of choral music performed in the 1000-year-old setting of All Saints church West Ham by the All Saints Chorus & Orchestra. A not to be missed event. Hear Bach at the height of his powers writing the most exciting and complex music for the voice. Rich orchestrations with sparkling trumpets will make this concert a feast for the ears.

Early booking advised as the previous concert was sold out.”

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Newham European Election results 23 May 2019


Hat tip post to Martin at ForestGateDotCom

Newham had the highest number of Labour votes of any borough in London and at 51% the largest share of the vote.

The average vote for Labour in London was only 23.8%

Hat tip photo to Newham Young Pioneers at West Ham station on election day.

"The returning officer has released the full results for Newham from last week’s European election:
Party
Votes
Percent
Labour
33,379
51%
Liberal Democrats
9,192
14%
The Brexit Party
7,730
12%
Green Party
5,353
8.2%
Conservative
3,756
5.7%
Change UK
2,234
3.4%
UKIP
1,336
2.0%
UK European Union Party
917
1.4%
Animal Welfare Party
640
1.0%
Women’s Equality Party
572
0.9%
Others (independents)
312
0.5%
Total votes
65,421
100%

Compared to the previous European election in 2014, Labour lost 7 points of vote share and the Conservatives lost 11 points. UKIP also lost share, down over 6%.

The big gainers were the Liberal Democrats, up 12% and the Green Party up 3.6%.

Turnout was down 3%, from 39% to 36%".

Friday, June 07, 2019

Why voluntary right to buy for Housing Associations is nuts

So scare government grant is being used to effectively give an existing social tenant a home which will then be lost for ever from social housing instead of being used to help build another social home? This is nuts in a housing crisis.

Hat tip Red Brick

Voluntary Right to Buy: should housing associations be ‘proud to be involved’?

Posted on May 10, 2019 by stevehilditch

"The headline is based on an Inside Housing article this week by a director of a national housing association, Stonewater, which is one of those taking part in the government’s pilot scheme in the Midlands. Sue Shirt says they are ‘unashamedly supportive of the VRTB’ and ‘proud’ to be selling off their houses, estimating that around 170 will be sold in the pilot period (presumably in most cases houses currently let at social rents). She gives two main reasons for this. One is that they are giving tenants what they want. The second is that (unlike with council housing right to buy) they plan to replace every home sold. She says that it keeps tenants in their communities whereas otherwise they would move out to buy. In Stonewater’s view, VRTB ‘helps the social housing journey’ by enabling financially secure tenants to buy instead of rent.

Superficially, of course, Ms Shirt has a point. No doubt the lucky buyers of Stonewater houses are over the moon, especially as they have qualified for discounts of up to 70% – or £82,800 outside London – the same levels as for council right to buy. They’ll have to raise a mortgage but instead of paying rent they’ll have a valuable asset to pass on to their children or to sell or let out at a later date. In many ways it’s surprising that the pilot scheme isn’t proving more popular. Stonewater has so far completed just 11 sales, and if it reaches its projected level of 170 it will have sold just two per cent of its stock in the region. That’s a lot of effort to reach such a small proportion of tenants, and the government is said to be considering extending the pilot scheme to raise more interest.

What is missing from Sue Shirt’s assessment is any examination of the wider picture if the pilot scheme does turn out to be successful. Of course, one reason why a housing association like Stonewater is willing to take part is that it gets full and instant recompense for the hefty discounts it has to give, so they can aim to have one for one replacement of their own stock. The money comes from a Treasury pot of £200 million created for the purpose. An extended scheme would need more money. Failing some magic by the chancellor, the only sources are the rest of the housing budget or reviving the Treasury’s original plan, which was to force councils to sell their high-value council houses and hand most of the money over to subsidise housing association discounts.

Either way, a lump sum worth up to £82,800 to one ‘financially secure’ tenant who buys their home comes at the expense of the same amount invested in new social housing for people who are struggling to rent, let alone buy. It is not the narrow perspective of whether Stonewater replaces one for one, the essential point is that the money available in the housing system will produce fewer additional homes in total for people in need.

Sue Shirt says that the ‘crucial point’ about VRTB is that it helps more people into much-needed, modern, energy-efficient housing. But this is a very suspect argument. After all, tenants exercising VRTB are in a nice comfortable home already, and while the mortgage they will now pay releases a receipt that Stonewater can reuse, that’s only because the rest of the sale price will be made up by the government.

A supposed advantage is that VRTB buyers stay in their home when they might have moved out to buy elsewhere. While this may be advantageous for the community in the short term, it ignores the issue of what happens when the buyer eventually moves. A house that could be relet at social rent may well end up in the private rented sector, as is frequently the experience with the council RTB. It will be let at higher rents – costing more in housing benefit if that is needed – and quite possibly with minimal management, causing problems for other tenants in the area.

While the pilot scheme might involve selling a relatively small number of homes, up to 3,000, the real danger lies in its potential success. This could have two effects. One is that it hastens the day when all housing associations are persuaded into a ‘voluntary’ scheme by attractive offers about how fast they can access the receipts, without answering the crucial question of where the money will come from once the Treasury’s £200 million has been spent and what the impact of that will be on other programmes. Back in 2015, when it was planned to use ‘council high value sales’ to fund the VRTB, in Selling off the Stock CIH showed that a popular VRTB scheme might require all the receipts from selling high-value homes, leaving no money for replacements.

The second effect will be to prolong the right to buy in England when it should be on its last legs. It was scrapped in Scotland in 2016, it died in Wales earlier this year and soon it may be gone in Northern Ireland too. Only in Whitehall do politicians continue to find ways to breathe life into a policy that’s not relevant to today’s problems. Let’s put some more nails in its coffin, not try to revive the corpse".

Thursday, June 06, 2019

D-Day 75th Anniversary - Democratic Band of Brothers V Fascists


I posted this on the 65th anniversary on 6 June 2009. The current President of the United States is of course a rich draft dodger which in no way diminished the courage of the young Americans who died far from home on this day.

"I have been watching the moving TV coverage of the D-Day remembrance ceremonies taking place today in Normandy. While on holiday recently I read the book “Band of Brothers” by Stephen Ambrose.

I had never watched the original series on TV but my 16 year old nephew encouraged me to buy the DVDs when his father and I took him to the Normandy beaches for the weekend on his birthday a few years ago.

The book was even better than the Tom Hanks and Spielberg TV series in one way since it also told the story of the individual soldiers before (and after) the War.

The vast majority were very ordinary working class Americans, many of whom had known hard times during the “Great Depression”. The book is also a more honest account of the very human failings of individual officers and soldiers, who with incredible bravery parachuted into Normandy alongside their British, Canadian and French allies 65 years ago last night.

In these somewhat difficult economic and political times it is perhaps important to remember Ambrose’s conclusion that the proficient, well equipped and professional war-hardened German Army was defeated essentially because a democracy produced better soldiers and armies than dictatorships. The Americans were no more patriotic or braver than the Germans but freethinking liberal democracies produce soldiers with more élan, flexibility and imagination.

One example of this would be if they received orders that they thought were stupid, most of the officers, NCOs and soldiers would ignore them if they could. So despite practically none of the very young American airborne conscripts initially having any combat experience they defeated time and time again superior numbers of German troops.

Recently we have been quite rightly wallowing in our own political and economic class failings that we sometimes forget that democracy is of course the worse form of government - save all the rest.

(main picture is from the Bayeux British War grave)"

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Silvertown TNT explosion 1917

This evening I attended a seminar on "good design" in planning at Royal Wharf. On route I came across this stone memorial and notice board marking the entrance to the former munitions factory that blew up in the first world War. It killed 73 workers and local residents as well as more than 400 injured in what is believed to have been the biggest ever explosion in London's history.

A number of residential streets next to the factory were destroyed and 70000 homes were damaged.

West Ham MP, Lyn Brown has a relative (her grandmother?) who was permanently disabled by the explosion.

While no one really knows why the explosion actually happened but it makes you wonder why was such a dangerous explosives factory allowed to operate in a populated residential area?


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Re-elected to UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) for Community Members (who work in Housing Associations & Voluntary Sector)

I was really pleased to learn today that I was re-elected for the 5th time, with my best result yet, as a UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) Member for Community (representing 77,000 out of 1.3 million members who work for Housing Associations & the Voluntary Sector).

Many thanks to my opponent, Kevin Jackson, who was a serious contender and acted completely appropriately during the election (unlike some of his slate).

The icing on the cake was that my running mate, Denise Thomas, was also elected as a first time NEC Community member (with a huge majority).

I will blog further on these elections but I feel so far that is the new NEC has a clear majority of pragmatic, labour movement family, left of centre, real people as its representatives.  

Monday, June 03, 2019

Going Dutch - Collective Defined Contribution Pensions – Improving UNISON members pensions


Motion to National Delegate Conference June 2019 by UNISON Housing Associations branch. 

Collective Defined Contribution Pension Scheme – Improving UNISON members pensions

"Conference congratulates the Communication Workers Union and Royal Mail on their groundbreaking agreement to pursue the creation of a collective defined contribution (CDC) pension scheme.

As well as being a model of constructive industrial relations, it opens the door for CDC to move from abstract idea to practical reality. This could transform the UK pension’s landscape outside of the public sector

Conference notes that since the introduction of Auto-Enrolment the number of workers saving for their retirement in defined contribution schemes are now greater those in a defined benefit scheme.

·         As of 2016 only 1.3 million workers were actively contributing to their DB scheme down from 3.7 million in 2005.
·         Defined contribution pension schemes outside the public sector had 7.7 million active members in 2017.
·         However there are increasing numbers of employers in the public sector bypassing the LGPS or the NHS schemes by transferring operations to arms length companies.

DC schemes do not deliver a pension; they are small investment pots for each member. All of the asset management fees and transactions are extracted from their investment pot. All the risk of the market value of assets falling is with the member.

Data published in April 2017 revealed that the average UK investment pot was £50,000. That pot of assets and cash is all members will have to survive on along with their state pension.

CDC pensions, which are prominent features of highly successful pensions systems in Denmark and the Netherlands, offer advantages in the middle ground between DC and DB.

These schemes offer a regular retirement income but in the form of a target benefit rather than a guarantee. Changes in the funding position of the scheme are addressed by adjusting the benefit rather than calling on extra contributions from the employer.

CDC may well appeal to employers who want to offer good pensions to their workforce where they have previously closed their DB scheme. The prospect of a regular and relatively reliable income in retirement will be welcomed by UNISON members who are now in a DC scheme.

As CDC schemes provide the opportunity for industry wide collective pension schemes conference therefore agrees to  

·         Continue to fight for a good quality Defined Benefit pension system and resist attempts by employers to close DB schemes.
·         Authorise consultation with members, branches, forums and service groups throughout the Energy, Water, Private Contractors and the Community and Voluntary sector so that they may place CDC on our bargaining agenda

Hat tip photo http://pensionpulse.blogspot.com/2014/10/going-dutch-on-pensions.html

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Send in the Clowns...

Hat tip Bryan K "Is it just me? or are we about to be led by clowns? I think we are f**ked!"

I couldn't possibly comment.

UPDATE: Facebook has has taken down this post because it "goes against their community standards on spam"! I have challenged this nonsense. 


Saturday, June 01, 2019

Tower Hamlets get together

Picture from birthday drinks last night with my former Tower Hamlets Housing UNISON work colleagues Monty, Dave and Trevor.

There is another "get together" being planned for this month in Stepney Spoons for all former LBTH Housing staff.

It is also the 20th anniversary of the Tower Hamlets housing strike next month.

Watch this space!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Newham Council Bi-Monthly Rough Sleeper Count 31.5.19

In the early hours of Friday morning I took part in my 3rd count of people sleeping rough in Newham.

We met up at Newham Dockside for a briefing at 11pm then were split into teams of 3 and sent out to different parts of Newham.

There were about 20 of us. My Councillor colleagues, Susan Masters and Winston Vaughan as well as professional homeless outreach workers and Newham Council staff and other resident volunteers. I finished early this time at about 2.30am.

Newham and other boroughs receive some Government funding to tackle rough sleeping (nowhere near enough but that is another story). So across London, there are bi-monthly counts to try and see how effective these measures are in reducing rough sleeping.

My team came across 4 people rough sleeping. Other teams found no-one while some teams found many. In Newham we don't just count but we try to speak and engage with people sleeping outdoors to see if we can help. However, the truth of the matter is that there is just not not enough decent, safe, supported and affordable homes. Until this changes we will never, ever solve homelessness.


Thursday, May 30, 2019

UNISON Notice Board - Preston City Hall

I do like a good trade union notice board. Today I went on a visit to Preston to meet the Labour Council Leader Matthew Brown regarding Community Wealth Building (The Preston Model). I will write more about this visit later. Congratulations to the local branch for a prominent and up-to-date UNISON  Notice board. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

End "no fault evictions" - May's legacy or is it that all careers in politics end in failure?

Recently Prime Minister, Theresa May promised to bring about the end of "No fault" (section 21) evictions but we wait to see if her successor delivers on her promise.

The motion below was sent by my branch to UNISON National Delegate Conference earlier this year calling for the end of such "no fault evictions".  Surely not shome  coincidence!

This conference notes:

1.That the number of households in London who rent from private landlords is up from 15% in 2000 to 27% in 2017 and that Shelter forecast that nationally this growth will continue.

2. The lack of security for private tenants causes unnecessary homelessness and makes it very difficult for private tenants to lead settled lives.

3. High rents in this sector cause hardship for tenants and leads to the taxpayer subsidising private landlords via housing benefit.

4. Shelter believe that the reasons behind Labour winning in Canterbury and Kensington is due to the number of private tenants voting Labour (the rent quake).
5. In the devolved nations “No fault” evictions and “Right to buy” have been abolished or restricted. 

Conferences therefore calls upon the NEC:

1. To hold a national wide campaign day in 2019 for proposals to improve the private rented sector.

2. To produce campaign materials for branches on the private rented sector.

3. To campaign and support calls for an end to no fault evictions and rent controls for the private rented sector.

4. To produce guidance for all branches on how the Letting Fees bill currently in Parliament should be enforced by local councils.

5. To ask Labour Link to support manifesto commitment to reform of the private rented sector.

6. Campaign for all local authorities to be able to suspend right to buy in their locality due to housing need.

UNISON Housing Associations branch (Greater London)


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Obituary: Tributes to former Newham leader who saw through first council eviction over racism

Hat tip Newham Recorder "Tributes have been paid to former council leader Frederick Jones, who has passed away aged 84.

Born to Bill and Violet Jones on May 5, 1935, the former Newham Council leader who loved fighting in the ring and political arena attended Tollgate Primary and Plaistow Grammar before running May's Cafe near Freemasons Road.
His daughter, Sandra Jones, said: "His heart was representing the people of Newham. He just wanted to do right by people and fight their cause."
A left-wing councillor, Frederick became disillusioned with the direction of Labour under former prime minister Tony Blair and the knock on effects in Newham.
He became an independent councillor after a brief stint with the Liberal Democrats, representing the then ward of Greatfield.
In the 1980s, Frederick had risen through the ranks to become the councillor in charge of housing when the local authority expelled a family from their council home for being racist.
"I'm proud of the fact he did that. It was quite controversial because Newham was quite a racist place then.
"He always stood by his beliefs and wouldn't let anyone deter him from what he deemed to be right," Sandra said.
The keen chess player was no stranger to battles, having taken on the then Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher over hospital closures in Newham in the 1980s.
But a dedication to the people of Newham drove him on and saw him take a leading role in getting Newham University Hospital and London City Airport built.
Frederick married Lesley Garner in 1958 after their love of sport brought them together. They went on to have three children.
Much of family life revolved around politics. Sandra recalled leafleting and canvassing with her dad in the build up to elections.
"When he was no longer part of the council he would still help anybody. He was always keen to do right by people. That's how I remember Dad," Sandra said.
Frederick passed away in his sleep on May 13. He is survived by his children Leslie, Sandra and Claire and four grandchildren.
He will be laid to rest at City of London Cemetery in Aldersbrook Road at 11.30am on June 5."

Monday, May 27, 2019

Iftar at Forest Gate Mosque

Picture from tonight's breaking of the fast at Forest Gate mosque. Guests included Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz (whose father prays regularly at this mosque) and West Ham MP, Lyn Brown. As well as Councillors and local Labour Party activists.

We were all made very, very welcome and the food was delicious. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

ReviveFM 94.0 - Poverty in Newham (and what the Council is doing about it)

Yesterday, in between campaigning for the European elections, Newham Council Cabinet lead for Finance, Cllr Terry Paul and myself were interviewed live on Community Radio, ReviveFM 94, which is based in Forest Gate, Newham.

Our interviewer was our Council Cabinet Colleague, Cllr Shaban Mohammed, who was assisted by local researcher, Armond Dean.

We discussed poverty in Newham and what the Council is doing to tackle it. We have the lowest average income in London, 28 000 families on our Council House waiting list and over 5000 families who are homeless. We have 50% more children living in temporary accommodation in our borough than in the entire north of England!

Since May last year a new Labour administration led by directly elected Executive Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, has introduced anti poverty measures such as paying all our workers a London Living wage (with pay rises of up to £100 per week/£5000 per year); reducing Council tax for the poorest by 50%; building 1000 Council Homes at Council rents; ensuring that 50% of new developers homes charge a social rent; spending £120 million on improvements to our Council Housing stock: stop the privatisation of our Council services; introduce Community Wealth Building and tackle violence against our young people.

We did point out that while we can (and have and will do more) do many progressive things as a local authority to counter poverty in our borough, we need a change of our national Government and the election of one prepared to truly eliminate it.

Many thanks to Cllr Mohammed for organising and leading the discussion. Next Thursday he will have Newham Council Cabinet lead for Sustainable Transport and Parking, Cllr Zulfiqar Ali.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Vote Labour to bring our country together - (Also not who but how to vote)


(As a Parliamentary Agent for the last 3 General elections here is what I think is some useful advice if you have never voted or not for a long while.)
  • Polling stations open today from 7am (Thursday 23 May) until 10pm
  • If you do not know your polling station google https://wheredoivote.co.uk/ and put in your post code
  • Don't worry if you cannot find your polling card, you can turn up and give your name address (if helps staff if you bring polling card but NOT essential)
  • If you are a postal voter and haven't posted your votes yet you can drop them off on polling day at any home borough polling station. 
  • While entering a polling station there may be some people representing political parties handing out leaflets. You do not have to speak to them but you may choose to tell them who you are voting for but you don't have to if you don't want to. 
  • You cannot vote on line or via your phone. This the current law. 
  • Don't worry if you have never voted. You just walk into your polling station, give your name and address; you are given ballot papers, you go to a private area (they have free pens/pencils), you put one X in a blank box on the ballot paper (Labour obviously) and then you put the ballot paper in slot in an obvious big black box. 
  • Polling staff are usually very understanding of first time voters. They are taught that there is no such thing as a stupid question. 
  • The ballot is secret. 
  • Today is too late for a proxy vote (where you can get someone to substitute for you). 
  • Vote for the Party you want or even don't vote for anyone. If so I would score out and write "none of above". It is important that you turn out to vote but you don't actually have to vote for anyone if you don't want to. 
  • Remember - many people died fighting to give ordinary working people the right to vote and that if you don't use it "they" will want to take it away from us. 
  • So Use it or lose it. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

West Ham Labour crew playing at home during Euro playoff

Picture college from Labour campaigning last night in West Ham ward. Labour has lost votes to remainer and brexit parties but the ward is still a Labour heartland. Some voters made it clear that while they are making a protest against current Labour Party/Government policy over Brexit and that they will return to Labour at the next election.

The single most significance response that I came across was still complete Labour Party identification and loyalty. "Of course we will be voting Labour".  Which is very humbling when we are clearly in a national political pickle.

There are always some light-hearted moments in practically any canvass. I knocked on one door and said I was here on behalf of the Labour Party etc. The resident told me he will not vote labour despite his support for Labour and the Party leader, since the Council and the Councillors are not any good! At this point I thought it best to declare that I have been his local Councillor for the last 9 years and am currently the Newham Council Deputy Executive Mayor. Following which we had a surprisingly constructive conversation about his concerns and I hope he has now changed his mind.

Another resident was very cagey about whether he was voting Labour and said he was undecided. I asked him if he had voted for Labour before and he answered "Yes, but the last time I voted for you lot, you f##ked up the Country!".

Finally, I met a lovely former Bow Neighbourhood, Tower Hamlets UNISON colleague who insisted that she was going to vote for me on Thursday no matter what. I had to explain I was not actually standing... 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mother & Child, Plaistow Station - Doreen Fletcher Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2019

"For 40yrs on & off, I tried but failed to get work selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. This year I’m pleased to say they made an exception with this painting ‘Mother & Child, Plaistow Station’. Thank you for your support@thegentleauthor @TownhouseWindow @BowArts

Well done Doreen! A beautiful and evocative painting. 

Plaistow Station. Where I have spent many a cold and windy early morning handing out Labour leaflets to disinterested commuters. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Mears Cats at Dockside

This evening there was an action outside Newham Dockside by the People's Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH) led by Mears Cats.

Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, was at a Youth Board meeting in Stratford and asked me to go and speak to the protesters. The action was about the slowness of the Council to progress the agreed transfer of short-life homes into housing cooperatives. Now I know the full facts, I think we do owe PEACH an apology for not being quick enough (and most importantly, not keeping them up-to-date with what is going on)

The next meeting with PEACH and the Mayor will be on 30 May and I am sure that we will be much closer to sorting things out by then.

Picture college of today and past actions with PEACH, the Mayor and Mears Cats.

Nigel Farage wants you to think he's on the side of working people. He isn't. See what insurance based healthcare costs American workers per month

Nigel Farage wants you to think he's on the side of working people. He isn't. Don't forget to use your vote this Thursday



.....Currently, Americans pay $3.4 trillion a year for medical care (and, unfortunately, don’t get impressive results).
Here’s how much the average American spends on health care

"According to eHealthInsurance, for unsubsidized customers in 2016, “premiums for individual coverage averaged $321 per month while premiums for family plans averaged $833 per month. The average annual deductible for individual plans was $4,358 and the average deductible for family plans was $7,983.”

That means that, last year, the average family paid $9,996 for coverage alone, and, if they met their deductible, a total of just under $18,000. Meanwhile, an average individual spent $3,852 on coverage and, if she spent another $4,358 to meet her deductible, a total of $8,210.

These figures do not take into account any additional co-insuranceresponsibility she might have. In addition to co-pays and deductibles, an increasing number of plans now require co-insurance payments, which require that, even once you meet your deductible, you continue paying some percentage of all costs until you hit your out-of-pocket maximum.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

"Helping you stay in your home"

Hat tip Newham Magazine. While we should never let the Government off the hook for cutting and capping benefits below rents levels, no security of tenure for private tenants and inadequate subsidy for new social homes, there are things that can be done to prevent homelessness in the first place.

"Becoming homeless is often the end of a downward spiral that can include health problems, job losses or relationship break-ups. Newham Council is helping residents tackle such issues before they find themselves without a home.

The council’s debt advice service MoneyWorks and job brokerage scheme Workplace are working with the Homelessness Prevention and Advice Service to target and help households at risk of homelessness before they reach crisis point.

Known collectively as the Homeless Early Intervention Service, they will offer residents with a wide range of expert advice to overcome difficulties and stop them losing their homes. Newham residents can get in touch with the service if they are experiencing:

• Problems with rent or Council Tax arrears;

• Recent job loss;

• Money worries;

• Benefit issues;

• Budgeting or debt difficulties;

• Housing disrepair problems;

• Benefit caps;

• Difficulties with their landlord

• Have applied or are in receipt of discretionary housing payment.

Deputy Mayor Councillor John Gray, Cabinet member for housing services, said: “Instead of picking up the pieces when things go wrong, what we want to do is help residents tackle the problems that cause homelessness so they can stay in their homes while working through their issues.

“The Homeless Early Intervention Service will allow us to help these residents in a practical way that avoids them having to go into emergency or temporary accommodation which creates more problems than it solves and disrupts family life.”

If you are a Newham resident and you think you could benefit from the service, email HEIS@newham.gov.uk"