Saturday 31 March 2018

No Place Like Home | #VoteLabourMay3rd

On a daily basis, we speak to hundreds of people and families who are desperately trying to escape the devastating trap of homelessness. A trap that is tightening thanks to decades of failure to build enough affordable homes and the impact of welfare cuts. (Polly Neate chief executive of Shelter).

The absolute shortage of genuinely affordable housing for low income households in large parts of the country continues to be intensified by welfare policy. The benefit cuts introduced in this decade, and those planned for coming years will cumulatively reduce the incomes of poor households in and out of work by some £25 billion a year by 2020/21. This is in a context where existing welfare cuts, economic trends and higher housing costs associated with the growth of private renting have already increased family poverty to record levels. (Crisis ‘The Homeless Monitor: 2017’)

Why are growing numbers of mothers and babies stuck in B&Bs?
The number of children living in temporary accommodation in Britain has been increasing steadily since 2011, from 80,000 to an estimated 128,000 in December 2017, according to the housing charity, Shelter…  

Official statistics on temporary accommodation don’t break down children by age group, or include all families affected. But a Society Guardian investigation has revealed that towards the end of 2017 there were at least 26,152 under-fives in temporary accommodation in England alone, 2,341 of them living in B&Bs. Those figures are likely to be significantly higher, because a quarter of freedom of information requests weren’t answered. Several of those councils were in the capital, where the numbers of homeless families are highest.

Plans to issue £100 fines for begging are to go ahead, Poole council has confirmed.
The introduction of fines in the Dorset town was put on hold last month following criticism from the Bishop of Sherborne and residents.

But the Borough of Poole says the fines will now come into force from 16 April.
The Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) will be in place in the town centre, Holes Bay, Alexandra Park and the Ashley Road area.

Under the rules, fines could also be given to those found sleeping in car parks and doorways.

A homeless man has told HuffPost of his 'absolute shock' after waking up next to his dead friend, near a busy Sainsbury's in Central London
James who declined to give out his last name, shared the horrific news of how he was told by police early Tuesday morning that the man, his friend who was sleeping beside him had died during the night on a pavement outside London's busy Tottenham Court Road. 

What is even worse this death comes just mere days after 100 rough sleepers were evicted from a disused building not far from Tottenham Court Road. The building which had been turned into a makeshift shelter by volunteers hoping to protect as many of the homeless community experiencing sub-freezing temperatures during March.

“It’s an absolutely shocking thing to wake up to… I thought we were been (sic) woken up (by police) to be moved on,” James has said. Why is this still happening in the world?

Tories will break pledge to rehouse Grenfell survivors, says Javid
[O]f the 209 households needing rehousing only 62 had so far moved into permanent new accommodation, Javid said. In total, 188 had accepted offers of temporary or permanent homes and 128 had moved in.

There were still 82 households in emergency accommodation, mainly hotels, including 25 families and 39 children, he told MPs.


In a recent interview, Britain’s new homelessness minister Heather Wheeler MP said that she did not know why so many people were rough sleeping or homeless:

'In truth, I don’t know. That’s one of the interesting things for me to find out over the last eight weeks that I’ve been doing the job.'

Meanwhile, despite not knowing the reasons for it (!), the Conservatives have announced plans to eliminate homelessness by 2027:

Councils with high levels of rough sleepers will be given cash from a £30m fund and a task force will be created to examine the problem, said Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. . .

"No one should ever have to sleep rough and this Government is determined to break the homelessness cycle once and for all." The task force will have representatives from government departments and agencies with knowledge in areas such as mental health, addiction and housing.

There will also be £100,000 of funding for frontline workers to improve their skills. Mr Javid added: "Tackling the causes of rough sleeping is undoubtedly complex but we must do all we can - working across central and local government, the voluntary and charity sector - to help the most vulnerable in society and eliminate rough sleeping for good."

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said the plans were "a pitiful response to a national crisis that has grown worse every year since 2010". He added: "You can't help the homeless if you won't provide the homes, and the money announced here is less than 1% of the Conservatives' annual cut to funding for new low-cost housing."

Here’s another response to Ms Wheeler (and the Conservatives more generally):

Last year, 3,421 Bristol families were threatened with homelessness. There are, of course, a lot more, but those are the ones recorded. That figure is three times more than 2010. 

As of March 2017, 537 families are in temporary accommodation – a 238 per cent increase since 2011. More than 1,110 tried to apply for help in 2016/17. 

There were officially – and we use that word loosely – 74 rough sleepers in Bristol, and yes, that is an 825 per cent increase since autumn 2010. Again, many more are out there that we do not know of. . .  

Last year, 347 Bristol families were made homeless after the end of a shorthold tenancy. 

You guessed it. That is a 1,057 per cent increase from 2010. That is not a typo, by the way. 
Not forgetting that cities like mine are stuck in a housing crisis, where access to affordable housing is not great, to put it lightly. . . .

So what of Labour’s position? Well there’s this:

Labour Manifesto: secure homes for all

And this:

Now about 60 per cent of all houses are owner occupied and the mortgage debt has reached £1.35 trillion (according to the Money Charity). This represents 50 per cent of the banks' lending and is why house prices must be maintained to protect the bankers' collateral.

Meanwhile only the most affluent can afford to buy and for the rest with dwindling numbers of council houses, private renting is the only option giving Gresham's Law [a monetary principle stating that 'bad money drives out good'] a new lease of life as bad landlords unrestricted by any controls, drive out the good. At best this will lead to tenants moving further out of town and at worst into cardboard boxes on the pavement.

As a start while recognising that many people have taken advantage of easy mortgages to buy their homes and are building valuable assets many more 20 to 40 year olds, even though they have good jobs are unable to find secure places to live.

The solution is to provide more dwelling space to rent or buy at the right price and in the right places.

Private renting used to provide many first homes and now Labour will make three year tenancy agreements the norm with rent rises tied to inflation. There will be no agents’ fees for tenants; landlords will need a license and tenants will be empowered to take legal action to force landlords to make improvements to substandard homes. . . . 

With regard to Council tenancies the ban on long term renting will be abolished as will the “bedroom tax”. Right to Buy will be suspended if like for like replacement cannot be guaranteed and new homes will be built to high standards.

As for home ownership Labour recognises the natural desire of possession and proposes to guarantee the Help to Buy scheme until 2027 giving priority for purchasing to local people. The scandal of leasehold giving freeholders the right to increase ground rents will be abolished.

And why not watch this:

@jeremycorbyn: Under this Tory Government housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s. But despite this, Labour councils, like in Milton Keynes, are using their powers to build the homes our communities need.

AND this:

John Bishop: In Conversation with Jeremy Corbyn

NB: this is my second Blog in a #VoteLabour3rdMay series. See the first at:

Thursday 29 March 2018

(One aspect of) The Bigger Picture | #VoteLabourMay3rd

Image on Jeremy Corbyn's Christmas Card 2016

Earlier this week I finished reading The Light Between the Oceans by M. L. Stedman. It was bought for me by a friend who knew that I would find interesting the thoughtful, complex consideration of what it is to be a mother. (I intend to write about this soon.) Here I briefly pick up on another theme in the book; that of the trauma of war. Of course the two are connected in that there have been many wars (including, as Stedman clearly demonstrates, World War 1) that have stolen generations of children from their mothers (and fathers). I wrote a short story about this last year which included the following:

Drinking strong coffee at a cafĂ© in the square life goes on around me, if somewhat subdued and leaner than before. The generations gap is clear; the missing men. And what of the women they left behind? Many unable to fulfil the almost only feminine destiny of that, if not so much this, era. No husband, nor children for them. And those that do mother are raising the fighters of the future. Loss is everywhere be it known or not.

At the beginning of Stedman’s book Tom is still recovering (actually it’s a life-long experience for him, as for many others) from his time on the front line. (As the book is set in Australia Tom’s experience made me think of Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda – here it is, please listen to the words )

And so to Tom:

To make sense of it – that’s the challenge. To bear witness to the death, without being broken by the weight of it. There’s no reason he should still be alive, un-maimed. Suddenly Tom realises he is crying. He weeps for the men snatched away to his left and right when death had no appetite for him. He weeps for the men he killed. (Stedman (2012) The Light Between the Oceans Black Swan: p79 my emphasis).

I think many might guess why this particular passage jumped out at me. The world does not feel like a very safe place at the moment. Thus, whilst it is essential that we call out and challenge, do something about, the prejudice, discrimination and inequality in our communities, counties and country we need also to think seriously about the world’s peoples as a whole, our relationships with and responsibilities to them. One thing we could do is listen, really listen, to the man who says:

Labour will end the bomb first, talk later approach that has made our country and the world less safe (jeremycorbyn16 Feb 2018).

Thursday 8 March 2018

Votes for All (OR Not) | the importance of dis/enfranchisement

On International Women’s Day #IWD2018 and in the year celebrating 100 years since 8.5 million (40%) of women in the UK were first able to vote it seems pertinent to write about the possible dis-enfranchisement of millions. Last month I wrote a short story highlighting (I hope) the importance of votes for all and some detail of the struggle for it. Here it is if you’d like to read it:

In the local elections, taking place in May of this year, the Conservative Government are planning to run a voting ID pilot which will take place in Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking. Separate trials about the security of postal voting will take place in Peterborough, Tower Hamlets and Slough. All this despite the lack of a problem. For as Ellie Mae O'Hagan writes: 

Data collection by the Electoral Commission suggests there were 28 cases of voter fraud in 2017. Of course it’s hard to collect numbers of this issue, so let’s imagine the true figure is actually double that. This would mean 0.0008% of the UK electorate committed voter fraud.

A group of more than 40 charities, campaign groups (including Age UK, the RNIB, the Salvation Army, the British Youth Council, Stonewall, Operation Black Vote, Liberty, the National Union of Students and St Mungo’s) and academics have written to the government to warn that plans to trial compulsory voter ID risk disenfranchising large numbers of vulnerable people.The letter was organised by the Electoral Reform Society and includes: 

Electoral Commission figures indicated that 3.5 million people in Britain - 7.5% of the electorate - do not have have access to any form of photo ID. 

Warning that mandatory voter ID could:  
…prevent a significant barrier to democratic engagement and risk compromising a basic human right for some of the most marginalised groups in society. (i.e. those least likely to have photo ID)

Add to this the low levels of public awareness about the pilots and even more people may be unable to vote on the day. 

Given that as Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, says, mandatory voter ID is ‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut it is, at least for me, impossible to disagree with O’Hagan who argues ‘The only reason Tories want photo ID at the booth is to manipulate the ballot’ for the majority of the disenfranchised ‘are likely to be from disadvantaged and BAME backgrounds’ AND ‘It can’t be mere coincidence that the very groups likely to be disenfranchised by this move are also the same ones that tend to vote Labour.’

If you agree with Hagan that:

If the Conservative party can't win power through legitimate democratic means, then perhaps it doesn’t deserve power at all. 
Why not sign the Labour Party’s petition HERE

Dear Mrs May | 'deeds not words'


To mark the date this year I've written the following letter sent by email and copied to Jeremy Corbyn MP.

Dear Mrs May

Apologies for using your constituency email but the No10 email form restriction of 1000 characters does not provide enough space for me to outline my concern. I have however sent an abbreviated version of this letter to

At Prime Ministers Questions yesterday you accused the Leader of the Opposition of ‘mansplaining’ when in introducing a question focusing on women’s rights and the abuse of human rights in Saudi Arabia he noted that International Women’s Day (8th March) is a day not only to reflect on how far we have come but what there is left to do. Misusing, as you did, such a term as mansplaining undermines the times when it is necessary to remind men not to ‘explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing’ and may also silence open discussion and debate, between us all, on issues of gendered (and other) in/equalities. As a feminist sociologist who has spent more than thirty years concerned with how gendered representations, expectations and in/equalities impact on women’s and girls’ (and men’s and boy’s) life choices, chances and experiences I cannot emphasis enough how important it is to welcome men who join us in dialogue and who want to work with us towards positive change.

Sadly, as a Conservative government has twice demonstrated, having a woman Prime Minister does not necessarily mean that the experience of women and girls in general, or even women in Parliament, is improved. Boldly reclaiming the status of being ‘a bloody difficult woman’ (4th March) and incorrectly (in my view at least) calling Mr Corbyn out for ‘mansplaining’ (7th March) on your twitter account is more than insulting from a PM that presides over a government that is comfortable with, promotes even, significant gender inequality and injustice. There are many, many examples I could give but restrict myself here to just a few from the last seven days. On the 2nd March the Home Office wrote to women on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre informing them not only that their cases would not be halted or delayed by the protest but that it “may, in fact, lead to your case being accelerated and your removal from the UK taking place sooner”. Yesterday we heard that the Labour Party has had to force ministers to bring various polices (including cutting free school meals for a million children who need them) to the House of Commons for a vote next week. Add to this your shamefully warm welcome to crown prince Mohammad bin Salman and your current pledges and promises for women and children, for all humankind, plus your ‘feminist’ pronouncements, as ever, ring hollow. 

To borrow a phrase from the 1900’s suffragettes, to whom I am sure you will agree, WE owe so much, ‘deeds not words’ Prime Minister ‘deeds not words’.

I look forward to your reply

Yours sincerely

Professor Gayle Letherby

Thursday 1 March 2018

Baby it's STILL VERY, VERY Cold Outside | #thepoliticsofsnow #homelessness #shame

Following my last writings on rough sleeping and homelessness and in response to an article on the front page of my local paper - Falmouth Packet - focusing on the need to ‘tackle anti-social behaviour by rough sleepers’ (which is reportedly upsetting both residents and tourists) I wrote the following letter which was published yesterday.

Falmouth Packet, Wednesday 28th February 2018

Reading the Packet’s article on ‘tackling rough sleepers’ in the town (14th February 2018) I find it shocking that the paper is not reporting on the other, many would say the real, side of the story. That is that under Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition and Conservative Governments the number of rough sleepers rose by 169% between 2010 and 2017; and number of households in temporary accommodation on 30th September 2017 had gone up by 65% since 31st December 2010. Furthermore, in the last week alone four rough sleepers have died (three of the streets, one in hospital); 19th February, Cardiff; 21st February, Milton Keynes (hospital); 22nd February, Edinburgh; 23rd February, Essex. The Labour Party are committed to ending rough sleeping and local Labour councillors are working on a strategy of support. Surely compassion and empathy alongside practical working solutions – with reference to rough sleeping and the conditions and experiences that cause it - should be our concern here.

Interesting that this should first be in print on the day that I am stranded in a Premier Inn in Helston just under 10 miles away from home; my journey from Coverack to Falmouth scuppered by a snow fall more than unusual for Cornwall. Some more thoughts written yesterday and today:  

I wrote a letter for the paper,
They published it today.
Rough sleeping. Freezing temperatures. Death, 
But still they blame and they shame.
‘It’s a lifestyle choice,’ we’re told,
‘There’s help if they need it,’ they cry. *

*This is not an exaggeration of some people’s views as I wrote about in Baby it's VERY, VERY Cold Outside

A couple of weeks ago Pete Sinclair, a Spitting Image writer, reminded his twitter followers of this sketch he wrote ‘as a farewell tribute to Margaret Thatcher’. Watch it and see whether you agree with him, and with me, that it is even more relevant just now is external)

Today my own bit of drama,
Stranded. Less than ten miles from home.
One of many victims of the 'Beast from the East',
Buses stopped. Taxi stalled. No choice but to turn around.
‘I don’t know what to suggest,’ the driver says,
‘Shall I take you back to the bus station?’

As a non-driver I use public transport regularly. Now self-employed and, following my parents’ influence, a lover of a bit of travel adventure, I’m often on the bus, train, plane… So I’m not easily distressed by delays or worried when there is a change of plan. I must admit though I experienced a moment or two of anxiety and a feeling of abandonment at the taxi driver’s words. Thankfully I remembered the nearby, fairly new, Premier Inn and I asked him to drive me there and to please wait while I checked that there was a vacancy. He drives to the hotel. I pay him what I owe. He leaves! (Happily there was a free room, which I didn't find out until after he'd driven away).

Over the last 24 hours I’ve heard and read of many stories of support and rescue during this bad weather period and I’m sure there are many, many more examples than we will ever hear about. I’m thankful, very thankful, that my situation wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I remember the new chain hotel,
Just outside the small market town.
At 11am I’ve already had enough of the day,
I’m more than grateful that there is a room.
The receptionist is also marooned,
Sharing an ‘adventure’ we bond.  

I had a small bag of perishables and the receptionist – who also had to stay the night as she couldn’t get home (she was still there when I left this morning) – put them in the hotel fridge for me. She also reassured me that there was plenty of room if I needed to stay another night. Enjoying a coffee and something hot to eat in the restaurant it became clear that the guests around me were also unable to travel any further. This morning a friend came to get me in his 4-wheel drive truck, ahead of the next round of extreme weather. We passed abandoned cars all the way home.  I’m writing this with the heating on and wrapped in my favourite purple blanket as the snow begins to fall again.

Lucky. Cosy and comfy with plenty to eat,
I’d have coped if 'Storm Emma' had arrived before time.
Whilst those still outside, last-night or long-term,
Fought for warmth and for life, I’d a bed and a bath and a kettle.
How do they sleep?
Those who think this is fine.

It’s encouraging to hear of charities, councils and places of worship providing emergency accommodation to rough sleepers
It’s also good that there is information available to all of us on how to help people (an estimated 9000 in Britain at the moment) living on the streets is external)

And yet, there is so much more that could be done. Earlier in February Jeremy Corbyn MP tweeted:

@jeremycorbyn: Rough sleeping is an emergency that requires action now. I have written to @DavidGauke to ask him to allow the Holloway Prison former visitors' centre to be used as a homeless hostel. This building is just lying empty. It should be used to help people.

Mr Corbyn’s letter included the following: “I am writing to ask that you consider agreeing, in principle, to the temporary re-opening of the HMP Prison Holloway Visitor’s Centre so that it may be used as a homeless hostel.”

In response to this a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The visitors’ centre at HMP Holloway is currently a key site for prison officer recruitment as we continue to increase staffing numbers. Regrettably therefore the centre is not vacant and is unable to be put to alternative use.”
(link is external)
The need for such initiatives - and a more permanent solution to rough sleeping, homelessness more generally (which includes those in temporary accommodation) and complex associated issues and reasons -  is even more obvious when much of Britain is covered in snow. Furthermore, given that as of 2017 there were 14 million people living in poverty (over 1 in 5 of the population with 8 million families including at least one person in work), including 8 million working-age adults, 4 million children and 1.9 million pensioners there are far too many having to choose between heating and eating (reported by the Joseph Rowntree Organisation is external)).

As I’ve said #SHAME