November 19, 2013 Leave a comment
November 12, 2013 4 Comments
I am pretty sure that no-one can provide an answer to the above question, not an exact and accurate one anyway. There are a number of reasons for this, all pretty obvious. The homeless are rarely counted in official statistics, they often avoid engagement with officialdom (very few, for instance, bother to register as voters), and a fair view are invisible as far as the system is concerned.
There are many reasons for homelessness. It is not all about addiction, alcoholism or mental health issues. Some are fleeing abuse, some are just too poor for a proper roof over their head, some lose their homes, divorce is occasionally a cause. I am sure those who understand the issue far better than me can give a far longer list of reasons why people are without a home. It rarely is a deliberate choice.
The homeless are not always visible. Whilst we all see people camped out in shop doorways or in bus shelters and the like, there are those who are homeless and yet have a roof over their heads. Numbered in this latter group are those who sofa-surf and those accommodated in hostels or bed and breakfast establishments. This group are at least warm and dry at night, although likely to be living in overcrowded conditions and without anything resembling permanence. There are also squatters, whose tenure is always vulnerable, especially since the changes in law (which now criminalises those who squat).
I get a sense that homelessness is on the rise. This is not a scientific assessment of the situation but rather a gut feeling based on observation. For years (tempting to say Labour years) the numbers of those living on the street in Southend seemed few in number, and declining; the last few years has seen their numbers appear greater.
If asked to guess an answer to the question about the numbers of homeless I would have ventured “somewhere between fifty and a hundred”. As a proportion of the population of the Borough of Southend-on-Sea this is a very small percentage. This town, in common with many eastern and south-eastern seaside towns is a magnet for the homeless.
I now strongly suspect that my former guesses are way off.
HARP (Homeless Action Resource Project) have some numbers on their website. They assist between 60 and 100 people a day. I am unsure how many of these are unique visits.
The Southend-on-Sea churches organise a winter night shelters program (it starts again this Sunday – 17th November). Last year they helped 155 guests, of which 29 had been helped the previous year.
The only number I have for the hidden homeless is from some research for Crisis and they estimated between 310,000 and 380,000 across the whole country in 2003. I cannot imagine the situation has got any better, and I am unable to extrapolate what this means for my borough.
Homelessness is not a new feature of a country now run by Cameron and Clegg. However, some of their policies are made the situation worse. I am hesitant to put a figure on the numbers of homeless people in Southend, but I am far from reluctant to suggest that the situation is worsening.
November 8, 2013 Leave a comment
There was music laid on, and I did not initially notice that this was being provided by my long-standing friends Graham Burnett and Wayne Avrili (who, amongst other things, are members of The Stripey Zebras). It was good to catch up with them, and to jam with them too.
I had a long chat with someone who had spent many years on the streets. It was really interesting to hear firsthand about life for the homeless. Amongst the stories was that they had subsisted on wild rabbit for three months (just rabbit, no vegetables, no bulky carbohydrates, no drink). It was a fascinating and thought-provoking conversation. Homelessness is definitely on the rise in the town; I am told that there are between fifty and a hundred rough sleepers. As the winter nears and the weather turns one cannot but wonder how the homeless will deal with it. It certainly makes you think that being able to sleep somewhere warm and dry is a real treat for some people – and this is taken for granted by most. I mentioned to my once homeless conversationalist the number of long-term empty properties in the borough; they responded with the idea of the council purchasing a number and allowing these to be done-up and lived in by the homeless – an idea worthy of further consideration. One thing was evident from our chat and that was the good work being done by many of the churches and charities in the town – real life-savers for some of the most desperate in the community.
The Milton Ward Community First Panel have up to £2500 match funding available to fund a project in the ward. So, if you have an idea about a project to address one of local priorities get in touch. The MCP are also holding an Ideas Fair on Sunday, 8th December (3-5pm). There is £50 available for each person to develop their idea.
Last night I paid a visit to the opening launch of India Witham’s new shop: Made With Love. Fizz and nibbles were advertised – I stuck to orange juice and just a few of the nibbles. I had a quick chat with a couple of people there, and I hope that this venture is a success.
My stay at Made With Love was brief because I was had to leave to chair a Labour campaigns meeting at our headquarters in Sutton Road. I found this very useful, and I hope that my stewardship of the campaigning this year bears fruit come next May’s elections. We are cautiously optimistic.
Earlier in the week I managed to get to a Southend Against The Cuts organising meeting – albeit that I was late and it was nearly finished by the time I had negotiated the traffic. The one thing I can report is that there will be a public meeting on the Bedroom Tax in the near future.
October 11, 2013 Leave a comment
I went for the hat-trick, I got the hat-trick. Yes, three scrutiny committee meetings in four days. So, it is not that exciting, nor especially unusual, in fact I have done this before. But this is an example of how some weeks disappear in almost a blink.
Last night’s scrutiny was for Policy and Resources, and my reason for attending was to hear the SEAL presentation and take part in the subsequent discussion.
I was interested to hear that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has hired a designated officer on an eighteen month contract to look at long-term empty properties. I have been campaigning on this issue for some time and I am glad that my campaigning has paid off.
SEAL membership covers 6188 properties; a good start, but still far from comprehensive. Milton ward has an over fifty per cent rental sector, yet one in two properties do not carry the SEAL sticker – so some way to go here, at least.
I have had a number of dealings with SEAL since becoming a councillor, and I am generally pleased with the service provided. But, SEAL caters for motivated landlords who rarely give rise to problems, and my casework includes troublesome landlords and tenants. Milton has the highest proportion of rental properties of all the wards in Southend-on-Sea, and so my interest in this area is understandable. Cllr Martin Terry, who sits on the SEAL board, said at last night’s meeting that he aspired to an 85-90% membership take-up eventually – which still leaves 10-15% of properties outside of this regime.
I am a cynic, although I will continue to use SEAL and will hope for its success. I am a cynic because I am unconvinced that self-regulation works. Good landlords will respond well, bad landlords will ignore anything other than a big stick. The private sector housing department is stretched, and almost powerless in the face of intransigence. I still believe that some form of licensing is required.
March 28, 2013 2 Comments
I am cynical about the efficacy of self regulation. I cannot see it working in many circumstances. The Press have singularly failed to effectively police themselves over the years, and I do not see Southend-on-Sea’s landlords doing much better.
For all its faults I wanted selective licensing approved. Instead we have SEAL. I have been promised a review after a year by Cllr Lesley Salter, and I intend a reminder if it is needed.
I can give an example of how SEAL fails.
There is a flat owner who shares a garden boundary with the upstairs neighbour. The resident upstairs are tenants of an absentee landlord. The fence that separates the gardens belongs to upstairs, and is in some state of disrepair – to the point where it is dangerous to young children. The neighbour’s garden is also very overgrown.
The flat owner contacts the letting agents with a view to having the fence repaired or replaced – no response. Contact is attempted again, and the outcome remains the same. This is attempted over a number of months. The absentee landlord ignores all communications (but does not ignore the rent coming in from his tenant). Eventually the flat owner contacts SEAL. The absentee landlord is not a member, and nothing can be done.
The flat owner will either have to seek the legal route, or fix the fence themself. Not a satisfactory outcome at all.
February 25, 2013 2 Comments
The following table shows the mix of homes owned or rented in the various wards across the Borough of Southend-on-Sea. The figures, from the 2011 census, are percentages.
A mixed picture emerges. Milton has the highest rental sector, and low home ownership numbers. Milton also has a low social housing figure.
The two other Labour wards, Victoria and Kursaal, show the highest social housing number. However, high social housing numbers are no indicator of Labour support as Blenheim Park, Shoeburyness, Southchurch, St Laurence and West Shoebury attest. St Luke’s, within recent years a solid Labour ward, does not show particularly high numbers in social housing, and Westborough’s number is also very low.
If these numbers mean anything in terms of campaigning and targeting then someone do explain. I think it shows that anywhere is up for grabs if you campaign effectively.
February 18, 2013 Leave a comment
“Hundreds of people could be heading for Southend from Camden” began an article in my local newspaper. This is an apparent response to Government policy which puts a ceiling on the amount housing benefit that can be claimed.
The new rules do not allow housing benefit to exceed around £500 per week, which will be way above rents in most areas of the United Kingdom, but not in some parts of London.
Londoners coming to Southend is hardly new; I cannot put an exact number on it, but my impression is that the majority of Southend’s residents have London ancestry, if they have not come from there themselves. My parents were both born in south London (Peckham and Eltham), and whilst my wife’s mother was born in Sible Hedingham, her parents were from the East End. The wife’s father originated from Watford.
I doubt the thought of Londoners de-camping to the seaside will trouble many, but I can imagine consternation in some quarters at the thought that the latest influx are on benefits. There will also be those who are feeling cramped and will wonder where the seemingly endless supply of new seasiders will find home.
The reporters, fond of hyperbole, talk of torrents and major influxes – this has been threatened before and ultimately resulted in handfuls at most coming to the largest town in Essex. However, this time might be different.
The real issue is the exorbitant rents being charged. The Government may have a point about the drain to the public purse, but see fit to punish those renting as if, somehow, they are profiting. The real villains are greedy landlords and the solution is a combination of rent control and house building. Capping housing benefit has consequences, and Camden emptying itself of those whose housing benefit exceeds the new statutory limit is one of them.
Another consequence is that some London boroughs will find themselves cleansed of the poor, some of whom will be key workers. It is not just the unemployed who claim housing benefits, and low paid workers are often doing essential jobs. Wages will have to rise to accommodate housing or commuting costs.
February 7, 2013 Leave a comment
The release of more census information gives me more pleasure, and not just because I am a numbers geek. No. The pleasure comes with the acquisition of some solid facts to back up some of my arguments about Southend-on-Sea’s crowded town centre, and especially the marvellous ward of Milton, for whom it is my humble honour to represent.
What follows are my edited highlights, and I have chosen to show the significant data for my ward. What follows are lists of top three wards by category.
Tenure: Private Rented; Private Landlord or Letting Agency
1, Milton 48.3%
2, Kursaal 37.1%
3, Westborough 32.4%
(Southend-on-Sea 20.7%, England 15.4%)
Tenure: Owned; Owned Outright
1, Kursaal 12.2%
2, Victoria 15.3%
3, Milton 20.3%
(Southend-on-Sea 30.7%, England 30.6%)
Tenure: Owned; Owned with a Mortgage or Loan
1, Kursaal 23.4%
2, Victoria 24.4%
3, Milton 24.8%
(Southend-on-Sea 34.4%, England 32.8%)
Tenure: Living Rent Free
1, Milton 1.4%
2, Blenheim Park, Chalkwell, Victoria 1.1%
(Southend-on-Sea 0.9%, England 1.3%)
Living Atrrangements: Living in a Couple; In a Registered Same‐Sex Civil Partnership or Cohabiting (Same‐Sex)
1, Milton 2.1%
2, Westborough 1.8%
3, Kursaal 1.4%
(Southend-on-Sea 1.1%, England 0.9%)
Living Arrangements: Not Living in a Couple; Single (Never Married or Never Registered a Same‐Sex Civil Partnership)
1, Milton 33.5%
2, Victoria 32.6%
3, Kursaal 32.5%
(Southend-on-Sea 25.0%, England 25.8%)
Living Arrangements: Not Living in a Couple; Divorced or Formerly in a Same‐Sex Civil Partnership which is Now Legally Dissolved
1, Victoria 10.9%
2, Kursaal 10.7%
3, Milton 10.6%
(Southend-on-Sea 7.9%, England 6.5%)
Economic Activity: Economically Active; Unemployed
1, Kursaal 8.7%
2, Victoria 8.1%
3, Milton 7.0%
(Southend-on-Sea 5.0%, England 4.4%)
Economic Activity: Economically Inactive; Retired
1, Westborough 7.8%
2, Kursaal 8.9%
3, Milton 9.7%
(Southend-on-Sea 14.1%, England 13.7%)
Economic Activity: Economically Active; Full‐Time Student
1, Milton 3.4%
2, Kursaal, West Shoebury 3.2%
(Southend-on-Sea 2.7%, England 3.4%)
January 22, 2013 1 Comment
There is an interesting article in the New Statesman about land value tax (What’s the justification for a land value tax?).
The clamour (if a few lefties arguing for it can be considered such) for this new tax is, to be put it simply, because to fund public services one has to find ways to fill the coffers of the Exchequer. Land value tax, it is argued, is fair. Justification comes in many guises, and the New Statesman article argues that since all land originally had no owner, ownership has since been acquired from what can loosely be termed as common ownership.
‘Acquired’, in the context of this discussion, is a loaded word. One can imagine Rooseveltian diplomatic techniques coming to play, and re-visiting the concept of manifest destiny. However the arguments about acquisition, land now acquired could be taxed.
Is it a fair tax? Is it simply constructed? The answer to the second question is an almost certain ‘no’, and if there is one criticism of our current taxation system that really does stick is that it is overly complex. Complex equals difficult to understand (and hence a whole industry – accountancy – justifies its existence), and this leads to complaint. What is not simple cannot be seen to be fair, and lends itself to all sorts of loophole finding.
A simple land value tax, one that is based on a set charge per acre, must have parameters that take account of location, land type, and somehow accommodate high-rise living.
This would be a largely theoretical argument if all income was through PAYE. Direct taxes are fair taxes.
What has become increasingly obvious is that as the global village has evolved so have global solutions to tax avoidance. The very rich can shift their pots of gold to wherever it is less prone to tax. If land was taxed I could envisage all sorts of solutions, including avoiding land ownership, becoming another weapon for those who see themselves above taxation. What we really want is an end to tax havens.
I suspect the rich getting away with it will not be the strongest driver for change here. I suspect that a simpler, and more transparent, tax system provided with any land value tax would enable its smooth introduction. For every Sultan of Brunei there are millions of home owners and council tax payers who will worry that a land value tax will be an increased burden for them. Solve that and making the very landed contribute more fairly might be possible.