Comment: social housing and the right to not be uprooted for others’ ‘safer investments’

The right to not be uprooted for others’ ‘safer investments’

Policy Exchange think tank Director Neil O’Brien told the BBC: “I don’t believe anybody has the right to live in the most expensive parts of town.”

Last week as a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group I attended the ‘paupers’ funeral’ of someone who had not lived in as expensive an area of London as that in which I have now lived as a social housing tenant since 1984. Former KUWG member Nygell Firminger had left the KUWG on getting a job a few years ago, then fallen on even harder times when he told the jobcentre what he was doing and they sanctioned him. And then his mum died after being assessed by Atos Healthcare as ‘not disabled enough’ to be eligible for disability benefits; he had been her main carer. He had reportedly attempted to resolve his rent arrears to Genesis Housing — an ‘Arms Length Management Organisation’ — through a voluminous file of correspondence, yet was evicted after an appeal in which his legal aid support capitulated. Then, in April, he broke back into the flat in which he had lived most of his life and apparently committed suicide. He would have been 45 on 16 September. His inquest will take place in November.Banner of Kilburn Unemployed Worker's Group

Nygell’s life and passing as a council tenant and artist without a sponsor might not have meant anything more to Policy Exchange Director Neil O’Brien or Housing Minister Grant Shapps than the creation of a vacant home. Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group draped Nygell’s coffin with a KUWG banner as a token of ‘state funereal’ respect.

Now Euro-currency-phobic investors from mainland Europe invest in London properties and Central Government has cut the funding to social landlords to the point that my own landlord started to ‘consider’ selling my home without consulting tenants. My pre-1989 Housing Act, ‘secure tenancy agreement’ prevents the sale of our poorly maintained, below ‘decent homes standard’ house ‘on the open market’. Now that I am a long-term ‘survivor’ of the UK benefits system, and as surely as my name means ‘noble protector’, I am more determined to ‘give back to society’ by helping to expose what blinkered lives are led by those who would rather deny poor people the amenities associated with ‘more expensive’ areas. Associating with other KUWG members has added considerably to the value of my life, and the struggle to maintain my existing tenancy has strengthened the links between my one-roomed-flat neighbours and myself.

Against a sharp rise in the number of ‘pauper’s funerals’ as cuts in UK Central Government-funding bite more and more at the economically vulnerable, I wonder, how many ‘pauper’s funerals’ have the Director of Policy Exchange or the Housing Minister attended lately?

The rhetoric of Shapps, O’Brien and the ‘free market’ is that poor people have fewer rights than those who have money. But KUWG members know better by knowing each other.

‘Raymondo of KUWG’

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