Friday, November 30, 2012


Millions face low pay,no pay poverty

Britain's poorest families are facing hidden cuts worth more than 30% of their annual income by 2017 as public services are rationed or withdrawn to meet the coalition's tough spending targets, new research commissioned by the TUC reveals.
As George Osborne puts the final touches to his autumn statement on 5 December, which is expected to give more details about a planned £10bn of welfare savings over the next five years, the TUC's analysis shows that reductions in benefits and tax credits are being compounded by the impact of budget cuts across government.
"The chancellor's fresh assault on the welfare budget is set to cause considerable financial harm for millions of families," it says. "But unless George Osborne changes course, these cuts will be dwarfed by massive reductions in public services."
The TUC's report comes alongside a stark warning from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation about the growth of in-work poverty in Britain. In its annual Monitoring Poverty report, the charity finds that 6.1 million people in working households live in poverty – more than the 5.1 million who live in working-age households where no one has a job.
Julia Unwin, the foundation's chief executive, said: "The most distinctive characteristic of poverty today is the very high number of working people who are also poor."
The TUC's analysis, meanwhile, shows the hefty cost of austerity to low-income households. Through detailed analysis of survey findings on who uses public services, and data from the Treasury, it has built up a meticulous picture of how planned spending cuts will affect households across the country.
By 2016-17, the last year for which the government has so far issued spending plans, the cumulative cost of lost public services for the poorest 10th of households in cash terms will have been £3,995 – or 31.7% of their average annual income.
For those in the top 10th of the income scale, many of whom may use public transport infrequently, opt out of public schooling and healthcare, and are less likely to call on services such as Sure Start centres for children, the impact will be much smaller: £2,805, or 2.5% of annual income.

The biggest cuts in percentage terms are in further and higher education, policing and social care.

.....The extent of in-work poverty is laid bare in a new Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report, which highlights the insecurity faced by millions of working people.

The annual Monitoring poverty and social exclusion report, written by the New Policy Institute (NPI), highlights the dynamic nature of poverty, caused in the main by people moving in and out of jobs, and an underemployed workforce.The report shows the close links between the two, and found that 6.1 million people living in poverty are in working households. Excluding pensioners,
this is higher than the 5.1 million people in workless households in poverty.

Underemployment, the number of people lacking the paid work they want, stands at 6.5 million, according to the report. The number working parttime but wanting full-time work is now 1.4 million, up by 500,000 since 2009.

Meanwhile, 4.4 million jobs pay less than £7 an hour. Low paid work is common among hotels and restaurants, finance and services, IT, and wholesale, retail and transport jobs. The number of working families receiving working tax credits — payments to top up wages — has risen by 50% since 2003, to 3.3 million in 2012.

But people move in and out of work, and in and out of poverty, as the findings show:

almost five million people have claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) at least once in the last two years, around one in six of economically active people;

the turnover of people moving on and off JSA is substantial: 42% of claims were made within six months of the last claim. Half stop claiming within three months; and

while 18% of people are in low income at any one time, 33% experienced at least one period of low income in a four year period, and 11% are in low income for more than half of that time.

Equally depressing - millions of households are heading for a long period of stagnant living standards unless bold steps are taken to ensure that growth over the next decade is broadly shared, according to a think tank’s landmark investigation into the squeeze on incomes.

Even with a return to steady growth, it’s now entirely possible living standards for a large swath of low and middle households will be no higher by 2020 than they were in 2000. Yet actions can be taken to alter this course.

The findings are contained in the final report of the Commission on Living Standards, a broad group of leading employers, trade unionists, economists and heads of parents’ groups brought together by the independent think tank the Resolution Foundation.

The report sets out a full explanation for the challenge now facing low to middle income households, the risk that the benefits of a period of growth could bypass millions of working households, and key recommendations on how to avoid this.

The report sets out a comprehensive agenda to ensure that growth feeds through into rising prosperity for those on low to middle incomes, with recommendations spanning low pay, improving employment levels and reform of the tax and benefit system.

The report is clear that future improvements in living standards will have to come from higher employment and pay rather than rising state support.

And just one example is a 4.2% tube and bus fare rise in London, contrasted with a rate of inflation (IE the rate of rising prices) of 2.7% and an average pay increase of 1.5% since 2011:
London tube and bus fares to rise from January - Boris Johnson says fares in the capital will increase by an average of 4.2% in the new year

And as winter begins to set it, it has been revealed that government support to help families struggling in fuel poverty has been cut by more than a quarter in the past few years, according to a new report.
Money going to the fuel poor in England as a result of Government policies will have been reduced by 26% by next year compared to 2009 levels, the study by the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE).
And the amount of support specifically for energy efficiency measures such as insulation for households which are paying more than 10% of their income heating their homes will have fallen by 44%.
This is despite energy efficiency being the best way to help people cut fuel bills and keep warm, anti-fuel poverty campaigners said.
Much of the reduction is due to elimination of the Warm Front programme, which helped people install efficiency measures, while other efficiency schemes will also have less funding.
The report estimates that the number of struggling households who will have energy efficiency measures installed in their homes to help them keep warm for less will fall from 150,000 in 2009 to 100,000 in 2013.
The number of homes being treated will fall from 3.8% of the total in fuel poverty in 2009 to just 2.6% of the 3.9 million households estimated to be in fuel poverty in England by the end of this year.
In total the annual funding from Government policies for energy efficiency measures and income support on fuel bills such as winter fuel payments will fall from £3.9 billion in 2009 to £2.7 billion in 2013, the report says.
Of that total, only around a third goes to fuel poor households because the schemes are more widely targeted or it is difficult to focus funding on vulnerable families.
Households in fuel poverty will see funding decline from £1.2 billion to £879 million in 2013, the report warns.
The study was commissioned by the Energy Bill Revolution, which points out that at the same time the Treasury will be levying more than £2 billion in carbon taxes from consumer bills to account for the pollution caused by generating electricity.

The Energy Bill Revolution is a movement of people committed to ensuring warm homes and lower bills for all. We are an alliance of children's and older people's charities, health and disability groups, environment groups, consumer groups, trade unions, businesses, politicians and public figures.
But most importantly, we are people like you. A movement of people who, by joining the Energy Bill Revolution, signing the petition, emailing MPs, and spreading the word to friends and family, are playing a crucial role in helping to end fuel poverty once and for all.

Also it would be wrong to think that the coutry is suffering a recession and everyone has to feel the pinch, as evidenced by a recent pay survey which shows pay gains of past 25 years:

Britain’s highest-paid employees have seen their salaries more than double in real terms over the past 25 years, a much faster rise than for the lower paid, a study by the Office for National Statistics has found.
However, the introduction of the national minimum wage in 1999 has allowed those at the bottom of the ladder to partially claw back their relative position.
The study found that, after adjusting for price increases, full-time employees were on average 62 per cent better off in 2011 than in 1986.
In April 2011 the average full-time employee earned £12.62 an hour excluding overtime, compared with £3.87 a quarter of a century earlier.
Generally the higher earners have done better, with the top 1 per cent enjoying the biggest increase between 1986 and 2011, at 117 per cent.
The top 10 per cent saw an increase of 81 per cent, while the bottom tenth had a 47 per cent increase. The bottom 1 per cent had a 70 per cent increase.
In 1986, the top 1 per cent earned eight times more than the bottom 1 per cent, but now they earn 10 times more per hour.
Wage inequality– the ratio of the highest to lowest earners – rose steeply between 1986 and 1998, but fell back after the minimum wage was introduced.
Since 1998 the bottom 1 per cent have achieved a real increase of 51 per cent, compared with an increase of 30 per cent for the top 1 per cent.

But the really worrying news is that the chancellor may have to extend the squeeze on public spending until 2018 if the recent deterioration in growth prospects and tax receipts turns out to be permanent, a think tank has said.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said George Osborne may have to find another £11bn from tax rises or spending cuts if the economy does not pick up.
This is on top of £8bn of cuts already mooted in the Budget. Mr Osborne will deliver his Autumn Statement on 5 December.

Meawhile for those unfortunate enough to be on welfare at the moment - The government's flagship welfare-to-work programme has failed to hit its main target, official figures show.
Under the scheme, firms and charities are paid to help find jobs for the long-term unemployed. But only 3.53% of people found a job for six months or more - missing the coalition's 5.5% target.
The figures, which cover the 13 months from June 2011 to July 2012, showed that of the 878,000 people who joined the programme, only 31,000 found a job for six months or more.
The Department for Work and Pensions had told providers they should get 5.5% of people on the programme into sustained employment.
Only 3.5% of people referred to work programme find long-term jobs - None of welfare-to-work
scheme's 18 contractors reached target of getting 5.5% of clients a job for at least six months

And Welfare minister Lord Freud admitted today that appeals against decisions by hated benefits assessor Atos had cost over £25 million in the first half of 2012.
The Department of Work and Pensions, in charge of the disastrous scheme, took a hit for £11.3m and the courts £14.9m.
He revealed the figures after Labour's Baroness Wilkins told peers at Lords question time that 40 per cent of people who appealed had been successful.
"In total that figure is roughly accurate," Lord Freud conceded.

He went further though....The government's welfare reform minister has suggested lone parents, sickness claimants and other people on benefits are too comfortable not having to work for their income, saying they are able to "have a lifestyle" on the state.
In an interview with House Magazine, Lord Freud is reported to have said the benefits system is "dreadful" and discourages poor people from taking the risks he implied they should be willing to bear to change their circumstances.
"The incapacity benefits, the lone parents, the people who are self-employed for year after year and only earn hundreds of pounds or a few thousand pounds, the people waiting for their work ability assessment then not going to it – all kinds of areas where people are able to have a lifestyle off benefits and actually off conditionality," the Conservative peer said.

Elsewhere it was also revealed that vulnerable people may find it difficult to cope with central features of the universal credit benefit system, especially online claims and the proposed single monthly payment, MPs have warned.
The work and pensions select committee has urged the government to consider delaying the introduction of the new system unless the difficulties can be adequately addressed.
Universal credit pilots are due to begin in north-west England in April 2013 and the full national scheme, starting with new claimants, is due to start in October 2013.
At prime minister's questions, David Cameron, speaking before the publication of the select committee report, insisted the scheme – the biggest shakeup of welfare since the late 1940s – was on course and due to start on time.
But in five major warnings, the committee said:
•Provisions to pay claimants their housing benefits directly, rather than to landlords, could pose problems for some vulnerable claimants unable to manage regular rent payments.
•Disabled claimants may receive less than other claimants. The committee warned: "Transitional protection will mean that they do not lose in cash terms immediately, but this protection will erode over time, will be lost if their circumstances change, and is not available to new claimants".
•Tax, accountancy and business organisations have warned that the introduction of monthly universal credit payments using information about claimants' employment earnings taken from HMRC data feeds may fail to work.
•The implementation programme may be too fast. The committee said: "There are still a lot of key decisions to be made on the details of how universal credit will work, before claims can be processed."
•The decision to localise council tax support under a proliferation of local schemes, rather than including it within universal credit, will work against the government's objective of simplification of the benefits system.
Also....Poorest 400,000 families worse off under universal credit, finds report - Chartered Institute of Housing says lone-parent households, those on minimum wage and officially in poverty will lose out

And also hundreds of thousands of poor people say they have been put off applying for or collecting benefits because of the perceived stigma generated by false media depictions of "scroungers" – leading many to forgo essentials such as food and fuel, a new report claims.
Analysis by researchers, led by the University of Kent's social policy team, said polls and focus groups had revealed a quarter of claimants had "delayed or avoided asking for" vital welfare payments because of "misleading news coverage driven by [government] policy".
This "climate of fear" means 1.8 million people have potentially been too scared to seek help they are entitled to from the state. Such is the scale of successive governments' disinformation that the report calls for ministers to abandon briefing journalists ahead of their speeches and asks Whitehall departments to seek corrections "for predictable and repeated media misinterpretations".

All of which leads inevitably to debt and credit, but the worse-off and those with poor credit-ratings, often resort to 'pay day lenders', whose rate of interests often run into the thousands and a new survey published revealed that the situation is reaching crisis point with more than 5m people expected to turn to expensive short-term credit in the next few months.
The survey by insolvency firm R3 reports that one in 10 people who use payday loans is forced to choose to pay back the loans and extortionate interest rather than use their cash to buy food.
Even more frightening is the fact that one in three payday loans is taken out to pay for other payday loans.

David Fisher, Director of Credit, at the OFT, said: “We expect payday firms to be responsible, making sure they only lend to those who are able to repay the debt. We would be particularly concerned if payday lenders were deliberately targeting vulnerable consumers.”
Co-operative Labour MP Stella Creasey, who has campaigned against what she calls legal loan sharks, said: “The public know these loans are toxic, but what choice do they have when they’re trying to keep a roof above their heads or pay to get to work?
“I warned ministers in 2010 that they were facing a debt crisis if they didn’t stop these companies exploiting our lax credit regulation. In two years they have done nothing and millions more are now facing a debt-laden Christmas and New Year.”
Our evidence published today revealed that many aggressive lenders are planning to cash-in on struggling people this Christmas by encouraging them to take out expensive short-term credit.

Of course we are lucky in Hackney, in that we have access to a community credit union, find out more at:
Application form at:

Finally, something that pretty much sums up the current government as the coalition has been accused of presiding over a sham "listening exercise" on NHS reform last year, as a leaked document reveals how the private health lobby worked with Downing Street behind the scenes to ensure that the new legislation went ahead.
David Worskett, the industry's chief lobbyist, cleared his group's public statements with officials and was personally thanked by No 10 for arranging the publication of a letter from clinicians in support of the reforms during the key "pause" period last year, called to reflect on the proposed reforms.
A series of phone calls between the lobbyist and Downing Street's health adviser was followed by a welcome "addition" to a major speech by the prime minister, according to a five-page document written for members of the private healthcare lobby group. The government claimed at the time that it would call a temporary halt to its efforts to introduce more competition within the NHS through its controversial health and social care bill. The prime minister told doctors and nurses: "We are taking this time to pause, to listen, to reflect and to improve our NHS modernisation plans. Let me be clear: this is a genuine chance to make a difference."
But in the document, obtained by the website Social Investigations, Worskett, director of NHS Partners Network, the lobby group representing companies such as Circle and Care UK, wrote: "I did brief the new No 10 health policy adviser very fully, and indeed 'cleared' our materials with him. I have had several other 'stock take' phone conversations with him.

So not much to be cheery about at the moment, but at least the cracks are begining to appear as is apprently, the public's ability to see through the spin and flim-flam to what is really happening to our communities and futures.....


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Literary Bites launch with author Dreda Say Mitchell @ Yum Yum Restaurant, Stoke Newington

Author Dreda Say Mitchell

Wednesday 5 December 2012 (7pm-9.30pm)

Yum Yum Thai Restaurant, Stoke Newington, London

Literary Bites is a new initiative by Words of Colour Productions, connecting aspiring scribes with published writers over great food.
At each event, an established author will read from and discuss their work over a carefully sourced and quality menu that is affordably priced. Guests will also be able to network with other budding writers as well as be part of a memorable literary experience.
We are pleased to announce that the award-winning crime writer Dreda Say Mitchell will headline our launch event on Wednesday 5 December 2012 from 7pm-9.30pm in the Orchid Lounge at Yum Yum, an award-winning Thai restaurant in Stoke Newington, London.
Dreda, award-winning author of the acclaimed Geezer Girl and Hit Girls, will read from her work, talk about her journey from working in education to writing bestsellers, and will network with guests. There will also be an opportunity to win a signed copy of one of her novels.

About our guest author

Dreda Say Mitchell is the author of five novels. Her first book Running Hot was awarded the Crime Writers Association’s John Creasey Dagger for the best debut crime novel in Britain in 2005. Her second novel Killer Tune was voted one of Elle’s top 10 reads in 2007, while her fifth book (Hit Girls) was voted a top 10 book in 2011 by Reviewing The Evidence. Dreda also contributed a short story, The Hotline, for the Mystery Writers of America’s anthology Vengeance, edited by Lee Child. She was recently honoured as one of the 50 Remarkable Women in Britain by campaigning agency Lady Geek.

Price and menu selection

To book your ticket (priced £25) for the Literary Bites launch, click here. Please email us your menu selection, full name and contact details by 12 midday on Wednesday 5 December 2012 at This will help us make the night run smoothly.
For more information visit:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A bad week??

There have been a number of inter-related news pieces this week that will be of interest to Hackney activists and residents.
Firstly there was the research that revealed that Labour authorities are losing an average of £107.70 per person -  almost three times the £36.10 a head being lost at Tory town halls. And that Hackney comes top of the list of 10 worst hit (all Labour). Hackney Council in North London takes the biggest hit, losing £266.17 per person, followed by Liverpool on £252.45:
Then we heard how a New Economics Foundation report pinpoints how cuts are hitting England's most deprived wards, in London and Birmingham. The report noted that more than eight out of 10 children across Tottenham live in poverty, and this ward is one of the most deprived in England. Yet until recently, the charity of the church's largely immigrant, low-income congregation enabled the pastor, Alex Gyasi, to run an impressive schedule of after-school classes, a youth club, a cooking club and an in-house digital TV channel used to inspire young people to debate current affairs.
Published on Monday, the NEF report, called Everyday Insecurity: Life at the End of the Welfare State, emphatically rejects the suggestion that the most vulnerable and those with genuine needs are being protected....

The report says the services that are being lost are cheaper ones that keep people away from far more expensive acute services, such as A&E, homelessness support and temporary housing. These are real cuts, the report insists, and they will be paid for in human, social and economic costs:

And an Audit Commission report (Tough times 2012 - Councils’ responses to a challenging financial climate) also released this week, found that these are challenging and uncertain times for councils as they cope with the second year of the four-year Spending Review. The savings needed are lower in 2012/13 than in 2011/12, but the cumulative effect is significant for many.
The report finds that in 2011/12, councils largely delivered their planned savings and in many cases added to reserves. However, auditors reported that signs of financial stress were visible.
A sizeable minority of councils had to make additional in-year cuts, seek additional funding, or restructure efficiency programmes in order to deliver their budgets.
The report says that auditors are concerned that 12 per cent of councils are not well-placed to deliver their 2012/13 budgets. They feel that a further 25 per cent will cope in 2012/13, but may struggle in the remaining years of the Spending Review period. The report is the second in the Commission's Tough times series. Read our Tough times 2011 report:
And it was also revealed this week that in the three months to September, unemployment in London increased by 6,000 to 8.7%, and in other areas of interest:

· East of England: unemployment increased by 8,000 to 6.8%

· South East: unemployment increased by 6,000 to 6.5%

While unbelievably there are 8.1 million 16-24 year old unemployment nationally. See:
Charter for a Future that Works - TUC calling for action on the crisis of youth unemployment
But we cannot be surprised about the increases in unemployment levels when we are also seeing a huge drop in number of public sector workers. The number of workers employed in the public sector has fallen by almost 660,000 since the coalition Government came to power, with further cuts being planned, according to new research.
The GMB union described the cuts as the most "savage decimation" of public services ever seen. Almost 300,000 of the reduction have been in local government, a "considerably higher" number than original estimates, it said. The GMB warned of fresh cuts next year as health authorities and councils face "significant" new budget challenges.
The report was published as Newcastle City Council in the North East warned of at least 1,300 job losses as it looks to reduce its budget by £90 million. Most of the fall has been as a result of job cuts, although some posts have been privatised or moved out of the public sector from schools and colleges to academies, said the GMB.
The union said the biggest percentage fall in the number of public sector employees has been in the South West, at 86,000 (15.7%), with other falls including 84,000 in London, (10.1%), 80,000 in the South East (11.1%), 77,000 in the North West (10.6%), 59,000 in the East of England (2.4%), 56,000 in the West Midlands (10.6%), 54,000 in Yorkshire and The Humber, (9.6%), 45,000 in Scotland (7.2%), 43,000 in the North East (14.5%), 42,000 in the East Midlands (10.4%), 18,000 in Wales (5.2%) and 11,000 in Northern Ireland (4.8%):
An related to point above about youth unemployment - More than 42,000 Londoners have been put off applying to university after tuition fees tripled, campaigners revealed today as they marched through central London.
The National Union of Students said university applications from people living in the capital dropped by 10 per cent following the introduction of £9,000-a-year fees.
...The NUS figures show the steepest decline in applications was from people living in Hackney North and Stoke Newington, where the number trying to get into university fell 18 per cent.
In Islington North, Brent North, Beckenham, Croydon South, and Bethnal Green and Bow the number of applications dropped by 17 per cent. Liam Burns, president of the NUS said: “It would be at best naive and at worst consciously ignorant to say that fees have not played a part in this:
So in just a week we are seeing evidence of how local authorities, especially in less well-of areas (who just-so-happen to often vote Labour!) are really beginning to feel the effects of the governments Cuts agenda. We are also seeing huge decreases in the public sector workforce, which in areas such as hackney means a significant level of residents will be affected – either because they, or a family member, work in the public sector themselves, or because they are users of the services provided.  
But for young people, the situation is even worse – as there is an increasing number of unemployed and a decreasing number of vacancies, the public sector is no longer a career option and many cannot afford to go to university.
It really is shameful that the 7th biggest economy in the world should find itself treating its citizens in this way, and we must continue to resist this governments mad austerity plan before they drag us all back to the Victorian era!
Denis Lenihan

Friday, November 16, 2012

Welfare Reform by Hackney Unison...

Hackney Unison (trade union) has produced an analysis of welfare reform that should concern us all in Hackney....

Reforms to the Welfare State will start to take effect from April 2013 and will affect millions of people throughout Britain. We examine the changes to see how they will impact on people living and working in Hackney.

Ever since the formation of the modern day welfare state politicians have fallen over themselves to seek to reform the system, to draw the boundary between the deserving and undeserving poor. This government is no different, embarking on a crusade to change the benefit system which will see the biggest raft of reforms in our modern history.

But behind the rhetoric of the lazy benefit scrounger the changes for many will mean the difference between being able to make ends meet and in the worst cases destitution.

The Tories are besotted with the benefit system and more importantly reducing the cost of it to tax payers. Ever since Norman Tebbit’s ‘on your bike speech’ in 1981 the attacks on welfare have grown more steady and more malicious, focussing on the small minority of those who choose to play the system rather than the millions of people, in work, who need benefits to top up their otherwise low pay.

The changes which will begin to be phased in this coming April and by 2017 anyone who receives benefits of any kind will receive a Universal Credit each month.

One of the biggest changes will be the benefit cap. This stands at £500 per week for those with a family and £350 for single people. It means that no ones total weekly benefits will exceed this cap.
The benefits included in the cap are many and varied but include elements such as Carers Allowance and Child Tax Credit.

In Hackney 1067 households will be adversely affected by the cap losing between £1 and £221.79 per week....Read on, and comment here:

Friday, November 9, 2012

DIGS: Ending laissez-faire in private rents!

DIGS, supported by Hackney Unites, is calling for the end of the unregulated private rental market in Hackney and their aim is to take the issue all the way to central Government and across the whole of England.

DIGS is made up of private renters offering information and support to other Hackney renters and they launched their first public meeting on Thursday 20 October 2012 at the hub of social change in Hackney – the CLR James Public Library.

This event provided the opportunity for Hackney’s tenants who currently live in private and largely unregulated housing to come together and engage with a strategy for change.

The momentum for change has been simmering for many years beginning with the loss of rent control in 1988.  Back then rent prices were based on a formula linked loosely to average income.  Today, rent costs are governed by ‘open market’ forces and this has led to rent increases that often outstrip the average working person’s income. 

Another driver for change is the plethora of newly released reports by agencies either directly or indirectly linked to private housing and the need for London to have affordable rents.  The number of working households claiming benefits has continued to rise since the recession began (2008).  A report by National Housing Federation found that in May 2012, housing benefit claimant by those in work rose to 903,440 and that this has doubled since November 2008.

Not only are more people seeking financial support with their rents but private rents have also increased.  This push to jack up the rents is linked to a range of factors – some are the byproduct of the recession and the contentious banking activities while others are for sheer profit.

Collectively, the negative effects of high and excessive rents are being felt by our residents and with the support of Hackney Unites and DIGS, many have begun the processes of organising not just themselves but making links across other London boroughs and globally.

The meeting was opened with Ben Reeve-Lewis, a Tenancy Retention Officer from London’s Lewisham borough.  Not only does he write extensively on the subject but he has also been involved with the cabinet in developing private rent housing policies.

He covered many issues but in particular was the ‘By to let’ mortgages which sometimes have conditions attached about how long a tenant can stay.  This contributes to Hackney’s transient community and impacts upon those who have to leave their homes simply because ‘their time is up’.  He provided an overview of the business of estate agents in private rental markets and the issues the unregulated area brings.  He also looked at the financial impact upon those people going through estate agent’s doors who are charged extortionate rates. 

DIGS also found that Foxtons currently charge £420 as a fee and for a minimum wage earner (£6.19 for 37 hours per week is £916 for the month), this amounts to just under half their monthly income; and this is even before they have a home and tenancy.

Clearly there is lots of money, politics and power at stake in private rental markets and when in 2009 the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) went to the High Court under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations of 1999, claiming the fee Foxtons charged landlords to find tenant was unlawful, some landlords effectively joined Foxtons and fought back and lobbied against the OFT’s work. 

Ian Duncan Smith’s observations (October 2012), that the Government would like to keep all those under twenty five at home with their families appears to be the Governments half hearted and desperate attempt to engage in the debate by ‘freeing up the demand’.  As most young people cannot afford the high costs of private rents even when they do apply for benefit, these measures are unlikely to have the desired impact. 

In fact the IDS policy may have the unintended consequence of increasing public spending in the Children and Family Services (CFS).  For example, in a family where young people have simply out grown the family unit and where relationships have broken down, we may see an increase in children nominating themselves into care, where under section 17 and 20 there is a duty to house and support young people into a home.

Private rental debate is impossible to discuss without referring to Housing Benefit (HB) changes and the wider picture of the Government’s financial strategy of: Austerity.  HB will change to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and this will see different London Boroughs offering differing financial support to different age groups. 

HB changes are also mechanisms for the Government to drive down the welfare budgets by £20bn by 2014.  According to Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) this austerity strategy is pushing 80.000 children back into poverty.  Even the IMF global outlook report states that for every pound cut, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will contract by up to £1.70. 

Based on reports like this, many have argued that the ‘austerity’ policy is linked to our country’s continued lack of economic growth and will have a debilitating effect on the welfare changes.  Many young people, already living happily in private rented accommodation will have to leave.  Working families already suffering from the other impacts of Government cuts; if they cannot find the money to ‘top up’ their HB to their landlords, they will have to leave too.

What has become clear is that there is a need to address private rental markets to mitigate some of the concerns noted above.  Whether this be through a Licensing scheme such as London Borough of Newham’s approach or developing an Accreditation for landlords thus developing their social consciousness beyond the short term high profit mentality that sometimes governs private landlord’s motivations into the renting markets.  Or through ‘negative registrations – where those landlords that have been found to breach their contract between themselves and tenants have their details held by Hackney and this is used to help future tenants. 

Whatever the outcomes one objective of any campaign in London should also include the achievable objective: ‘removing letting agents fees’.  And should we need to know how, we can look north to Scotland who have achieved exactly that!

With 21,000 private rented properties in the Borough and with DIGS’ developing local campaigns and linking into all of those citizens, what is clear is laissez-faire in private rents is ending.

If you live in private rented accommodation and need information and support, in the first instance please contact Hackney Housing Options tel 020 8356 2929.
DIGS can be contacted on: or
Further support or advice is available from: Housing Lawyers) (Hackney Community Law Centre) and National Private Tenants Organisation at

By Teena Lashmore

Plans for a Dalston People’s festival and Borough of Sanctuary AGM (next Tuesday)

Two pieces of news: plans for a Dalston People’s festival and an update on the Borough of Sanctuary AGM (being held next Tuesday)

Dalston People’s Festival
Hackney Unites, a local coalition for social justice is starting to plan a week-long ‘Dalston People’s Festival’ in 2013 (dates to be confirmed).

The idea is to showcase what is good about Dalston over a full week of activities. We hope to be able to utilise existing community venues, spaces and networks and encourage every section of the community to put on an event. The vision is sufficiently broad to include arts, literature, film, cultural, local history workshops and community events.

With regeneration raging all around it would also be an opportunity to bring together the new and established communities in Dalston.

We would expect to produce a website which showcases the events during the week, and dedicate a full edition of our tabloid paper to promote the events.

At this stage, we are simply exploring whether or not there would be support for this initiative. We want to work with every section of the community, from local schools, faith groups, and tenants’ bodies, through to the creative arts.

We also hope to include a half day ‘community conference’ where we come together and reflect on what has been achieved in Dalston and how we can build a real sense of community that can actively engage with the issues we face.

Of course while the event will be based in the various squares, and public venues of Dalston it will be open to the wider Hackney community.

Sounds Good? But it won’t happen on its own. If you or your group are interested in playing a role, either by attending a planning meeting, or by organising an event that can feature in the program, then please let us know. You could also help us out enormously by sending us recommendations of who we need to speak to in Dalston to ensure that every section of the community is engaged.

We will of course also need help with fundraising, publicity etc, but for the moment, we just want to know: are you interested?

Let us know your views by visiting: and share your ideas.

Moving Towards becomig a Borough of Sanctuary (includes AGM)
Does it matter to you that Hackney is a place of welcome? If so then you will want ot attend the Hackney Borough of Sanctuary AGM. It is being held on Tuesday 13 November from 6.30pm to 9pm at the Offices of Hackney Council for Voluntary Service: 84 Springfield House, 5 Tyssen Street, E8 2LY London

The event will include our AGM , a Review of the Year and a special appearance by London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold.

Please come along to find out more about the move to establish Hackney as a Borough of Sanctuary and how you can get involved.

Refreshments Provided (donations welcome) All Welcome.

If you intend to join us, please register in advance (so we know how many to expect:

For footage of last year’s event visit:

Please help spread the word
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John Page
Hackney Unites

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Sustainable Communities Act

Hackney Unites last night (Nov 6th) heard a very interesting presentation by Steve Shaw from ‘Local Works’ on the Sustainable Communities Act and how it might be utilised in Hackney for the benefit of the Borough’s residents.  

Steve would urge all LBH residents to urge our councillors to commit the Council to using the Act. But further, Steve believes Hackney Unites could act as a community forum to bring projects that the Act can be used for and also as a means for the Council to consult on any project proposals.

Of course the SCA exists in the same world as the new Localism Act, and its controversial Neighbourhood Plan element, which a Hackney Unites related organisation (Hackney Planning Watch) are monitoring closely.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) have produced a related report:

And the following is a guide from  Local Works.....

 A Very Short Guide to the Sustainable Communities Act

Philosophy: the need for the Act
1. There is overwhelming evidence for community decline: the decline of local shops, Post Offices, pubs, etc and the knock-on environmental and social effects. It is a national trend affecting the whole country. No community group or council can reverse it on their own.

2. Central government can, and should, help to reverse this community decline. Note they should HELP, not dictate the solutions.

3. Local people are the experts on their own problems and the solutions to them. They should therefore be driving the help that central government gives.

If you accept these three things then you must accept that there needs to be a process where local people and their elected councils can put forward ideas to central government to help reverse community decline and create the opposite - sustainable communities. The Sustainable Communities Act sets up that process.

The Act: A ‘Bottom-Up’ Process that Gives People Power

The Act sets up a process where people have real power. The ideas they put forward drive the actions that government must take. People who participate cannot be ignored, which too often happens in government consultations. This process is ‘bottom-up’ - because what people want at community level drives what government does.

Here’s how the process works, step by step:

1. The Act gives communities, together with their councils, the right to come up with proposals and to then submit these to central government. These proposals can be for any government action or assistance that would reverse community decline and protect or promote sustainable communities.

Sustainable communities is defined in the Act as incorporating 4 things:

·       local economies, e.g. promoting local shops, Post Offices, local businesses and local jobs
·       environmental protection, e.g. promoting local renewable energy, protecting green spaces
·       social inclusion, e.g. protecting local public services and alleviating fuel poverty and food poverty
·       democratic involvement, e.g. encouraging local people to participate in local decision making

So communities and councils can put forward any proposal that a) can be shown to promote sustainable communities as defined above, and b) requires central government action or assistance. Communities and councils can submit proposals whenever they choose to.

2. If councils choose to use the Act by submitting proposals, they must first involve communities and citizens in their area. They must not just consult them, but also try to reach agreement with them on what proposals the council will submit. How councils do so is up to them, though it is recommended that councils set up (or recognise, if they already exist) a panel or panels of representatives of local people. These should include people from under-represented groups: ethnic minorities, young people, older people, tenants etc.

3. Upon receiving proposals, central government must consider them and decide whether to implement them. If they decide not to implement a proposal they must give reasons why.

4. Any proposal that is not given an initial ‘yes’ by the government can be taken up by the Selector. The Selector is an external independent body (currently the Local Government Association) that central government must try to reach agreement with on whether the initially rejected proposal is implemented. This means an iterative dialogue, discussion and negotiation where the final decision is taken together by government and the Selector on whether and how each proposal will be implemented. So the results of this process can lead to reconsideration or compromise from the government on proposals that they initially said ‘no’ to.

VERY IMPORTANT: Reaching Agreement, NOT Consultation

The process the Act has set up is one where reaching agreement is paramount. It is NOT merely consultation. The Act sets up a truly ‘bottom up’ process where councils must try to reach agreement with their communities on proposals to put forward. Government must then try to reach agreement with the Selector who represents all the proposals that are made. This form of decision-making is new and unprecedented in law and it is why the Act has real teeth.

The Act’s Story: how it happened and what has happened

2002-2007: Local Works, a coalition of over 100 national organisations, was formed and campaigned for the Act to become law. They mobilised tens of thousands of people to lobby their MPs to support the campaign and organised over one hundred public meetings across the country. The public meetings were packed, with average turnouts of 150-200 people, with some attracting up to 500 people - MPs were astonished.

23rd October 2007: The Sustainable Communities Act became law with full cross party support. Local Works resolved to continue campaigning in order to help citizens and councils use the Act and to ensure it is properly implemented by government.
October 2008 to December 2010: The first round of the Act is carried out. 100 councils submit a total of 300 proposals. After reaching agreement with the Selector, the government began to implement those that had been agreed to. Results included new powers, rights and government policy to help local shops and businesses, Post Offices, green spaces, local allotments, local renewable energy and local pubs. More details of what the Act’s results are on the ‘Achievements’ section of our website:

15th December 2010: The government announced the second invite for proposals.

June 2012: The government made new regulations improving the Act’s process and re-establishing the rights of citizens and councils that use it.

Ideas for proposals: Things the Act could help communities achieve

Here are some examples of what the Act could be used to help communities achieve:

§ Keeping community services like Post Offices open
§ Promoting small businesses by increasing the rate relief they receive
§ Requiring large out of town superstores to pay a local tax on their huge car parks
§ Promoting local renewable energy, e.g. by removing the restrictive barriers relating to the local grid
§ Promoting local food and other products, e.g. by giving rate relief to businesses that earn 50% of their turnover from selling local food and goods

How You Can Get Involved

1. Sign up to Local Works on our website at or by sending your contact details to, or Local Works, c/o Unlock Democracy, 37 Gray’s Inn Rd, London WC1X 8PQ.

2. Lobby your council to use the Act. It is absolutely crucial that councils hear loud and clear from their communities that they should use the Act. So please write to your councillors and the leader and deputy leader of your council asking them to “Please resolve to use the Sustainable Communities Act’s process by submitting proposals to government for action and assistance to promote sustainable communities.”

3. Make this public! Write to your local paper, local newsletters, tell friends and colleagues about the Act and urge them to also write to their councillors in the same way as above.

4. Get involved in your local panel that your council should set up when it decides to use the Act.
Note: details on how to apply to be a panel representative and how to put proposals to your local panel will be available from your council once they decide to use the Act.

lots more information at

Local Works, c/o Unlock Democracy, 37 Gray’s Inn Rd, London WC1X 8PQ office: 020 7278 4443 email:

DL 07.11.12

A Future That Works: Ending the Low Pay culture

On Saturday the 3rd of Nov, two of the Committee members attended an excellent conference on low pay that was hosted by Southern and East Region TUC (SERTUC)
There were a range of excellent presentations from:
·       Duncan Weldon of the TUC
·       Enrico Tortolano from the PCS union
·       Heather Wakefield from Unison
·       Helen Kersley from the New Economics Foundation (NEF)
·       And Andrew Murray from Unite
A clear consensus seemed to emerge that might be summarised as:
Pay Inequality in the workplace has been increasing at an exponential rate, this means that the pay gap between people at the top of companies and those at the bottom is getting bigger and bigger.      
This was borne out this week as research found that: Senior executives in the UK's biggest companies have seen their average earnings go up by more than a quarter in the past year (Share incentive schemes boost top executives' earnings)
In fact ‘real wages’ and the ‘wage-share’ have been falling consistently for many years. 
Not only is this unjust and unfair, but is actually detrimental to the economy as a whole as well, this is because as the cost-of-living is rising and pay (at lower and middle levels) does not rise to match, means workers’ disposable income decreases or disappears thus sucking demand out of the economy – particularly local economies.
Thus less spending, means a knock-on effect on businesses who then decrease staff levels to match, all resulting in a down-ward spiral.     
Some solutions to the problem were:
·       A Living Wage for all
·       A wage cap or maximum wage
·       Increased trade union membership and collective bargaining
·       Full employment
Certainly low pay is a problem for many in Hackney and should be a concern to all irrelevant of income levels for the reasons given above and spelt out brilliantly in the book: The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone
Concerns about inequality and calls for a Living Wage are certainly gathering momentum as is criticism of the government’s mad-cap experiment called ‘Austerity’, it therefore seems a good time for campaigners, community activists, trade unionists etc to get behind  these issues and increase the pressure on the government and the neo-liberal economic model as a whole! 
For more information on some of these issues please see the TUC’s Touchstone blog
And if you are interested in finding out more about joining a trade union or Unite’s Community Membership initiative.....