While I was on my way to visit the Focus E15 Mothers occupation at the Carpenters Estate in Stratford I passed a building site. Homes in the process of being built. A selection of suites, one, two and three bedroom luxury apartments& penthouses. The photo next to the blurb showed a very expensive and swanky looking room. Apparently over 95% have been sold. Affordable housing? Gentrification, more like! Two years ago Newham was the Olympic borough, remember that?
- Newham has the highest risk of repossession or eviction in the country, with as many as 1 in every 35 homes are at risk.
- Newham has 24,179 on council housing waiting lists
- Newham has 2,877 households in temporary accommodation
- Newham has 1,971 vacant dwellings
Stats from Shelter
And that’s one of the many reasons why Focus E15 Mothers occupied empty homes on the Carpenters Estate. The story of these tenacious and brave working class women goes back to a year ago when they were served with eviction notices by by East Thames housing association. Newham Council’s response was that these women should look for housing outside the borough such as Manchester, Birmingham and Hastings. This would mean that the women would be forced away from their support networks. A dynamic grassroots campaign was born. Women like Jasmine Stone have taken on Newham Council and the likes of Robin Wales. I was disgusted myself when Jasmine told me that when the campaign first met with Robin Wales he said he found their campaign ‘disgusting’. Disgusting is a Labour council that fails working class people and indulges in social cleansing.
When I met some of the women activists and volunteers at the Carpenters Estate I was overwhelmed by the sense of solidarity. One of the residents from the estate brought them two home-made cakes along with donating money. It’s really tapped into something positive and vibrant not just locally but nationally… It’s taken a year but what these women have accomplished has spread like wildfire over social media and citizen journalism. The occupation has brought up issues about the importance of housing, a basic demand along with affordability. Ah yes, affordable homes, just what is an affordable home?
Newham states: We have a £6.6 million grant from the Greater London Authority (GLA) to buy and develop 220 homes for rent between 2011 and 2015. We will let these homes at either traditional social rent or affordable rent. 196 of these homes will be three-bedroom family homes.
And when you read the blurb on ‘Renting an affordable home’
- either 50 per cent of the rent private landlords charge for three and four-bedroom properties in the borough
- or 80 per cent of the rent private landlords charge for one and two-bedroom properties in the borough.
So assuming that the rent for a modest flat is £1000 per month. The “affordable” rent is £800. This is rent not repayments on a mortgage so you never get the security of being an owner-occupier. In most areas private landlords screw their tenants for twice (at least) what would be the rent if the same home was a council property. This begs the question of how many homes will be 3-4 bed homes at 50% of the market rent (similar or a something higher that a current council rent) and how many will be 80% of a private rent(in effect screwing key workers who cannot afford to buy. Until we have figures for these things Newham Council’s website spiel is worth zero. These rent levels are a direct attack on working people’s standards of living. They are a way for the Council to siphon money from working tax credit and housing benefit into subsidising the Council’s coffers.
And you can see why Focus E15 Mothers occupied empty homes on the Carpenters Estate. Newham got the water switched off but that backfired as it seemed to increase more support for the campaign. The campaign is back in court on Thursday 2nd October regards to possession proceedings.
I spoke to a young woman called Jamie on Saturday, she came over from Lewisham as she had heard about the occupation and the court proceedings. She wanted to help and support the campaign. All Jamie wants is a home, ‘my home’. She’s squatted, lived in slums and a hell-hole of a hostel, warehousing people due to cost cutting without considering needs etc. Failed by Lewisham Council. Jamie sees what the Focus E15 Mothers are doing occupying homes on the Carpenters Estate as a viable option as what’s the alternative. All she wants is a decent chance in life for her and her child.
Labour has failed the Focus E15 Mothers (read Kate Belgrave’s post on the women meeting with MP Lyn Brown and Brown’s behaviour towards Kate). Labour is represented in the vile form of Lyn Brown, Robin Wales and the rest of the bureaucratic machine who don’t give a damn about social housing and contempt for the women. Why would these women support, let alone, vote for Labour? Give me a good reason as Labour is playing a repulsive role in all of this. Talking to Jamie and Jasmine about Labour and the left just came across as hollow and meaningless words. These women, and countless others, have been sold down the river. Labour lefties and certainly the trade union movement should get behind this campaign show that they are not all heartless like Newham, like Brown and like Wales.
A group of defiant working class women have led a struggle little has been written in the mainstream media but the campaign has slowly ignited over the year. It’s galvanised and woken me up from my slumber of apathy and inertia watching and talking to these very brave and articulate women. Women who Newham Council would love to see the back of but it seems they are visible and never going away. We need to keep the focus (pardon the pun) and the pressure on Newham and certainly Labour. Solidarity and justice to the Focus E15 Women….
What we can do (some ideas)
Visit the occupation
Put a motion to your union branch get them to support the occupation (outside London too)
Sympathetic Labour MP to table an EDM (Early Day Motion) on the Focus E15 Mothers campaign and social housing
Solidarity and support is vital…. The campaign will be at court again on Thursday 2nd October. Get down to Bow County Court from 10am.
The campaign is on Facebook and Twitter (@FocusE15) and very much contactable.