Opinion: London’s house clearing and what the Focus E15 campaign tells us

The introduction of the Benefit Cap and Housing Benefit changes is adding fuel to the gentrification of our urban centers, throwing out many small businesses that can just afford the London Living Wage, and pushing micro urban economies into a transition that will inevitably see the marginalized and low income workers evicted from London’s salubrious centre zones.

Local Authorities (LAs) are already reconfiguring their homeless departments which, if pursued to their natural conclusion, will see changes in their service delivery because officers will have to eventually move out with their service users – starting the same homeless process all over again in the outer areas.

Many accept the hypothesis that LAs stopped building housing stock to meet people’s needs, sold too much into private ownership and merged too much stock with housing associations etc. In summary, this partly produced today’s housing crisis.

Many blame Thatcher’s Conservative government policies, but I blame the Liberal Democrats too, for failing to develop welfare and housing policies and failing to articulate alternatives.

For example, in my lifetime, I saw LAs responding to housing needs by taking over private properties and guaranteeing those owners an income. Officers placed people into these homes (aka temporary accommodation) and charged the central government via Housing Benefit. This allowed LAs to make a profit from essentially linking the demand to supply. Somehow this was ‘alright’? It must have been, because I cannot recall much opposition.

Given that these ‘challenging arrangements’ continue to take up parts of the private rentals in London zones 1 and 2, officers in the inner zones will have to source similar arrangements in ‘cheaper areas’. Those in need of housing, who cannot find a home that is within the Housing Benefit Cap, will have to move out.

For low income families, children’s schooling may have to change and access to jobs may see even longer work journeys adding another cost to the families’. Small businesses that, for whatever reason, do just meet the London Living Wage will face challenges: cut staff to pay a higher salary to a fewer number, or move the business to a ‘cheaper area’ or close down.

Some may see these changes as the most extreme result of change, while others may see ‘gentrification’. I hope our LibDem Members, councillors and MPs fight to temper these extremes, just like Focus E15 did.

Focus E15 essentially challenged their local authority when it claimed there was no social housing stock available in the London Borough of Newham. Many of these new mums with small children were going to be shipped outside of London – away from their families and support networks. These mums found the unoccupied housing stock that was ear-marked for re-development into luxury flats. They moved themselves in and essentially asked for a tenancy. The idea that there was no room in the Borough for new families on low income was demonstrated to be untrue.

The benefit cap could see many more people removed from their homes because they have lost their jobs and income – a fate that could affect any one of us at anytime – or because rents have risen beyond incomes.

Socially cleansing those on low income to make space for the rich is against the values of Beveridge. We must ensure the basic fabric of our communities and our rights to live and work freely are protected. We should pride ourselves on our mixed urban communities.

If the mothers in Focus E5 campaign has shown us anything, it is that the new system will simply exacerbate a previous system that already began to treat people as mere commodities, creaming off a profit from their need for a home.

Let us not be tempered by Russell Brand drop-ins on campaign groups or by what other political parties lunge at as a solution. Instead, let us be the party that uses evidence to mitigate the excesses of gentrification and deliver a vision for London, which should be homes for the marginalized and the wealthy.

* Teena Lashmore is the Vice Chair London Region Liberal Democrats and writes in a personal capacity.

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13 Comments

  • Fantastic. What a joy to read another article by Teena Lashmore!

    I could have jumped up and danced with joy when I read — ” Socially cleansing those on low income to make space for the rich is against the values of Beveridge. We must ensure the basic fabric of our communities and our rights to live and work freely are protected. We should pride ourselves on our mixed urban communities. ”

    Please can we have more from Teena? Her writing style is so readable and her insight is such a refreshing change from some of The Westminster Bubble stuff.

    I do hope she has been selected as a parliamentary candidate by now.

  • David Evans 17th Dec '14 - 6:46pm

    There are many challenging points in Teena’s article. One additional one I would like to add is the problem we face in South Lakeland. In many parts of South Lakeland housing prices have been driven above those that can be afforded by local people living on average wages, and the area gentrified by people retiring from elsewhere in the country and people buying second homes. However, council tax in our district is almost 20% higher than that in most of London and 50% higher than some boroughs, even though our residents receive much fewer and much lower quality of services than Londoners. Put on top of that wages which in South Lakeland are only 70% of London’s, and you can see the problem is much bigger than just London.

  • A Social Liberal 17th Dec '14 - 10:44pm

    This is blatant gerrymandering fully in the spirit of Dame Shirley Porter and her Westminster council. It stinks, it stinks to high heaven.

  • Teena Lashmore 18th Dec '14 - 12:55am

    This debate is so important. Before, I have said the London position and solutions should be for London and not used for everywhere else because the economic distortions are different outside London.
    Word count prohibited the call for building so not omited.
    Building, breaking up the monopoly in building trade, end buy2let, non tax payments, pension havens and false economy etc all part of the mess. My view is we are enlightened to the limits of open markets therefore lets apply ‘manged’ market tools for our homes.
    Thanks for positive feedback!

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Dec '14 - 11:08am


    Somehow this was ‘alright’? It must have been, because I cannot recall much opposition.

    No, it was not alright, but for many years to speak out about it would get you labelled a “socialist dinosaur” or some such words.

    What we are seeing now is the inevitable consequence of Margaret Thatcher’s “Right to Buy” policy, yet to this day that policy has been put forward as one of the most successful policies of her government and praised so much that it has been almost impossible to speak out against it. Those of us who tried know how we were silenced, told we were very bad people for denying the opportunity of home ownership to all those who would get it under “Right to Buy”, told we were very horrible and nasty people who obviously got a kick out of being in control of people’s housing and bossing them around in that way, told that we were outdated and old-fashioned for not being able to see that the state was bad, public ownership was bad, and the way to run everything in the future was to put it in private hands. Told not to worry our little heads about it because the housing “Would still be there” so there would be no problem (these are the words used to me by the Housing Minister who pushed through Right to Buy when I wrote to him expressing my concern at the long-term effects).

    People who owned housing naturally though that as home ownership was good, right-to-buy was good, and it would benefit them if more people in the country owned housing. People who had exercised the right-to-buy most obviously would react very badly to any politician who spoke against it. And because this policy was praised, praised, praised almost across the media, even people who didn’t fall into these categories felt that anyone who opposed it must not be a good sort.

    In short, opposition was shouted down. It was something I felt I myself could not say much about during the time I was contesting election for the party, because to do so would have very much damaged its vote. How would it have gone down in the ward I represented where a large proportion of the property was former council housing bought under “right-to-buy”? Before I moved to London I had contested a ward in Sussex, and lost the seat for the party, for various reasons, but one of them perhaps because I had been outspoken in the local press about property issues, and had on that account been labelled “Moscow’s candidate” by the Tories (actually Labour won it from third place, and the Tories were pushed down to third place, but I was spooked by a few “I used to vote Liberal, but never again after what you said” comments I received).

    Yet, anyone who supported right-to-buy was in effect supporting what we have now – huge amounts of funds going to private landlords under housing benefit, the poverty trap caused by high rents subsidised by housing benefit meaning people who want jobs can’t afford to take them because anything they earned would be lost in reduction of housing benefit, all the social misery and knock-on costs to the state of people being unable to get adequate housing for their needs, families broken up as adult children need to move many miles from their parents to get somewhere to live (and some of us Liberals were told we were “racist” to talk about that problem and propose family connections as a factor in housing allocation) and the costs to the state which that causes (adult children caring for elderly parents, and grandparents caring for children of working parents saves the state HUGE amounts of money).

    It was a classic example of a policy which looked good in the short term but had huge expensive long-term consequences. We have seen SO MUCH of such policies in recent decades. That is why when our right-wing government is making cuts after cuts after cuts it is finding they aren’t working because of the knock-on effects, so state spending as a proportion of GDP remains stubbornly high. What was proposed in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement this year was more of this, to a frighteningly extreme level. I mean that – when I think about that Autumn Statement and what it implies I am literally scared for the future of this country. We MUST oppose it with all our effort. Yet Clegg calls it “Liberal Demorat to the core” or some such words.

  • Malcolm Todd 18th Dec '14 - 11:28am

    A thousand yesses to Matthew’s comment above. Right to Buy was the classic “bribe the electorate with their own money” ploy and carried all before it. Of all the betrayals of New Labour leaving this unchallenged was one of the worst. (They did mitigate its operation somewhat but left the basic architecture untouched, and so easy for the New Tories to resurrect, because they were too lily-livered to support anything as “socialist” as council housing — in fact went out of their way in other ways to undermine it.)
    The consequences of all this for subsequent generations are far greater than the burden of public debt that the Tories and their best friends shed crocodile tears over; but it’s not so easy to understand so they get away with it.

  • Simon McGrath 18th Dec '14 - 1:27pm

    You can;t talk about housing in London without mentioning the actual reason prices and rents are increasing which is that the population is rocketing – up by 1 million people between 2001 and 2011 and continue to grow given how attractive a destination London is.

    So either we build many more homes ( which LD favour except generally near their constituents) or reduce the inflow (difficult and we are after all the party of the EU)

  • I was interested in the comment from William Hobhouse.

    On the face of it building more homes seems an obvious response. But when I worked in Central London on the 16 floor of a tower block I could look out of my office window for miles around and not see any obviously empty spaces for house-buiding.

    I am not an expert on Teena Lashmore’s Borough, but I doubt that there are many sites suitable for building new homes at a price that ordinary people can afford to pay (and don’t forget with homes you need schools and medical services).

    It would be nice to thnk that this is all just a simple matter of textbook supply and demand and that a greater demand will result in a greater supply.

    Unfortunately the world is not like an O-level economics lesson.

    The funding available to meet London’s housing need is outstripped by the power and the finances of large corporations, often based outside the UK or even outside the EU, whose lust for property and land for purposes other than social housing is epic.

    Supply and demand is fine if you are the owner of Chelsea Football Club, who can easily buy himself a mansion for many millions of pounds to meet his housing need. Unfortunately we are not all billionaires.

    As Teena Lashmore points out – London has particular needs which require London solutions.

    Pretending it is a simple matter of supply and demand is to ignore the facts.

  • Neil Sandison 18th Dec '14 - 6:41pm

    The bedroom tax is a classic example of Westminister bubble politics .I can say here in my bit of the midlands we all regardless of party took pride in resolving our own housing problems and cross party support existed in the provision of new homes to rent be it LA or HA .Osbournes poisionous politics of the deserving and undeserving poor has wrecked that consensus .Andrew Georges motion could have rectified some of the problems but again Westminster Bubble politics got in he way of a very sensable motion.

  • Matthew,
    Fully agree.

  • There is nothing wrong with right to buy as long as the money is put back into building more social housing so that more people can be housed and continue to buy their own homes, either through traditional right to buy or through some form of shared freehold.
    What makes housing very different from other forms of social provision is the potentiality for it to be self-financing through rent. Especially since most housing departments/housing associations are now more efficient. It has been estimated that if the land is available modern housing can be built to provide a 4% return when rented at 35% of the renters’ income. In other words, a secure investment with a reasonable yield.
    As for land, there is land available in Teena’s Borough. For example, the Labour Council is currently disposing of over half of a massive estate at Woodberry Down to private development in exchange for rebuilding older housing. This is a massive failure in political will because with some creative thinking this entire area could be redeveloped for Social housing.
    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/18/-sp-truth-about-gentrification-how-woodberry-down-became-woodberry-park
    The council will say that they are unable to build because of central government’s borrowing limits. Alright, take a look at the situation where they offer to maanage private accommodation for a guaranteed rent. What are they doing there but borrowing a house of flat for an agreed interest payment? But dont look for it on their balance sheets. There are similar ways that can be used to finance house building.
    If there is the political will.

  • Teena Lashmore 20th Dec '14 - 7:39pm

    There is many things wrong with the right to buy my friend.
    Our economy and financial systems have lifted some people out of poverty at the expense of pushing those in poverty further into poverty. The idea that you ‘own’ what nature provided for us to share is very difficult for me to understand. Being the guardian of homes I do understand.
    51% of or GDP is selling homes among ourselves. Not creating but reselling something. And that finance is 97% electronic currency. Aka imaginary economics. Its not difficult to appreciate why the tool that could be positive has been negative. In plain English, how else was some of our prime zone1&2 properties gonna full from the hands of low income into the hands of the wealthy?

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