Councils’ problems in finding accommodation for their homeless are as nothing compared with the difficulties of the tenants
Sir, That Newham Council is trying to export homeless tenants to a housing association in Stoke-on-Trent because of the coalition’s benefit caps and cuts is nothing compared with the problems faced by the tenants themselves (report, thetimes.co.uk).
The cases we are helping in Westminster include a family whose 10-year-old son has a terminal brain tumour, a 10-month-old boy who is receiving 24-hour support from social services because neither parent is able to care for him, and a mother, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, who has two young children, both with learning difficulties. Only one of these cases received the much heralded discretionary housing payments, which run out leaving powerless and vulnerable tenants in unmanageable debt.
Other families are deliberately overcrowding rooms to fit the rent to the cap. The stress involved increases the demands on the health and education services, the costs of which are never taken into account by the Treasury.
The Rev Paul Nicolson
Chair, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
Here is a report from our Caseworker, Yiannis Voyannis:
Ms B had been facing problems with her electricity supplier, British Gas (she owed them about £280). She is a young single mother whose only income is in the form of benefits, and whose 5 year old son suffers from serious health problems including urinary incontinence, developmental delays and low vitamin D.
We helped her apply to the British Gas Energy Trust for financial assistance, and mentioned to the Trust Ms B’s abysmal housing situation, namely the rodent infestation which has become a serious hazard to her and her children’s health. Her son was bitten by mice and had to go to hospital as a result, and she has told us that when the family are watching tv they cannot put their feet on the floor otherwise they will get bitten by mice. She has been asking Camden council (the landlord) to deal with the problem since she moved in in 2007.
We also mentioned the rent which Camden council had charged her before the place had been made habitable, while refusing to provide Housing Benefit for the flat, resulting in her falling into arrears.
In recognition of these very serious problems, the Trust awarded Ms B a cheque of £306.52 payable to the London Borough of Camden, to go towards her rent arrears.
We have also complained to Camden about the above housing related issues, but have yet to receive any positive response from them.
Z2K has pledged support to a manifesto for a family friendly London along with a coalition of charities. To campaign for this an event has been organised for families to share thier concerns with members of the mayoral teams.
You’ll have your say, then hear about how candidates plan to improve access to childcare, housing, advice services, and flexible jobs – to help make up your mind before election day. Professionals who work with families also welcome.
Refreshments and childcare provided, just let us know when you register to attend.
It will be held from 5pm to 6pm on the 1st May at the Cardinal Hume Centre (Family Services entrance), Medway Street, London. SW1P 2BG.
Register online at www.familyfriendlylondon.org.uk
The following letter was published in The Guardian this morning:
Thank you to Nick Hayes for neatly turning the Christian message on its head with his Comment cartoon (16 April), in which Jesus is saying “unto” Zacchaeus “Give not unto the poor but to thine ailing state”. The Zacchaeus 2000 Trust was founded in response to the poll tax, which took 20% of the tax out of unemployment benefits intended for food, fuel and other necessities, which were already substantially below the poverty line, while the Treasury slashed the top rate of tax. The same is happening again. The top rate of income tax of wealthy private landlords in Westminster is cut; they are evicting very vulnerable tenants and their families into temporary accommodation, then increasing the rents and reletting to people who can afford them.
But on this occasion the tax on the poorest citizens is a cap on housing benefit; that part of the rent no longer paid by the housing benefit has to come out of unemployment benefits intended for necessities, which remain below the poverty line. That is the state’s debt and deficit reduction policy. Signatures are welcome at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/25438.
Meanwhile, legal aid is cut for social security cases. Charities like ours, which work in that unjust gap because the desperate need is there, but with fury because only the state can fill it, can claim less of the tax of the wealthy from that same state. St Luke’s Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was a very short, corrupt, rich tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus walking through Jericho; meeting Jesus, he gave back to the people he had swindled four times the amount of tax he had taken and gave half the balance to the poor. The dark thought has crossed my mind that the Treasury is beyond redemption; perhaps someone could buy the chancellor a tree.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Chair, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
On Monday 21st May Z2K staff and volunteers will take part in the 10km London Legal Walk to raise money for our Relief from Poverty Fund, for which we have no specific funding. Below are two examples of how we have used a fund in the past. It is used to make one off payments to temporarily help clients with no other source of income. Unfortunately we are seeing demand for this increase all the time.
You can donate by following the link:
NextDoor is a dedicated project working to raise awareness of the impact of welfare reform on the private rented sector in London, and acting to mitigate the worst effects of these changes for low income households. We currently offer a range of services, including a specialist Housing Benefit Helpline (0808 964 0961), casework and advice service, training sessions, access to information packs and materials, and a private rented sector access scheme which aims to help those moving within the private rented sector to access sustainable tenancies with reputable landlords.
The following letter was published in the Guardian last week:
The Riots Communities and Victims Panel calls poverty a key factor that can lead to a person’s involvement in crime. The panel recommends that efforts are made to improve young people’s resistance to the peer pressure that leads them astray. That does not get to the bottom of the problem. Nowhere in the report is there any mention of the actual level of weekly income at which young people live in poverty.
A single unemployed parent has to live on a shrinking jobseeker’s allowance of £67.50 a week, or £53.45 for those aged 18-25, or on the national minimum wage, a poverty wage in London that is also shrinking. The word “debt”, and its debilitating effects on parents and children in poverty, never appears in the report. It damages nutrition, an essential ingredient of healthy babies and a good education, which is likewise ignored. Blaming the schools misses the target. Parliament needs to wake up to the fact that the current system of social security is not fit for purpose.
There will continue to be impoverished young people who, because survival and inequality are massive issues in this very expensive economy, will turn to crime.
Rev Paul Nicolson