Council’s move highlights severity of problem in Newham

A housing association in Stoke-on-Trent, Brighter Futures, has declined Newham Council’s request to take on 500 families in immediate need of housing citing fears of “social cleansing” and rise of right wing extremism.

Responding to the development, Keith Fernett, Director of Anchor House, a Newham –based homeless charity, said, “Whilst the proposal being mooted by Sir Robin Wales is clearly not ideal we believe that the introduction and focusing on the concept of social cleansing to be both unhelpful and emotive. Such a radical proposal is a reflection upon the seriousness of the housing situation generally and especially in Newham.”

“We support the recent decision of Sir Robin Wales to try and address and highlight these problems faced by homeless people every day. This is about the provision of an affordable place to live for people who often happen to be both marginalised and vulnerable.”

There are 32,000 people on the housing waiting list in the London Borough of Newham alone. As an organisation Anchor House works with some the most marginalised in the society and will continue to work on a daily basis with single homeless people and attempt to address their needs holistically, Keith said.

While the local community continues to contend with soaring unemployment, high levels of deprivation, teenage pregnancy and a second generation worklessness, Anchor House’s waiting list for new residents grows longer every day.

Anchor House is currently pursuing a capital appeal for the provision of its housing facilities with the building of 25 new move-on flats. These developments are within a climate of cuts and austerity measures which are impacting hugely on local authority and voluntary sector organisations.

Labour-run Newham council says the Government’s decision to cap Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates is “exacerbating the problem” and making it harder for low-income families to get a roof over their head. Changes to the LHA, which came in for new tenants last year and for existing tenants from January this year, has capped housing benefit at £400 for a four-bed home, £340 for a three-bed home, £290 for a two-bed home and £250 for a one bed home.

The announcement of the £400-a-week cap on housing benefit had sparked outcry last year with some MPs warning of an exodus of poorer families from expensive areas of London and other cities. The news also coincides with a survey from the National Landlords Association (NLA) last week, which found that the majority of private landlords say they can’t afford to rent to housing benefit claimants because of the caps to the LHA.

However, according to the BBC, Brighter Futures is set to block the request. Chief executive Gill Brown told the BBC: “I think there is a real issue of social cleansing going on.

“We are very anxious about this letter which we believe signals the start of a movement which could see thousands of needy people dumped in Stoke with no proper plan for their support or their welfare.

“We have seen in the past relocation putting strain on other services because the medical, education and justice systems are unprepared for an influx of very needy people.

“The result was huge, unplanned pressure on local services, the collapse of already vulnerable neighbourhoods and the rise of divisive right-wing extremism.

“We believe that, if London boroughs are allowed to export their most vulnerable and challenging families to cities like Stoke-on-Trent, then exactly the same will happen again.”

It’s understood Newham has written to the Brighter Futures Housing Association in Stoke, offering it the “opportunity” to lease homes to it, where, according to the BBC, it would pay it 90% of the LHA plus £60 per week”.

“Newham – along with other London councils – is under significant pressure. We are doing everything we can to ensure we have good quality, affordable housing which is fairly distributed. This includes helping hard working families to get into social housing by prioritising residents who are working or have caring responsibilities. We are also consulting on a scheme to license all private landlords in a bid to stamp out rogue landlords and drive up standards in the private rented sector. This accounts for more than 35% of the borough’s housing stock.

“Alongside a number of other London councils, we are also exploring the option of working with housing associations outside the borough to house people with an immediate need in the private sector, when there is no other alternative.”

Last month, homeless families in the London borough of Croydon rejected the council’s offer to move them into temporary accommodation in the North of England.

Under increased pressure to find temporary accommodation for families in need, the council recently struck a deal with an unnamed northern developer to offer accommodation to dozens of homeless households.

A Newham homelessness charity, Anchor House, is working daily at the forefront of homelessness in the London Borough of Newham in East London. Anchor House is painfully aware of the large number of people in temporary accommodation often in the private rented sector, at a huge cost.

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