Labour shows leadership on funeral poverty

The boroughs of Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth have taken action to tackle funeral poverty by scrapping all cremation fees charged for children.

The boroughs also recently agreed to offer cremations at a reduced cost for those suffering from funeral poverty, following proposals put forward by Labour councillor, Candida Jones.

Simon Hogg, Leader of Wandsworth Labour, said: “It’s right that these fees have been removed. It’s terrible to think of a parent having to bury their child. They shouldn’t face the added anxiety of how to pay for the funeral.

“The average cost of a funeral in Wandsworth is now more than £3,000. This can be hard to bear for some families. It’s positive that this proposal will help them.”

From January next year all cremation fees charged by the 3 London Councils will be scrapped for children.

funeral povery

The new scheme builds on earlier efforts from Wandsworth Labour to bring in reduced crematorium fees. This year, for the first time, early-morning cremations have been available at a reduced cost of £267, rather than the full £555 previously charged.

Funeral poverty is on the rise. Last year, the amount owed by people who could not afford to pay for their funerals in the UK was £147m, rising this year to an estimated £160m. Of those unable to pay for their funerals, an average of £1,318 was owed in 2016, rising to £1,601 last year.

According to Simon Hogg “Councils get less and less money from the government to provide services. Some councils have had to increase charges to help make ends meet. I’m pleased that Labour has been able to steer Wandsworth, Merton and Sutton in a different, more compassionate direction.”

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Public anger over plans to close Chestnut Avenue through Tooting Common for up to 6 months

Residents living close to Tooting Common have responded angrily to Wandsworth Council’s proposal to close Chestnut Avenue, which runs across Tooting Common, to all users for up to six months.

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While the avenue is closed, the Council intends to fell an avenue of Chestnut trees which line it and replace them with saplings. The project is to be paid for using a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Chestnut Avenue is a well-loved landmark used by commuting cyclists, families, visitors to the tennis courts, the playground, the local cafe and participants in the weekly Park Run event and an annual pumpkin parade.

Speaking about the Council’s decision to close Chestnut Avenue, Fleur Anderson, the local councillor and Labour’s Speaker on Community Services, said; “I strongly object to the very extended closure of the Avenue, and so will local residents. This long closure is very heavy handed. The Council, which originally said the work would take no more than 6 weeks, has not explained what will happen to the on-going users of the Avenue, including commuting cyclists and families who use it daily”.

Opposition to the felling of the trees has been vocal with over 5,000 people signing a petition to oppose the council’s plans. Continue reading “Public anger over plans to close Chestnut Avenue through Tooting Common for up to 6 months”

Why Battersea Power Station has become a symbol of inequality

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Speech to Wandsworth Council by Aydin Dikerdem, July 2017

The first time I spoke in this council chamber after being elected, I raised the issue of affordability in Nine Elms.

I had spoken to hundreds of residents in Queenstown who felt like the developments rising up all around, were not for them – and that they would soon be priced out of the area they love.

I called on the council to take seriously its obligations in making sure the developments taking place in Battersea were benefiting everyone – rather than just creating investment properties for the wealthy.

In fact my exact words were these,

‘Let us be clear, when it comes to housing we must be getting the best deal possible from developers’

Seven months later I am confronted by a decision that frankly astounds me.

This council, that is supposed to represent and defend the interests of the residents of Wandsworth, has allowed 250 affordable homes to be all but scrapped from the Battersea Power Station Redevelopment, a project that was already outrageously unaffordable. We are now down from a pathetic 15% affordable to an even lower 9%.

The excuses given this evening are outrageous – are you seriously telling us you want to talk about hard choices when this housing was just 1 to 2 per cent of the overall costs of a what is a multi-billion pound project? When the estimated profits are in the hundreds of millions?

Let us be clear to the public, this talk of ‘viability’ has nothing to do with whether the project can go ahead or not, but is about how much profit the developers will make. The council’s decision to side with the developers shows you’re not only unfit to fight on behalf of our residents, but completely out of touch.

Continue reading “Why Battersea Power Station has become a symbol of inequality”

Wandsworth’s housing crisis: unaffordable housing, rogue landlords & homelessness

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Speech to Wandsworth Council by Peter Carpenter, July 2017

London faces a Housing Crisis. When I joined Wandsworth Council in 2010 there were 350 homeless households. This year there are expected to be 1,800, five times as many.

Affordable housing, by which I mean housing affordable to a family on median income, not some spurious figure invented by the Editor of the Evening Standard, is almost unavailable in Wandsworth outside the social rented sector.

Wandsworth Council is failing to achieve its planning target of 35% affordable homes in new developments, most recently accepting a loss of 250 affordable homes in the Battersea Power Station development on the basis of deeply flawed financial calculations. Continue reading “Wandsworth’s housing crisis: unaffordable housing, rogue landlords & homelessness”

21,000 people oppose Wandsworth’s decision to cut 250 affordable homes from Battersea Power Station

At last night’s full council meeting Aydin Dikerdem, Labour councillor for Queenstown ward, handed in petitions signed by more than 21,000 people opposed to the Council’s decision to cut 250 affordable homes from the Battersea Power Station development.

Aydin hands in Battersea petition

Queenstown Cllr Aydin Dikerdem in Wandsworth Town Hall with the 21,000-person petition

Wandsworth Labour also proposed a motion aimed at tackling the increasing housing crisis in Wandsworth.

Speaking about the Council’s Battersea Power Station decision, Paul White, Labour’s Housing Speaker, said:

“local people are angry. In just three weeks over 21,000 people have signed petitions asking the Council to review its decision.”

“The £9bn revamp of Battersea Power Station has slashed the number of affordable flats to just 386, equivalent to a meagre 9% of the development. This is outrageous. Instead of providing a once in a generation opportunity to build much-needed homes for local people, the Battersea Power Development has become a byword for greed and inequality”.

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Wandsworth Housing Speaker, Cllr Paul White

“If Labour takes control of Wandsworth Council next year, things will change. The viability assessments used by developers will be made public, so that residents can judge for themselves whether a development is profitable or not and we will build more affordable, discounted and social housing for the people of Wandsworth”.

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Labour’s Housing Motion

Paul White’s full speech to Council:

 

Thank you, Mr Mayor. I, of course, remember the victims of the Grenfell fire this evening.

This motion recognises the real urgency of the housing crisis in Wandsworth, there is not enough affordability here, people are forced to accept housing solutions that do not reach acceptable decency levels, the lack of social and low-cost housing have led to some of the highest rents and house prices in the country and this council allows agreements with developers that prioritise massive profits, investment “money boxes” and easy options to renege on affordability agreements.

The minority group have continually advocated licencing in the private rented sector, to rid Wandsworth of sub-standard and dangerous housing. How is it that it has taken government legislation to extend the House of Multiple Occupation licencing scheme in this borough?

The current 695 licences issued could double with this scheme, but there are 42,000 Private rented households in Wandsworth. We would accept that in Wandsworth there are many good quality private renting Landlords, however is it really only the larger HMOs that private renters are having issues with?

Isn’t it true that some wards in Wandsworth (including my own, Tooting) have larger proportions of low grade, sometimes hazardous private rented housing, and isn’t it true that complaints from residents about conditions, lead to evictions adding to the borough’s homelessness? We mustn’t wait until an incident speeds action, we can extend licencing even further now, as in other London boroughs.

The homeless in temporary accommodation will rise by over 15% next year, with over 2,500 children affected, a truly damning indictment of this council’s housing policy.

As the demand outstrips supply, so even residents that would previously have expected to buy in this borough, are unable to. We now have two MPs who fall into that bracket and a third one soon!

Where are the affordable homes for young people earning £21,000 or under yearly and public and service sector workers maybe earning just slightly more. Public service workers will receive a below the cost of living wage rise and many low and average earners continue to see their salaries stagnate, yet this council just waves through a variation to the £1.8bn profitable Battersea Power Station development, that will mean the very homes that these workers could afford, will be in even shorter supply.

Affordable homes are not high enough in the council’s priorities, priorities that can be summed up as; “Profits for the developers and squeeze everyone else into what’s left”. And of course, let’s not forget the invisible investors who never take up the opportunity to live in their homes and don’t contribute to our community.

What confidence can we have, that developments this council negotiates will deliver the expected outcomes. Will the borough’s Housing Revenue Account ever see the money being spent on the Winstanley/York Road Joint Venture development again? What of the other developments it has agreed? How long before this council has acquiesced to the demands from the developers for entrenched multi-million-pound profits against the housing needs of the people of Wandsworth?

At Nine Elms, the development agreement includes a £26m infrastructure payment towards a bridge to add value to that regeneration. Were the people of North Battersea asked whether they want that or maybe more homes that they or their children could move to?

The good people of the Savona and Patmore estates, covered in dust and muck, seeing this multi-billion-pound development rise and their status fall. Will they see their sons and daughters being able to take up residence there? Well if the Mayor’s affordable targets were adhered to; over 2,500 more affordable homes would be built and would help to alleviate their need and maybe the inconvenience would have been worthwhile.

A Danish company will help with that bridge design and I note 44% of the Danish rented accommodation are social homes, compared with 18% in the UK. As Central Government grant for social (and now) affordable homes build has declined by 80% since 2010, this is hardly going to get better. Danish inspiration in housing as well as bridges please.

We need affordable and social homes now, plus a fairer, more regulated private rented sector so we can have a richer, more harmonised experience, where people are more equal and happier.

Well, we have a party preparing for government that will deliver such an improvement and we also have a council in waiting ready to deliver a more balanced housing policy that will be “For the many and not just the multi-millionaire developers and rogue landlords”.

Outrage as Wandsworth Council cuts 250 affordable homes from Battersea Power Station development

Wandsworth Council last night voted for a planning application that will see 250 affordable housing units cut from the Battersea Power Station development.

Under these new plans, the £9 billion project will deliver just 9% affordable homes.

Many of the remaining affordable homes will now be moved out of the Power Station site itself to a former industrial estate half a mile away.

Tory councillors at the Planning Commiittee vote to cut affordable housing

Wandsworth Tory councillors vote in favour of reducing the number of affordable homes at the Battersea Power Station site

In the House of Commons, newly elected Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova asked for the government to intervene, she said: “We have seen across London developers reducing their commitment to provide affordable homes. Developers are using viability assessments to act as a loophole to reduce the number of affordable homes being provided. For us to tackle the housing crisis in London we need to make sure developers are held to account”.

Simon Hogg, Wandsworth Labour leader, said: “It’s a truly sickening decision. Thousands of local people need affordable housing – including the 1,500 homeless families in the borough. This decision means the amount of affordable housing on this £9 billion scheme has been reduced to just 9%. That’s terrible.”

He added: “The system is clearly broken. The interests of large property developers are being put ahead of the public interest. That will change if we take control of the Council next year.”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/21/battersea-power-station-affordable-homes-almost-halved-by-developer

http://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/property-news/homes-at-battersea-power-station-blow-for-first-time-buyers-as-affordable-housing-target-at-luxury-a111481.html

Foodbank use in Wandsworth increasing at three times the national rate

Annual foodbank figures show that the number of people using foodbanks in Wandsworth rose by 16% last year – nearly three times higher than the increase recorded nationally.

The figures, released by the Wandsworth Foodbank in their Hunger and Poverty in Wandsworth Report 2016-17, showed that last year 4712 people in Wandsworth relied on foodbanks. A third of them (1732) were children.

According to Marsha de Cordova, the newly elected MP for Battersea: “Wandsworth – one of the UK’s richest boroughs – is seeing shocking increases in foodbank use compared to the rest of the country. This year foodbank use in the borough increased by three times the national rate of increase and last year foodbank use in the borough rose by 25% compared to a 4% increase across London as a whole. Clearly the safety net for Wandsworth’s most vulnerable residents is broken”.

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Cllr Peter Carpenter, Cllr Candida Jones, Cllr Tony Belton, MP for Battersea Marsha de Cordova, Cllr Fleur Anderson

Foodbanks appeared for the first time in Wandsworth in 2013 since which time food bank use in the borough has increased each year.

This year, according to the Wandsworth Foodbank “more people were referred because of low income than ever before – accounting for 28% of all crisis referrals”. The report also shows that an increasing number of households were referred to the foodbank on five or more occasions suggesting that “more people are struggling in food poverty for longer”.

According to the Wandsworth Foodbank, the principal causes of food poverty in Wandsworth last year were delays to benefit payments (39%), low income (28%), debt, illness, mental health issues, domestic violence and homelessness. The report also showed that food poverty leads to increased mental health problems and poorer physical health.

Commenting on the figures, Marsha de Cordova said: “What we are increasingly seeing is that those in work are not earning enough to meet essential living costs and feed their families. I find it striking and shocking that every ward in Wandsworth has seen referrals, even wards like Northcote which are among the most affluent in London. Not only are our most vulnerable people facing food crisis, but so too are those in work”.

In light of the 4th yearly increase in foodbank use in Wandsworth, the Wandsworth Foodbank is urging the government to improve the benefits system to “fix the gaps that cause hunger” and reconsider its policy on paying benefits in arrears. It is also calling on Wandsworth Council to “reconsider its policies” to ensure vulnerable residents have access to hardship payments when emergency financial help is needed.

In February this year, the majority Conservative Group at Wandsworth Council voted to remove the hardship payments for some Wandsworth residents struggling with housing costs. You can read about it here.

Speaking at the launch of the annual report, its author, Sarah Chapman, said: “the time we see guests cry the most is when there are parents who don’t know how they’ll feed their children”. According to agencies who issue food vouchers 87% of parents had skipped meals so their children could eat.

The report is available at https://wandsworth.foodbank.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/149/2017/05/Hunger-and-Poverty-in-Wandsworth-report-2017.pdf