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Newham initiative concerning social housing

02 May 2012


From the Revd Alan Fraser

Sir, — I am not (as far as I know) related to Canon Giles Fraser, nor do I hold any brief to defend New­ham Council. I do, however, feel the need to correct two import­ant errors of fact in Canon Fraser’s thought-provoking article (Com­ment, 27 April.)

First, Newham Council is not seeking to force existing social-housing tenants who are adequately housed in the borough to move out of their homes to Stoke or Maccles­field, as he implies. Newham has 32,000 people on its waiting list for social housing. Some of these people may be existing social-housing tenants who are inade­quately housed (most probably because of overcrowding), but most are probably people who do not have any permanent accommodation at all within the borough at present.

These people cannot be adequately accommodated within the existing social-housing stock, which is full, and are unlikely to be offered suitable accommodation in Newham in the foreseeable future — if ever.

To try to help adequately house some of these people, Newham has written to several hundred social landlords outside Newham, particu­larly in areas such as Stoke and Macclesfield, where there is a sur­plus of some types of housing, and has asked if they are interested in open­ing a dialogue with Newham about the possibility of offering suitable accommodation that is currently empty to people who need a perm­anent home. That may or may not amount to an attempt at the “social cleansing” of Newham, but it is materially different from the situ­ation that Canon Fraser describes.

Second, given this, it is not true that people who refuse to move will be classed as “making themselves voluntarily [sic] homeless” (the actual legal term is “intentionally homeless”). They are already homeless; Newham is trying to house them.

Practically every local authority will restrict the number of offers of suitable accommodation it makes to people. If someone refuses more than the set number of offers (usually two or three), then the council will take his or her name off the waiting list on the grounds that it has done what it reasonably can to attempt to house him or her.

Again, this may be right or wrong, but it is not the situation that Canon Fraser describes. At this stage, we simply cannot say whether anyone refusing an offer of accommodation outside Newham will be taken off the list, because Newham Council has not reached any agreement with any social landlord yet, and no other media outlet has suggested that the council has made any such policy decision.

The underlying problem of which Newham is addressing only the symptoms is the over-concentration of economic activity in the capital. This is a problem that the additional runway at Heathrow and/or “Boris island” airport will make only worse. It remains the case regardless of the Olympics. It is fair to say that, as a general principle, London wants to keep all of its jobs, but is happy to export its homelessness.

Those of us in the provinces meanwhile are happy to help address issues of homelessness, but only if we also get a share of the economic wealth that will enable us to afford to deal with it.

Chief Executive
Birmingham YMCA
Will Steel House
109 Grosvenor Road, Aston
Birmingham B6 7LZ

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