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Justice for hard-up tenants; the common good; and the Living Wage

11 July 2014


From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, - I live on my pension in Tottenham. Thanks to Queen Anne's Bounty, a generous laity, and taxpayers through Gift Aid, plus the skilled exploitation of a free market by the capitalist Church Commissioners, I am secure till the end of my life, paying 25 per cent of my gross pension to them for a two-bedroom terraced house.

The bishops and clergy of the diocese of London live in church property rent- and council-tax-free. We are surrounded by insecurity of tenure and the innocent suffering of the tenants of local councils and social housing. The injustice is self-evident.

Typical cases are a single mother with two young children placed in sub-standard private temporary accommodation in Tottenham; the flat is damp. The ceiling falls in on her child's cot, mercifully not on the child. Her doctor tells the council that the family's health is at risk from the damp flat. Haringey moves her to a flat in the borough of Enfield; it, too, is damp. She does not know that she has to reapply for her council-tax benefit; so Enfield charges her account with £900 of council tax. She is therefore in arrears; they summon her to the magistrates' court, adding £70 court costs to the arrears for a liability order, putting her at risk of a very expensive visit from the bailiffs. She brings her child back to school in Tottenham every day.

Another single mother with two children has been in temporary accommodation since 2002. She has been moved eight times by Haringey Council in and out of the borough, twice into bed and breakfast in a hotel. She, too, has struggled to keep her children at the same school as their friends.

We should be protesting from our comfortable rooftops, if not on the streets. But there is a lack of formal public engagement, at every level of our diocese of London, in the suffering of the poorest London tenants. It is created by the lack of both adequate incomes and affordable housing, as well as the unlimited access of national and international speculators to London property in short supply, which forces up land values and rents, and leaves properties empty.

There are no signs of any national or local policies, from any political party, that will improve the circumstances of the poorest London tenants. Inadequate incomes, unaffordable housing, council tax, and its enforcement are creating malnutrition, hypothermia, and debt-related stress. There is a known connection between mental-health problems and debt.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus: "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"

"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19.39-40).

Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

From Jenny Sinclair

Sir, - I endorse Canon Paul Hackwood's carefully chosen words in "No cavalry is coming over the hill" (Comment, 20 June).

The work going on under the Church Urban Fund umbrella is generating hope in what my father, Bishop David Sheppard, called "communities of the left behind". In the most practical of ways, it is addressing the urgent task of strengthening civil society to counter the dual pressures of market forces and state dependency. Hope is a powerful force.

CUF's practical action supports churches of all traditions' working together, and this highlights the potential for all Christians to be agents of reconciliation at the heart of the divisions that are polarising our society - Left and Right, rich and poor, secular and faith, business and unions, educated and uneducated.

By virtue of our joint networks and shared commitment to human dignity, together we can support the negotiation necessary between estranged interests to discern solutions that work for all sections of our communities, and enable all to flourish. This is the common good in practice. Loving our enemies and loving our neighbour go together.

God knows, we need a new way of working for a just society: the polarisation of our politics is paralysing good people. As Canon Hackwood says, "No cavalry is coming over the hill": it is up to us as citizens to find our strength again, and we cannot any longer expect, nor should we wish, the state to provide much of what communities themselves could do so much better.

Some social-justice campaigning is still holding a torch for the big state, but in doing so it alienates and disenfranchises significant groups who want to help. The common good, however, offers a new approach in which all can engage; so we applaud the C of E for placing a debate on the common good at the heart of the Synod on 12 July.

Together for the Common Good
24 Lattimer Place
London W4 2UB

From Mr Rodney Wolfe Coe

Sir, - I live on £32 per week less than the so-called Living Wage (News, 27 June). I have a frugal lifestyle, and want for little.

As a young person, I was consistently told: "Education, employment, property, marriage, children: stray from this pathway at your peril." Unlike many of today's "welfare claimants", I did not stray from the pathway.

A couple of weeks ago, much media time was given to the feelings of young people in Nottingham regarding benefits for the younger generation. Why, indeed, should the single woman with umpteen children be given vast amounts of money, to waste on drink, drugs, and rented accommodation, for choosing not to follow the correct pathway?

25 Cecil Court, Upper Queens Road
Ashford, Kent TN24 8HG

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