The author is a community activist in Lambeth
Listening to Labour politicians discuss the ending of the spare room subsidy you might think that Labour are keen to allow people to stay in their homes, especially when “social housing” is involved.
That is certainly not the case in Lambeth.
Conservative Home has reported in the past about Lambeth Council’s urban clearance of its shortlife tenants.
Now Labour-controlled Lambeth Council is to remove scores of council tenants from their current council-run sheltered housing.
Elderly residents will be expelled from their communities, friends of longstanding will be separated and many residents will live in uncertainty and fear for their futures.
All this is a direct result of decisions made – needlessly – by Labour councillors.
The story so far. Lambeth Council intends to invest in its sheltered housing. It has enough money to do so. It has receipts flowing in from properly sales, and from huge developments in the north of the borough. It also received £100.5m from the Mayor of London to invest in housing. The Council intends to invest in “extra care” schemes.
So far, so reasonable.
But rather than forego prestige schemes such as a planned £50m Town Hall campus, the council is going to raise some money for its sheltered housing by selling off some of its existing sites and investing in the remainder. Communities of old people will be broken up and “decanted” around the borough.
Elderly residents who thought they had secured their final home will have to be uprooted.
Their private stories are genuinely upsetting.
Pensioners will be removed from the parish where they go to church. Others are concerned about their beloved pets (some schemes don’t allow pets). Patients will de facto lose their local doctor. Many will be removed from the area where they have spent their entire lives.
They will leave behind perfectly good complexes of courtyards and gardens and instead will be placed in schemes that comprise long, silent corridors and which are up to five stories high.
They are being shifted from communities to warehouses.
Many Conservative councils can and do make changes to their housing stock. But if they had viable communities with space available for on-site staff you would hope they would listen to reason. Not so Lambeth Labour.
Many of the residents attended Lambeth’s “Cabinet” in early November to put their case. They soon learned about the rubber-stamp nature of Labour politics. Lambeth’s Cabinet is hugely unrepresentative of the local community in terms of its social makeup. Essentially, a collective of middle-class whites lectured, drawled and condescended to the residents, with the residents’ views heard but not really listened to.
In the case of some wards that is literally the case. For example, one of the complexes under threat is in Gipsy Hill ward. One ward councillor, the Labour Chief Whip, didn’t bother to turn up to hear the residents’ case being put to Cabinet. Another ward councillor also didn’t bother to turn up. She is a “Housing lawyer”. Fat help. The third ward councillor did turn up but said nothing.
Yet Labour politicians pose as our moral superiors, wearing their “compassion” on their sleeves.
It is not too late to save these homes. Supported housing for the elderly has long been acknowledged as a role, in part, for local government. The complexities of running housing services in a fast-expanding, land-hungry city are acknowledged.
All that is needed is a willingness on the part of Lambeth Council to look again at the economic case for each project. Councillors should give weight to residents’ views as well as those of box ticking officers. Most of the housing complexes are large enough to be viable if only Lambeth Labour would value keeping people in their homes as much as they say they do when the “bedroom tax” is being discussed.
Leading left-wing columnists who live in Lambeth have ignored this issue. Local MP Tessa Jowell is available for after-dinner speeches for a fee. But not, it seems, to speak at Council meetings where she might have to go against the “Party line”.
A u-turn by Lambeth would be an act of leadership.
Until such a miracle happens, who speaks for the vulnerable and the fearful?
Not Lambeth Labour.