Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Accrington Observer Column - Hyndburn's housing crises

With 2013 almost upon us I would like to wish all readers a merry Christmas and a peaceful new year. It’s a time when most of us can relax with our families and friends, reflect on the year and look forward to the following year.

For some though, Christmas is time of loneliness and isolation and I think we should all make that extra effort to share a moment of our time with our neighbours; the elderly pensioner who may be alone or the vulnerable single person to who it would mean so much.

The Government’s autumn statement deliverd last week with dark nights winter up on us, brought home the chilling reality of their failed economic policies - austerity is here till 2018 at the very least. With government debt and government borrowing rising, the icy economic news continued with credit rating agency Standard and Poor putting Britain’s Triple AAA rating on negative watch – something George Osborne promised to protect.

With rising energy bills, the drop in temperature outside has been unwelcome, especially for the poor and pensioners. There is not a day goes by I don’t think about those in Hyndburn less fortunate.

Poverty in Hyndburn is rising. More families, some in work, are becoming reliant on food banks whilst the Conservatives have been accused of having to ‘fiddle’ poverty figures by the Institute for Fiscal Studies as the government have no chance of keeping their pledge to end it.

I have always been driven by the desire to help the next generation in Hyndburn to achieve their ambitions, to escape poverty. To fulfil their ambitions would not only improve their lives as they grow up, but would make Hyndburn a much better place to be both socially and economically. Every day I am presented with a much sadder reflection of life in Hyndburn.

Speaking to teachers in Hyndburn I have been made increasingly aware of the growing numbers of young children turning up to school hungry, not well kept, unable to concentrate and struggling with their education. Some of this is down to welfare cuts; some of the responsibility lies with poor parenting with wasteful household budgets or parents unable to manage their own children; children who rarely if ever see one of their parents, who never have a book read to them or experience a family day out.

I hope this Christnas day that every child has a book or two in amongst their presents – and of course a parent to read it.

There is third reason for child poverty and it is the housing crises for which we cannot just blame the Tories. Gordon Brown and particularly Tony Blair made mistakes. The dislike of social housing and promotion of the private rented sector has seen rent levels rise to almost twice the rent of Hyndburn Homes and more often than not substandard housing conditions.

One single mum who loved her kids and was doing the right thing came to see me recently. She had been forced to rent a 3 bedroomed former council house, now owned by private landlord through Right to Buy. Her rent was £600 per month. The rent at the Hyndburn Homes property next door was just £300. She was the victim of domestic abuse and her partner had abandoned her and their children. She received £425 in housing benefit - the extra £175 is being picked up by taxpayer because it is privately rented. To add to her problems the landlord refuses to carry out essential repairs and the house is in a poor condition. Nearly every case of someone living in poverty has two common elements, a greedy landlord and often an old terraced house in disrepair. The government’s Housing Benefit bill now stands at £24billion and is rising as the governments only answer to the housing crises is growth of the private rented sector.

With a thought for our neighbours or those in need, I wish everyone all the best for the new year.