Yet another housing scandal

Ross Kemp with a forced-out single mum, ITV's 'Living with Forced Out Families'

Ross Kemp with a forced-out single mum, ITV’s ‘Living with Forced Out Families’   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A Basildon housing worker

Part of a series directed and presented by Ross Kemp, ‘Living With Forced Out Families’ is a programme about homeless people faced with leaving their local area in order to put a roof over their head – hence ‘forced out’.

The programme tells us that 24,000 people are in this position, and highlights the housing crisis affecting London in particular.

Kemp meets Jade and her daughter Gracie, living in what was, until three years ago, an office building in Wimbledon.

It’s in the middle of a working industrial estate, surrounded by main roads with no shops nearby, never mind schools or parks.

Jade was moved there by Tower Hamlets (Labour) council as she was homeless. We see the effect both of Tower Hamlets council’s failure to build council housing, and the reality of ‘permitted development rights’.

Permitted development rights allow for the conversion of offices and industrial units into housing without the usual planning scrutiny by local authorities.

Since 2015, there have been nearly 55,000 homes created from office or industrial buildings.

Local councils and residents have no say about the impact of an increased population on schools, GP services or traffic.

Converted flats don’t have to comply with space standards, and many are tiny, with no parking spaces. Some don’t even have windows!

It is a scandal that local authorities, London boroughs in particular, are buying up or block-renting substandard office conversions, in some cases hundreds of miles from the borough, to use them as temporary accommodation for their homeless applicants.

Human warehouse

We have one such ‘human warehouse’ in my home town of Basildon, where offices above the defunct BHS shop in the town centre are now ‘housing’ homeless people from a London borough.

Kemp visits one block of flats in Bradford, where all of the tenants are from the south east. The two we meet are placed there by Medway Council in Kent, and Barking and Dagenham Council in East London.

They can’t afford to travel to visit family, so are isolated and unsupported. In response to a query from the programme, Barking and Dagenham Council blandly replies that 70% of their applicants find homes within the borough – meaning that around one-third don’t!

Under the Housing Act 1996, a local authority is required to tell another borough if it places someone in its area.

The programme exposes how this is not happening. This means that ‘host’ boroughs can’t plan properly for school places, health and social services – even if they had the resources to do this.

Basildon Council (Labour) leader Gavin Callaghan tells Kemp that Basildon had 700 ‘extra’ children in the last four years which the council hadn’t planned for.

In the absence of a fight from local councils for the resources needed from central government, and unfortunately there is no fight at present, this could lead to tension and resentment against ‘outsiders’.

Don’t expect any answers from the programme. It is worth a watch, and Kemp manages to avoid demonising or patronising the tenants he meets – which is quite refreshing.

However, the two politicians that Kemp interviews, right-wing Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh and right-wing Labour councillor Gavin Callaghan, had no answers to what Callaghan rightly called a housing national emergency.

Callaghan and McDonagh were actively hostile to Jeremy Corbyn and his programme when he was Labour Party leader, and worked to undermine both.

Kemp missed the chance to ask McDonagh why during the years of the Blair government in which she served, so few council houses had been built, and why Labour councils have not resisted the devastating austerity cuts imposed by Tory governments.