Monday, 15 August 2011

The Riots and Emergency Temporary Accommodation

17/19 Grand Parade, Brighton
Readers of this blog will be aware of posts I have written on the appalling nature of the emergency temporary accommodation in Brighton for homeless, mentally ill people, people with addictions, or just people who have been placed by the Council into terrible accommodation for the simple reason that there is, in their view, 'nowhere else' to place them. In fact, it is not fair to say that everyone in 17/19 Grand Parade is even 'vulnerable'. One guy I met there was just trying to get along and get work in Brighton.

What I have seen of 'emergency temporary accommodation' is pretty shocking. More shocking to me was the extortionate amounts of money the Council hands over to limited companies such as Baron Homes Corporation Ltd, or Helgor Trading Ltd, or some other private firm, for their services to the Council. On average, per person, £200 a week was paid by the Council to these companies in order to keep a 'client' housed. This is, as we know, more than double what it costs to rent a normal studio, or even 1-bed flat in Brighton.

One thing I've noticed about the riots in London is that the tragic fires that raged through the City have turned up some gems of information in their wake and the site is now worth a good old archaeological dig. Why? Well, one riot victim, a lady called Vina, told Sky News about her ordeal at the hands of rioters in Tottenham, against the backdrop of her flat, in which only a charred bookcase was still left standing. She was asked by the interviewer whether the Government had promised her help in order to resettle and the lady answered something like this, though this is by no means verbatim:

"David Cameron has promised help to the homeless victims of these riots, but when I went to the Council and asked for help, all they could offer me was a room in temporary accommodation for £200 a week. There was no way my boyfriend and I will pay £200 a week for a room in temporary accommodation, so we'll be staying with friends or relatives. We can't afford to pay that and why should we for one room!? It would be alright if he and I were on the dole, it would all be paid for by the Council in housing benefits, but I work and so does he. I'm disgusted by the Council's response."

Now, as anyone who reads this blog will guess, what she said sent alarm bells ringing in my ears. In this time of crisis, the Council has no proper accommodation to rent out for the homeless who have been swelled in their ranks by this lady and her boyfriend. What the Council does have is an arrangement with a landlord who, most likely, runs an operation rather similar to 17/19 Grand Parade, Brighton. The newscaster was flabberghasted by the lady's assertion that the owner of the temporary accommodation in Tottenham was charging £200 a week to stay in one room - but then - he would be - because this nationwide scandal and flagrant waste of taxpayer's money has not yet been exposed or made public. It needs a thorough investigation by documentary makers at our beloved BBC in order to expose it.

The arrangement is thus: Private companies own much of the temporary accommodation in the United Kingdom. To them, it is just real estate and capitalism in action. They cram their accommodation with poor and homeless people because the Councils have nowhere else to put them (because acting as their guarantors for nice accommodation wouldn't be on because they are not "worthy"). Because of the scarce resources Council's have in order to house people, the unscrupulous landlords, owners and companies who run these operations charge something in the region of between £28-£50 (I kid you not for this is how much Diane and George are paying each in Worthing) a night for the privilege of staying in a room where you would not keep a dog and in which you will find it often tricky to swing a cat.

These private registered trading companies have Councils over a barrel - they are used by the Council in order to respond to homelessness. Quite rightly, the lady whose house was sorrowfully burnt down in Tottenham by thugs refused the Council's offer because it is a truly astonishing waste of her money. However, what she may or may not have considered is that the Council is wasting a truly astonishing amount of her money anyway, because as she pays Council Tax, she is in fact paying the Council so that the Council can shell out £200-a-week for someone to stay in the local temporary dive of accommodation owned by an unscrupulous, exploitative landlord, owner or indeed registered trading limited company. It is, of course, a stitch up, I just cannot believe I was so naive to think that this farce was limited to Brighton and was not general all over the South East and most likely the United Kingdom.

Councils are literally pissing public money down the drain by paying £200 a week to rogue landlords just to place vulnerable and homeless adults into squalour. It is true for Brighton and Hove City Council and I will bet it is also true for the Councils of London and beyond. So, there is a diamond which has emerged from an unhappy fire. I pray for the lady and her boyfriend and hope they find somewhere nice soon.

Hostels and Hotels

Anyway, back to those riots. Alarm bells rang in my ears once more this weekend when I read an article by a lady who is friends or mentors gang members in the areas of London which experienced the riots. The lady is called Harriet Sergent, I'd like to meet her if I can, and it is is by far and away the best article on the riots I have read, but unfortunately it was in the Times Review, so it is unreadable to all who refuse to pay more into Murdoch's empire. She explained quite unequivocably that the riots have been caused by lamentable education, illiteracy, absent fathers and male role models, lack of employment opportunities and the fact that all of them are better off on benefits. But here is why alarm bells rang for me:

"Men like Sweets are rare. The majority, black or white, live lives similar to Mash, Bulldog or Lips either in Council flats with their single mothers or on their own in a hostel. In his small and dingy room, Lips keeps his clothes in a black rubbish bag, Apart from his mobile phones he has no other possessions other than a towel and a framed photograph, both of which I had given him."

Hostels are no fun at all but at least they are staffed usually quite well. The question is are men that Harriet met in hostels or are they, indeed, in temporary emergency accommodation? I would expect that these men are in the same kind of accommodation that the working, more monied lady who had her flat burned down was offered as refuge by the Council for £200 a week. If these boys are indeed in that kind of accommodation then whether they worked or not, they would still never cover their rent in order to get out of these places and 'get on in life' - if, if they had the means to do so. In other words, Council policy of spending loads of taxpayers money to place single men and women into squalid temporary accommodation run by rogue landlords and companies actually has the effect of trapping those men and those women into that accommodation merry-go-round. They are condemned to live there because there is no escape from it, even if you found work - because you would actually be kicked out onto the street if you did find work because you wouldn't be able to cover your rent plus your "top up fee" for the privilege of staying in squalour.

£50 per night each at the public's expense to stay here...
George and Diane are in the process of moving back to Brighton, but things have been no different, really, in Worthing.

The Wolsey Hotel, left, acts as temporary emergency accommodation for Councils in Sussex, including Brighton and Hove. The owner, a lady called Evelyn (or 'Evil Inns Ltd', as George calls her) runs 3 or 4 similar hotels on the seafront of Worthing.

Outside the 'Hotel' is a sign that makes it appear it is trading for business, with a telephone number and the rest. Of course, if you were a holiday maker looking for somewhere to stay you'd never get in to this B&B because it ceased being a traditional B&B a long time ago. It is, as I say, 'emergency accommodation' and the lady owns 72 rooms along the Worthing seafront in three or four different 'Hotels'. She's been clever about it as well, making many rooms smaller by partitioning them to make the business more profitable, just like Baron Homes did with some of their rooms at 17/19 Grand Parade.

Evelyn charges each council £50 per night for a customer to stay at the hotel. This is double what she could charge daily for a normal customer apart, perhaps, from at weekends. She is onto a good deal, wouldn't you say? With 72 rooms she must be making approximately £1,314,000 a year. At the hotel you can't smoke, or drink, or behave as if one were 'on holiday' because it is not a B&B for tourists, no matter how much it appears as if it is - it is 'emergency accommodation' for the homeless. In fairness to her, she does at least give them bed and a cooked breakfast.

However, regardless of whether she is an evil old witch exploiting the poor or a concerned and loving neighbour who takes in the vulnerable, one thing is clear. Each Council with whom she does business is spending on average £350 a week on each person to live in a small room on the seafront. There is accommodation for that staggering amount in Brighton and Worthing, but it is at the upper end of the market and for that money you would be able to rent a 3-4 bed house with a garden for £1400 PCM

Where Ruthless Capitalism Does Business with the Welfare State

Now, if you are scandalised by that astonishing waste of public money, how scandalised do you think those who inhabit these temporary accommodations feel when they find out how much the Council is giving to these opportunistic landlords and private registered companies? Really rather scandalised indeed! Everytime George thinks about it he nearly blows a gasket! This is sheer and total Council-led incompetence that borders on corruption. There is no reason that the Councils could not act as guarantors on these individuals to find them more suitable accommodation - they would save millions of pounds a year in doing so - it is just that they do not think that poor people are "worthy".

It is plausible that I am exaggerating the case here, but it would not surprise me if a proportion of those who rioted were indeed staying in temporary emergency accommodation and were and are trapped there, surrounded by drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill people and people like themselves who had fallen through the system and into the arms of a company like Baron Homes Corporation Ltd, who are milking the Council dry in order to place human beings in dogs homes. If that is true, then I am not surprised that those people rioted. Rioting is never the answer to the problem, of course, but it would mean that there is a legitimate grievance to the frustration of many men and women, black and white, in London.

The Duty of the Fourth Estate 

Nobody should be covering the Council's arses or those of companies ripping off the taxpayer and the poor into the bargain. The public has the right to know the true nature of the temporary emergency accommodation in both London and the provinces of England, so that the grave and terrible injustice of the rich's exploitation of the poor for profit is known generally and universally across the land. Their despicable deeds must be exposed for the sake of Justice, for Heaven's sake as well as for the sake of the poor people who must inhabit these disgusting tenements. The Council offered this accommodation to the lady whose flat was burned down and out of hand she rejected it. Good for you, girl! The poor, however, have no such choice - they accept what they are given - but it must be made known to the people of this country and the Fourth Estate needs to investigate the great British housing benefit rip off being conducted by rogue landlords, companies and owners of temporary emergency accommodation in which Councils are complicit in both this crime and the flagrant waste of British taxpayer's money. I hope and pray that that day comes soon and here is the man, Robert Peston, who I hope will help me to expose it because this is not just a moral scandal, but an economic one.


Paul said...

Well done comrade, it seems that the problem here is Capitalism, an evil system that exploits the poor. All that clap-trap about marriage and broken families has been exposed - the root of social disturbances is capitalist terror

The Bones said...

I am only re-iterating similar things to what the Holy Father said in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

The Bones said...

Secondly, in saying that some may have a legitimate grievance, does not advocate their riot.

There is nothing inherently wrong with capitalism. It is not intrinsically evil - the Church has, since day one, condemned the exploitation and oppression of the poor, especially for profit.

Paul said...

So there is something intrinsically evil in it then? If the Church has always condemned a system of profiting from others' misery then it must be intrinsically evil. Unless you are doing the old 'there's nothing wrong with Communism per se, it's just that every Communist system that has ever existed tends to be evil' act. There's nothing 'intrinsically' wrong with capitalism, it's just never actually been an ethically acceptable system in practice.

The Bones said...


If you read what I said, I said that there was nothing inherently wrong or evil about capitalism. As a model it is the only thing we have. Socialism has been tried and failed (with many casualties).

What I am suggesting is that there is no reason why capitalism should not have a conscience because at the end of the day, those who are its greatest successes, like the rest of us, are just individuals who must answer to God for their actions and omissions.

Now, like it or not, money brings with it great earthly power. More money brings more power and more influence. With great wealth comes, therefore, great responsibility.

The astonishing thing about the temporary accommodation system is that the people who run the operations have no conscience. They are in receipt of hundreds of thousands of pounds of PUBLIC money. Please note that the left (unlike me) is happy to squander billions of pounds of taxpayers money for no good reason. They use their property and max out all of the money that they can out of THE GOVERNMENT. It is not, strictly speaking, a normal business, because all the money comes from the Council. They set the extortionate rate and the Council say 'Yes'.

Secondly, they have no conscience in as much as they charge this staggering amount of money but do not plough any substantial amount of money back in to show any social responsibility for the vulnerable people in their care. No, they pack them in to their properties as if people are battery hens. Even though it is obvious that what they are doing is running a homeless hostel, they won't even staff these premises suitably.

The Council, meanwhile, who are usually left wing, unlike me, waste this money when they could save the taxpayer half of that money and act as guarantor for a homeless person to live in a normal flat. Instead they perpertuate a system that benefits nobody except the owners of usually not very pleasant accommodation for extortionate prices.

There's nothing communist in what I am saying. I am not saying that the State should run it all. I am saying that the Councils are mad to spend so much, and the owners are bad to ask so much and give so little back to residents in terms of quality of accommodation.

The Bones said...

This is a time for cuts, after all. So, why not cut out temporary accommodation, place people into normal flats which are for let and assist them in finding employment so they can come off state dependence?

Paul said...

Reasons why "capitalism should [or does] not have a conscience"

1) any plc is under legal obligation to maximise profits. As head of a plc you can actually wind up in court if you fail to exploit revenue streams. That 'conscience' is at odds with the general understanding of the term. If a housing plc can make 20% extra a year by not providing a breakfast/clean blanket, they not only will, but sort of have to.

2) No one has to answer to God for their omissions, see the principal of double effect.

3) "money brings with it great earthly power...With great wealth comes, therefore, great responsibility." In what sense? I don't understand the 'therefore'. It certainly isn't a legal responsibility that comes with it. If it's a normal ethical responsibility then I would say one's obligations are not proportional to one's wealth. I have the same responsibility not to screw someone over irrespective of my bank balance. What you're saying is that people who make a lot of money *should* be nice, but they are not compelled to be. Therefore as wealth increases in the hands of an individual a person acquires more destructive power without a proportional increase in (legal) duty. If you think this is disgusting then you don't agree with capitalism (or with its advocates who argue that people should be selfish and exploitative because it leads to a better society for all.) Here we have a company being exploitative. if that isn't leading to a better society then the theory of capitalism is wrong

Paul said...

4)"The astonishing thing about the temporary accommodation system is that the people who run the operations have no conscience." So again, the capitalist dynamic doesn't work - their power doesn't in actual fact come with any responsibility.

5)"the left (unlike me) is happy to squander billions of pounds of taxpayers money for no good reason." No they're not. This is an empty political cliché devoid of any data. Government spending does not typically fall when 'the right' gets in. Thatcher spent more money that Callahan, Hitler spent a good deal more in his time that your average loony left borough. It's just a meaningless fad to say 'the left wastes money'.

6) Your analysis is wrong for the simple reason that this whole private land-lord situation can only be understood as a consequence of the decline of 'leftist' politics in Britain. It was the right (people like yourself then) who deemed that 'the market' (an ominous and terrifying force) would be better at allocating resources. It was the right who decided to dismantle social housing programmes and allow private companies to compete for the contracts. It is the logic of the right that sees extortionate fees being paid to 'the market'. If you don't like it then what solutions are there? a) Pray to a mythical being and hope these companies will develop a conscience [has never happened and will never happen] b) support the State in distributing housing for those that can't afford it, c) just don;t provide any social housing at all.

Clearly a) doesn't work, c) is undesirable, so unless you can suggest a practical alternative, you'd better get voting left again.

In summary, you badly misunderstand the histroy of social housing when you say that the Council "are usually left wing, unlike me, waste this money when they could save the taxpayer half of that money and act as guarantor for a homeless person to live in a normal flat." The local council don't decide on national social housing policies. Margaret Thatcher and the right did, and Tony Blair (also of the right) followed her. They both assumed that government provision of social services was sooooooo 1970 and that private companies would be so much more efficient. This has produced the rampant privateering and land-lordism in Brighton, not 'government spending'. Again, I ask you, if it isn't the government that is best placed to sort this mess out then who is? Where exactly will all your heroin addicted unemployed friends live? Are they all going to sleep under the altar of the church?

P Standforth said...

A very striking and important essay Bones. I'm not sure that Peston is quite the right sort to take this on, but there must surely be a journalist worth their salt. Where are the charities or campaigners for the homeless? Have they all sold their souls to the government dispensed lucre and feel unable to criticise or rock the boat for fear of losing the lolly?

Kelly said...

Laurence,you are completely wrong on this one. The problem is you make a too easy association between leftists and welfarism (which is really typical of rightist politics). Almost all histories of the welfare state point this out, but see as a starting point the article on Churchill's role in the welfare state:

As the author states: "socialism and state welfare are old enemies, and welfare overspending is a characteristic of advanced capitalist economies. Nobody doubts that California is capitalistic, and its public debt is notorious; the People’s Republic of China, by contrast, is a major creditor in international finance". As he also notes, most Fabians were horrified when the NHS & unemployment benefits were proposed, since these clearly prop up a capitalist economy. America is the most indebted country on the planet and also the most capitalist. Welfare is just another way of maintaining a large poor work force that can be drawn on by exploiters

Physiocrat said...

You refer to "ruthless capitalism". What other kind is there? But what is capitalism anyway? I mean, as a system of economic organisation? Almost nobody has ever taken the trouble to dissect it and expose its constituent parts. Marx seems to have invented the term and then using it sloppily, thereby adding to confusion and contributing to 100 million deaths.

Capitalism might well have intrinsically evil components. If it has, then "caring Capitalism" is an oxymoron. I would suggest that given the results, it almost certainly has components that are systematically evil. If these were stripped out it would not be capitalism but something else.

Capitalism is certainly not the only model available. Read around a bit.

Anna said...

Are you pro-life? Would you like the opportunity to help stop abortions taking place in London? Could you give up a few hours this Saturday to help spread awareness in East London?

Newham Borough in East London has the highest abortion rate in the U.K. (39.9 per 1000 women) and has the sixth highest number in Europe, with 2,341 abortions taking place every year. BPAS have recently opened a new abortion centre in the area, and so the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children will be doing a pro-life outreach there on Saturday 20th August. We aim to inform the local public about the positive pro-life services available, raise awareness about exactly what is happening in the area, and campaign against the new opening. Join SPUC this Saturday as help is needed to man the stall, distribute pro-life literature and engage with the public.

Meet outside Stratford Tube Station at 10.30am. We will finish no later than 2pm. Other details are on our facebook event:

Hope to see you there!

Any queries please contact: 0207 820 3140
Daniel Blackman –
Anna Gomes –
Frances Roxburgh –
Daniel Loughnane –
Paul Smeaton –

Joseph Shaw said...

Great stuff, Bones.

You can't blame Capitalism for this of course - this is state socialism in its usual crazy form. No capitalist would hand over enough money for a three-bed house in order to get a one-room bedsit. For that kind of lunacy you have to separate the people paying the bills - the taxpayer - from the people consuming the product - the tennant. That is the hallmark of Socialism.

It is often the same story with council owned property. They pay a fortune for poor quality workmanship, poor quality maintenance and absolutely terrible managment, and then stick in tennants who have no alternative. Because it doesn't work like a business, there's no incentive to improve: you have captive income and captive tennants.

You don't need Capitalists to waste council housing budgets - they are quite capable of doing it for themselves.

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