|17/19 Grand Parade, 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...|
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.