WHAT ARE YOU READING FOR?
In the last four years, the number of times when the actions of our elected representatives and the council tipped over into that very dark space between at times perversely surreal and simply unbelievable, has been growing, steadily, and with increased frequency.
Most recently, when we visited the soon-to-open Artworks box park at the Elephant and Castle, the tour guide told us that the council library (replacing the burnt-down Newington Library) 'will not have many books as such'.
Whoa. Hold it right there.
The word 'library' comes from latin 'liber' (books = objects with words, information, pictures, graphs etc which have, for centuries, informed, educated, inspired, everyone). Take the books out of a library and you instantly, in one fell swoop, take away the right of the children to imagine, the right of the older to remember, to learn and explore and grow.
Take the books out of a library and what's left is a 'cultural hub'. Without words? A hub for mime? Dance? Painting? A hub as celebrated in the works of Kafka? Huxley? J K Rowling?
Who are the people who need the library to have less books and more 'culture'? Southwark Council? Developer? Those global investors who are buying off our city?
Is a 'hub' cleaner than a 'library'? (as in less of a place where people want to gather but more 'joyous' collective amnesia?)
If we have a cultural hub, is the rest going to be a retail hub? And then a living hub next door? Because a 'home' is far too emotional, you might get to care about it and the area it's in?
Is two or more hubs a hubbery? Or a ripoffful of hubs?
Or are they going to be retail, culture and/or living pop-up destinations?
Just what is wrong with shops? Is it somehow unclean to be thinking of a shop as of a, say, small local shop, where you go in to buy stuff you need, where you go in and the person who works there, as imperfectly human as you, may be in a good mood or may be really pissed off with everything, still recognises you and says hello and asks how you are? Would they rather be working in a metal container hub or destination, the size of a shoebox, costing the earth to rent? Would you want to 'engage in a retail activity' there? Does anyone ever?
Is it that a 'hub' can exist outside any context, and as such can be transplanted from anywhere into anywhere, regardless of specific local histories and local people? Who is so scared of people remembering? Is this why they are talking about 'Walworth Village', 'One the Elephant', 'Elephant Park' and whatever we are 'invited' to rename next, to make it less hostile for the newcomers?
Imagine if they were to say, instead, 'come and see how, after years of spinning yarns in the media about the dereliction, crime rates and general undesirability of the buildings and its people, we successfully deleted an entire neighbourhood full of life; how we convinced you, without there ever being any proof, ever, that we were doing all this for your benefit alone and not that of our global shareholders; how we rewarded our local authority friends for their services to us and not you; how we made you believe that, if you talk and engage with us, we will abandon our mission to delete and profit; how we fooled you into thinking we gave a damn about all the planning policies and your other delusions of 'democracy'; come and gawp at our luxury artisan pop up shops full of luxury goods you're never likely to need but which we want you to aspire to own, marvel at our luxury apartments and never 'homes', our biggest new park which, like our new streets, we'll claim to be public but they won't be, not really, and we know you won't loiter because we have taken the heart and the soul away, with the people, with the language.'
Would anyone let them get away with it?
FAIRER FOR ALL EARNING £60 - £80K
Only a few days before the local elections, Cllr Peter John let slip that the 'real conundrum' was providing homes for people who earned £60 - £80K a year. As it turned out, the single ward where Southwark residents earn that much is Village, which, incidentally, happens to vote Conservative. Ho hum.
We recently rediscovered this chart from 2010 (taken from here), which shows where individual political parties' policies lie, which, considering how Southwark voted, may come as a bit of a shock to some.
65% of people who live in Southwark did not vote. Not for Clllr Peter John nor any of the others. But, because this is 'democracy', a tiny fraction of a minority of people who live here get to decide for all of us.
For the last four years, Southwark has been 'fairer for all'. Needless to say this slogan caused a lot of confusion in some circles, especially if you try using the 'fair' in a sentence, eg:
'I am a disabled person on benefits. It is fair that every week I put money aside to pay the council tax rather than use that money for a meal. It is fair that, when I could not pay this tax any longer as I not eating was making me ill, I am taken to court and told to pay even more than the original tax.'
You see the 'conundrum'?
LAST MINUTE DOT GOV
In May, we joined Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth and others and transformed the Lambeth Town Hall foyer into a bedroom, in protest against a resident's struggle to get Lambeth Council to revoke their decision to charge her bedroom tax on what she claimed to be her living room. For a whole year, the resident tried to get the council to visit her home and see for themselves and the council refused to do this, continued demanding the resident paid the tax then went to court. And the judge found the living room was indeed a living room, meaning that the council will now get to give the resident their money back. This is after a whole year of wasting thousands of working hours on writing, printing and sending letters, having meetings and discussions about the case, a whole year of causing a huge amount of distress to the resident, affecting their ability to get on with their daily life, affecting the friends and family of the resident too, as they did whatever they could in support.
Was it worth it?
Meanwhile, in Southwark, a resident's benefits were sanctioned for almost a year. That's 12 months of another human being's life spent in a limbo of despair, where you are too hungry to think, too depressed to do anything, too angry to explain. Last week, the resident was due in court as his Housing Association was planning to evict him but fortunately, and literally at the very last minute, Southwark Council paid the resident's housing benefit and cleared the arrears.
On 7th, 8th and 9th July this year, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will be back in the Royal Courts of Justice, to show what reasonable adjustments they would make to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
In 2013, Mental Health Resistance Network took the DWP to court for a Judicial Review of the WCA, arguing, rightly, the assessment discriminated against mental health claimants. The judge ruled that the WCA put the mental health claimants at a 'substantial disadvantage' and that DWP should make 'reasonable adjustments' to alleviate this. The DWP appealed and failed.
In July, the DWP will be expected to show exactly what they will be doing to mitigate the disadvantages experienced by disabled people.
If you can, please come and show your support to the campaign.
YOUR HOME IS IMPORTANT TO US
In May, the Ministry of Justice published 11 years worth of data about repossession proceedings and evictions in England and Wales.
We looked at Southwark and were genuinely shocked to find out just how many people the council (social landlord, admittedly includes Housing Associations) has evicted over the years. During the 11 year period, significant majority of evictions were from social housing, compared to privately rented or where the owners have a mortgage. The only time when the ratio of social landlord evictions is less than 50% is in 2013.
Although the number of council evictions is dropping, the council and housing associations evicted 108 families in the first quarter of 2014, which is a worry.
It is impossible to tell how many of these are due to the rent arrears caused by the 'fairer for all' bedroom tax and council tax. Or how many of those evicted were passed onto a different London borough or a different city altogether, how many were forced into unsuitable temporary/emergency accommodation, hostels etc.
The picture, as we wait for the 11,000 council homes at some indefinite point in the future, is not just grim but quite menacing, especially in the context of the relentless bargain sale of existing council land and council stock across Southwark.
AYLESBURY IS DIFFERENT
The regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate is in full swing. In May, Notting Hill Housing Trust, who have been granted the contract to redevelop the area (and, in the process, rename it into...?) held an exhibition of the masterplan proposals which showed how a local authority, when it sets its mind to it, can lose 600 homes and not blink once.
Aylesbury will not be another Heygate, they told us, and, had we just landed from another planet, we may well have believed them. Except that we happen to know that Cllr Fiona Colley chairs the 'community interest' company that is Creation Trust (successor to Aylesbury New Deal for Communities, a much-loved Blairite initiative), that, much like on the Heygate, the residents' voices and concerns were systematically downplayed and/or ignored.
This Saturday, 7th June 2014, we are hosting a screening of 'Concrete Heart Land' and discussion, at Pembroke House, primarily to give people who live on the Aylesbury an opportunity to talk about what's been happening.
Because of those missing homes.
ESSENTIAL VIEWING AND READING
Peckham Job Centre is not pleased (video)
Almost 50 questions on gentrification in Peckham
DATES FOR YOUR DIARIES
Tuesday 3rd June, Lambeth College UCU goes on indefinite strike action against new contracts
Tuesday 3rd June, 18:00, Justice Denied, screening of Ken Fero's documentary about Joy Gardner, Kwanele Siziba and Joseph Nnalue, at Brixton Community Base (lower hall), Talma Road SW2. Discussion will include Ken Fero and Joy Gardner's mother.
Tuesday 3rd June, 19:30, Radical Urban Reading Group at the Sun of Camberwell
Wednesday 4th June, 09:45 – 11:30, Southwark Benefits Justice Campaign leafleting against sanctions outside A4E, 21 St Georges Rd SE1 6ES
Wednesday 4th June, 17:30 – 19:30, Southwark Commons reading gentrification
Thursday 5th June, 07:30 – 08:30, Leafleting to support a YES vote in the ballot for industrial action against the NHS pay freeze, outside King's College Hospital A&E, Bessemer Rd SE5
Saturday 7th June, Walworth Heritage Day
Saturday 7th June, 15:00 – 17:30, Concrete Heart Land at Aylesbury
Tuesday 10th June, 19:00 Children of the Revolution at Peckham Liberal Club
Thursday 12th June, 18:30, Launch of Anti-gentrification handbook
Monday 16th – Saturday 21st June, The Spark
Wednesday 18th June, Southwark Commons at the Feminist Library
7th, 8th and 9th July, Work Capability Assessment back in the courts
WHAT DO THEY KNOW?
Some of the things people asked Southwark Council to provide information for:
Active travel and leisure facility spending, awaiting classification
Agency spend in children's centres and nursery schools, information not held
Cherry Garden School, delayed
Contract spend for social work staff, successful
Council housing and homelessness, awaiting response
DBS information, awaiting response
Empty residential properties in Southwark Borough, awaiting classification
Enquiry about amount paid to SitexOrbis, partially successful
EU migrants must earn £150 a week for months before claiming benefits, awaiting internal review
Granted planning permission, awaiting response
Housing statistics, awaiting classification
Information regarding assessments carried out by Authority, successful
Information sharing within the Council, awaiting response
Leaseholders and tenants' complaints made about Southwark Borough Council Housing unit, successful
Management of residential units within the Authority, awaiting classification
Parking permit costs, awaiting response
Price of sale of land off Woods Road, Peckham, awaiting classification
School cluster groups, awaiting response
Social care of disabled children, awaiting classification
Southwark Council/Kitewood Tuke Site contract, awaiting response
The Artworks box park – permissions and negotiations, partially successful
Transport for disabled children, awaiting classification
Trends: ethnicity and religion, awaiting response
Tuke School and MR Scaffold site, awaiting response
Under-occupancy policy for old people, awaiting classification
Web site visits, awaiting response
PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF SOUTHWARK ARCHIVE
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Elephant and Castle
Elephant and Castle II
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