Increasing access to NHS services out of hours is essential if we are to reduce avoidable hospital admissions and provide more community based care. However, the NHS is, at heart, a service built on the commitment and skill of its staff, and it is vital to negotiate changes in staff working arrangements in a constructive way. The proposed new Junior Doctor’s contract has been described as ‘unsafe and unfair’ by the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have stated that this could be ‘gravely damaging to the health and wellbeing of children’ and ‘adversely affect recruitment, retention and the morale’ of junior doctors. Here’s my letter and an article by Shadow health Minister Heidi Alexander:
”I believe that the Government’s current approach is completely the wrong way forward and that they should be working with the BMA and junior doctors to find a fair agreement that avoids the threat of industrial action.
Junior doctors are vital to the future of the NHS and it is clear that if we want to move toward a seven-day NHS and improve patient care we need to ensure that the staff we rely on are supported and valued. So it is very worrying indeed that the BMA have described the proposed contract as ‘unsafe and unfair’ and that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have stated that this could be ‘gravely damaging to the health and wellbeing of children’ and ‘adversely affect recruitment, retention and the morale’ of junior doctors.
I also fear that, rather than addressing the real strains that our NHS is currently facing, the Government are punishing staff for their own financial mismanagement of the NHS. We had an unnecessary and very expensive re-organisation in 2012, for example, and agency costs were rocketing at time when our own nurse training places were being cut.
I believe the Health Secretary should now withdraw the threat of imposing a new contract and re-engage in a meaningful dialogue with the BMA and NHS staff. The Government also need to accept that compromise is necessary to reach a fair settlement and come forward with a better deal that ensures patient safety is not put at risk. “
Obviously our Shadow Health Minister is leading on this and I have copied her recent article on it below
Recent reports suggest the government may be backing off under pressure - so let’s keep the pressure up
Increasing access to NHS services out of hours is essential if we are to reduce avoidable hospital admissions and provide more community based care. However, the NHS is, at...
We are all better served by having international trade rules than by not having them but they have to be properly balanced and fair.
TTIP proposals must receive proper scrutiny at both a UK and EU level and that any final deal must have transparency and accountability at its heart. I was disappointed that the Coalition Government paid such little attention to these concerns and I believe it is important that the current Government ensures they are covered in the negotiating process.
I support the principles behind the negotiations on TTIP and I believe there are ways the agreement could bring significant benefits to Britain. It is absolutely vital, however, that the benefits of TTIP filter down to employees, small businesses and consumers, that the deal is open and accountable and that it does not water down current labour, consumer, environmental and food safety standards.
There has been particular concern recently about the potential impact of TTIP on consumer safety standards following recent allegations that the car industry withheld a report suggesting safety standards in some US cars are lower than in the EU. I recognise how important these concerns are given the excess deaths caused by air pollution, and in my view we should not be prepared to accept any deal that does not protect consumer safety standards.
I fought the General Election on a manifesto that recognised the potential benefits of TTIP but emphasised that any final agreement needs to ensure that the NHS is protected and that it also promotes decent jobs and avoids ‘a race to the bottom’. Labour MEPs have also made the case strongly in the European Parliament to exclude public services – including our NHS – from TTIP negotiations and to ensure workers’ rights, environmental standards and food safety standards are protected.
The Government must listen and respond to these concerns. I can assure you that I will continue to work with my colleagues to press the Government to ensure that TTIP delivers the jobs, growth and fairer deal for consumers.
We are all better served by having international trade rules than by not having them but they have to be properly balanced and fair. TTIP proposals must receive proper scrutiny...
11 million people have fled their homes as a result of the Syrian civil war- the vast majority are sheltering elsewhere in that shattered country, or in Turkey (2 million), Lebanon (1.1 million), Jordan (650,000) and Iraq (250,000). This year, around 500,000 have entered Europe, 400,000 of them via Greece. In addition, refugees continue to flee conflict and vicious repression in Afghanistan and Eritrea, amongst others, and separately, poverty and state failure are also driving migration from parts of Africa and the Indian Sub-continent. The crisis in the Mediterranean- where an estimated 2,600 people have drowned this year attempting to cross both from Libya and from Turkey- demonstrates the appalling risks facing people who see no safe or legal means to claim asylum.
The UN refugee agency says a loss of hope and appalling living conditions are major factors behind the recent spike in the number of Syrian refugees from the region seeking asylum in Europe. Last month, David Cameron was forced to back down and accept 20,000 Syrians over the next 5 years, having admitted fewer than a hundred through an earlier scheme. This is welcome but insufficient and more must be done. However, it also right that that we should be supporting refugees close to home wherever possible, and play our full part in a wider response which includes proper facilities for processing applicants arriving in countries like Greece. Individual claims have to be swiftly and properly assessed so that refugees from war and persecution get the help they need, while those seeking to travel to Europe for work are discouraged from making the dangerous journey, and the people trafficking gangs that exploit this desperation are tackled effectively. The distinction between refugees fleeing war or persecution and those wanting a chance to build a decent life is not always as clear cut as everyone would like, but there is a difference and policy approaches to the two issues are therefore different.
Ultimately, solutions lie in ending conflicts such as the hideous civil war, minimising the impact of other factors in migration such as climate change and poverty. Neither are easy, to say the least- 14 years after the campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda began in Afghanistan, fighting continues and refugees continue to leave- yet conflicts do end and global poverty has been reduced. There is an urgent need to put new life into a Syrian peace initiative, including safe havens for Syrians within the country’s borders. ISIL is a vile organisation that the world cannot ignore. But air strikes against ISIL , in the absence of a much broader approach to Syria will fail to deal with the wider problem, not least since most refugees are fleeing Assad, not ISIL. In the last few days, of course, the dramatic scale of the Russian intervention seems to have set back any early hopes of creating safe havens backed by ‘no-fly zones’ and the situation is changing almost by the hour. This is bad news, but it doesn’t change the essence of what we need.
We need effective action to tackle ISIL/ Daesh, the creation of Safe Zones in Syria to shelter those who have had to flee their homes; the referral of suspected war crimes to the International Criminal Court; increased humanitarian aid to those who have fled to neighbouring states; an international agreement for countries to welcome their share of Syrian refugees; and a major international effort bringing together Russia, Iran, Gulf and neighbouring states, the United States of America and Europe to agree a post-civil war plan for Syria.
11 million people have fled their homes as a result of the Syrian civil war- the vast majority are sheltering elsewhere in that shattered country, or in Turkey (2 million),...
I wish everyone a happy Shana Tova and all the best for the New Year.
Karen Buck MP
I wish everyone a happy Shana Tova and all the best for the New Year. Karen Buck MP Read more
There cannot, of course, be any response which satisfies the deeply and strongly held convictions of people on both sides of this contentious debate. Whilst having deep sympathy with the desire to end intolerable pain and suffering; and to respect the wish of adults to take crucial decisions about their own lives, I remain worried about the safeguards for preventing abuse.
My instinctive position has been towards leaving matters as they stand, with the judicial system determining whether or not individuals who have taken steps to assist others in ending their lives should face prosecution.
And yet…. the Bill brought forward by Rob Marris does seem very well balanced.
As he says:
The Bill has a clear process, with multiple safeguards. It covers:
1. A patient who is “terminally ill”; i.e. life expectancy of less than 6 months. (Hence those with disabilities, however serious, are not covered unless they also have a terminal illness.)
2. The patient must be aged 18 or over.
3. The patient must have been ordinarily resident in England or Wales for at least one year.
4. The patient must be of sound mind. (Hence dementia patients for example are not covered)
5. The patient voluntarily (i.e. not coerced) signs a declaration that they wish to end their own life.
6. The patient’s own doctor counter-signs the declaration that the patient is terminally ill and of sound mind and acting voluntarily.
7. An independent specialist doctor counter-signs the declaration that the patient is terminally ill and of sound mind and acting voluntarily.
8. If a doctor has a conscientious objection to any of this, then he or she does not have to participate in any way.
9. Upon the application of the patient, a High Court judge agrees that the patient is terminally ill and of sound mind and acting voluntarily.
10. After the court order, there is a 14 day cooling off period.
11. After that cooling off period, the doctor takes the medicine to the patient, and waits there.
12. The patient must choose: to take the medicine themselves, or to change their mind and not take it.
13. NOTE: the medicine is self-administered by the patient, and by no-one else – not by any third party (e.g. not the doctor, not the spouse).
14. If the patient decides not to take the medicine, the doctor leaves and takes the medicine away – i.e. the medicine is not left with the patient.
15. The Chief Medical Officers must monitor the operation of the Act and submit an annual report which must be laid before Parliament/the Welsh Assembly.
16. The Bill does not cover Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Of course, prescribing that that the patient acts voluntarily and without coercion remains the nub of the matter- it is easy to state, less easy to ensure in practice. However, the number of safeguards built in to the procedure should act as a robust check against abuse, and ultimately, it comes down to a choice between two unpalatable risks: the risk of coercion on the one hand, and that of denying adults in sound mind the choice to make this most fundamental decision of all in the face of a terminal illness and imminent death.
I have not yet made a final decision and am continuing to study the details of the Bill and to consider the views of constituents but at this stage I am minded to support it.
Thank you again for your views
There cannot, of course, be any response which satisfies the deeply and strongly held convictions of people on both sides of this contentious debate. Whilst having deep sympathy with the...
Thank you for contacting me with regard to illegal and unsustainable timber and the related WWF UK campaign.
I appreciate your concern about this important issue and I know that organisations including WWF UK have called for stronger action to ensure the timber market is more sustainable.
The previous Labour Government had a strong record on the environment and climate change and was one of the first countries to place an obligation on Government bodies to purchase legal and sustainable timber. The previous Labour Government was also a strong supporter of additional legislation within the EU for a ban on illegally logged timber and was actively involved in developing Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) between the EU and timber producing countries. VPAs aim to help stop illegal logging by driving improvements in the regulation and governance of the forest sector.
As I am sure you are aware, the EU Timber Regulation came into force in 2013 and prohibits the placing of illegally harvested timber and timber products on the EU market for the first time. During the last Parliament, the Coalition Agreement believed the EU regulation, combined with the VPA process, was sufficient to help eradicate illegal timber from the UK market and support global efforts to tackle illegal logging and deforestation. However, as you know, the regulation only applies to timber when it is placed on the market and if illegal timber is already on the EU market, it is legal to buy or sell it.
It is important therefore that the EU look at this issue and any further action that is needed. Indeed, the European Commission recently held a consultation on the effectiveness of the EU Timber Regulation, which closed on 3 July and a report will be submitted to the European Parliament in December. The current Government state it has recommended the scope of the EU Timber Regulation should be increased to cover a wider range of timber and timber products. I believe we must await the outcome of the European Commission's review and the Government's response but I hope the UK Government will press for improved implementation of the EU Timber Regulation across the EU.
I have already signed Early Day Motion 65 as I believe a global agreement is needed to halt biodiversity loss and protect the world's remaining forests and I can assure you I will press the Government to push for strong international action to tackle the trade in illegal and unsustainable timber and end deforestation.
Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.
Karen Buck MP
Thank you for contacting me with regard to illegal and unsustainable timber and the related WWF UK campaign. I appreciate your concern about this important issue and I know that...
Thank you for contacting me with regard to ending violence against women and girls.
I share your deep concern about this extremely important issue and I agree it is vital that the international community redouble efforts to tackle and eradicate violence against women and girls. Indeed, Action Aid emphasise that one in three women will experience violence at some point in their lives and that this remains one of the most widespread human rights abuses.
I believe that the UK Government should continue to play a central role in international efforts to address this and push for the inclusion of a clear target in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls around the world.
As I am sure you are aware the UN Open Working Group has included a target (no. 5.2) in their draft SDGs to achieve this. I know has been welcomed by aid organisations including Action Aid and I hope that this target – and the wider goal to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ – will remain in the final SDGs when they are agreed in September. The UK Government have also recently stated that they will push for this goal to be retained in the final SDGs.
I know that Action Aid have also called for adequate financing to be put in place to ensure this goal can be achieved. I agree this is important and believe that, more broadly, the final SDGs should be bold, ambitious and inspiring so that they rise to key challenges such as universal health coverage, human rights and climate change.
As well as tackling violence against women and girls in developing countries, I believe we need to do more to more to address this issue at home. Indeed, two women a week in the UK are killed by a current or former male partner and at least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence.
I believe the Government need to do more on this, and that is why I fought the last General Election on a manifesto that included plans for a Violence against Women and Girls Bill, to appoint a commissioner to set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence and to provide more stable central funding for women’s refuges and Rape Crisis Centres.
I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely and support steps to tackle and eradicate violence against women and girls in the UK and worldwide.
Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.
Karen Buck MP
Thank you for contacting me with regard to ending violence against women and girls. I share your deep concern about this extremely important issue and I agree it is vital...
In response to your recent email regarding resident concerns in and around the Maida Hill/piazza area, please find below an update on the work currently being undertaken across this department to address these issues.
We have a number of local teams working jointly to respond to concerns raised, including local City Inspectors, response teams working outside of core hours, Market City Inspectors, and the local Neighbourhood Problem solving Coordinator, Debbie Heath. These teams are in regular contact with the local Police teams and waste services.
Activities are controlled during market hours through :
- Controlled drinking signage and communication with street drinkers to encourage them to move away from the area voluntarily
- Market traders warned about using street drinkers for cheap labour
- Police intervention through verbal warnings, de-canning and Community Protection Notices
Whilst this has assisted with reducing daytime numbers, after the market closes it becomes an open space with seating which makes the location desirable for groups to congregate and drink. In terms of a forward strategy the removal of benches would assist, but it is recognised that this would disadvantage other residents.
I have now asked for a problem solving plan to be prepared and implemented, which will include a series of proactive measures to supplement what is already underway.
- The local police team will look to increase resources to facilitate more regular patrols to deal specifically with street drinking and associated behaviours.
- The City Inspectors will carry out ad-hoc inspections to disrupt activity, enforce litter offences if observed and monitor any anti-social behaviour reported – during day, evening and night time shifts.
- A letter will be distributed to local off-licences regarding the sale of high strength alcohol to those who are already intoxicated or known street drinkers. This will also include education and follow up work in respect of their licences where there has been a failure to comply.
- Contact will be established with outreach services to ensure that those who are vulnerable or have mental health issues are receiving the correct levels of support.
- All City Inspectors are being trained to issue Community Protection Notices (under the new ASB legislation) , and are being encouraged to issue formal warnings and notices for ASB linked to street drinking.
Waste and cleansing:
Waste and cleansing for the market traders has been reviewed already, and enforcement monitoring has been carried out frequently through the various teams. Enforcement action will continue where evidence can be found that links waste to a particular business or individual.
Action taken so far:
- The City Inspector for the market regularly monitors waste throughout the trading day. Enforcement action has been taken against a couple of local businesses found to be in breach of their duty of care. This has resulted in subsequent compliance and sign up to authorised waste carriers for legitimate waste disposal.
- The market waste bin has been changed to a lockable bin that can only be used by the market traders. Traders have also been reminded of their duty of care.
- A specific collection point is used for market traders waste in line with the Harrow Road collection time band. During monitoring, a City Inspector from the 24 hour team observed a local business dumping raw meat and cardboard with the market waste, the business has been reported for the offence and prosecution action is being pursued.
- City Inspectors (Residential) have been carrying out early morning sweeps over the past month in the Harrow Road area to tackle waste related breaches.
- City Inspectors (Residential) have been visiting local businesses to request evidence of waste transfer notes. Failure to provide the documentation will result in notices issued which can be followed up through penalties and/or prosecution action.
- City Inspectors (City Co-ordination) will carry out ad hoc enforcement operations to tackle any waste issues in the evening and during the night time (including Goldney Road)
- City Inspector (Markets) to continue daily monitoring/review of traders waste and others during market hours. Market recycling requirements will also be reviewed.
- Extension of the market – cleansing requirements will be reviewed in line with any increase in trader numbers.
The Environmental Health team carry out a number of checks before food traders are permitted to operate. The checks include the following:
- Trader operates in accordance with a written food safety policy (as required under The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013)
- Trained to at least CIEH Level 2: Food Safety in Catering or equivalent
- Unit structurally suitable, e.g. preparation surfaces, facilities for hand washing, canopy made of fire retardant material etc.
- Suitable storage facilities and refrigeration if required (cool boxes often sufficient)
- Gas and electrical inspection certificates if using electricity and/or gas equipment
Operators are also advised that the amount and type of cooking carried out on site must be such that it does not cause odour, smoke or fume nuisance to local residents, other traders or commercial premises in the area.
Once a trading licence is granted the traders are subject to regular inspections based on the Code of Practice under the Food Safety Act 1990. Inspections are also carried out following specific enquiries regarding a pitch or complaints.
Whilst owned by the City Council, the public conveniences are managed through a contractor. An inspection of the facilities has already been carried out and a report submitted to the contractor for immediate improvement.
I hope this goes some way to reassure you that regular operations are underway, and we are continuing to look at other approaches to manage the community’s concerns in relation to the market area.
Public Protection and Licensing
Westminster City Council
Dear Karen, In response to your recent email regarding resident concerns in and around the Maida Hill/piazza area, please find below an update on the work currently being undertaken across...
Whether measured by unmet housing need, the human and financial costs of homelessness or the pressure of maintaining viable mixed communities, Westminster (..London, the country…) is locked into a housing crisis. The national, London and local housing strategies currently being implemented are wholly insufficient to the challenge and are in some cases making matters worse.
Too few homes, especially affordable ones:
It is worth remembering the conclusions of last year’s Ramidus report into the Prime Residential market in Westminster- commissioned by the Council- which said:
“Westminster already has a severe shortage of affordable housing, a growing population, a very large and growing economy, and intense demand pressure from UK and overseas buyers and renters. It is inevitable that high prices are being driven ever higher, and that the cost of a home in Westminster is moving further from the reach of Londoners with ‘ordinary’ incomes.
It is striking that the borough has been losing lower income social groups; and the question that arises is whether this attrition is sustainable, without compromising Westminster's capacity to service itself?”
“The Local Housing Market Study identifies a requirement for delivery of around 1,180 social housing units each year over the next 5 years (2014-19), if the CoW was to clear its backlog in 10 years. In addition the LHMS identifies a need for intermediate housing over the period 2014-18 to of some 1,300 homes (260 homes per annum). Taking into account intermediate homes under construction and in the pipeline there is a requirement for provision of 355 intermediate homes per annum during the next 5 years.
Westminster has identified capacity for development of 1,068 new homes per annum through the London-wide SHLAA. If affordable homes account for 24% of completions as they have in the past 10 years, and this level of overall housing delivery is achieved, then about 255 additional affordable homes would be developed each year. This may be compared to the need for 573 affordable homes per annum identified in the LHMS over the long term, and the need for 1,180 social housing units over the next 5 years (2014-19)” (Wessex Economics: Westminster Housing Market analysis Dec 2014)
Westminster Council’s last Annual Supply and Allocation report confirmed the scale of the shortage of social housing- there were just 859 lettings in 2013/14, despite their being 2200 homeless households alone, even before taking over-crowding; medical needs and other drivers of need into account.
Social housing is a stable and cost-effective housing option, especially when viewed in the context of the exponential rise in Housing Benefit and the instability of life in the private rented sector. Yet the share of Westminster’s housing stock that is socially owned has fallen from 32% in 1986 to 23% now. The de facto shift of around 6000 housing units out of the social and into both the owner-occupied and (more crucially) private rented sectors over recent decades has directly contributed to the undermining of stable communities and to the high cost of homelessness = estimated to have cost Westminster over £100 million since 2010 alone.
So we need more homes, but especially more genuinely affordable homes both to rent and to buy, if the city is to remain economically and socially viable, and if Westminster is to meet its share of its obligations to those in housing need.
As the independent report by Wessex Economics study of the Westminster Housing market says:
“there is a case for seeking to house low to middle income households in Westminster in terms of ensuring that those with long-standing community connections in Westminster can continue to live in the City, ensuring stability in local communities, and in the case of intermediate rented housing, a more stable form of tenure than private renting”
The Council also needs to develop a strategy for dealing with the implications of the growth of the Private Rented sector, which now accounts for close to half of all local properties. Much of the PRS locally is high value and in good condition, catering to international and business requirements. However, Increasing pressure is being generated via the short-let/tourist industry, especially in areas like Bayswater and Lancaster Gate. Even excluding short lets, the expansion of the private rented sector has an impact on communities and public services, high turnover, high cost and (at the bottom end of the market) some very poor conditions.
I support the key points made by my Labour councillor colleagues in their submission:
“The draft Westminster Housing Strategy sets out a target of 250 per year (1,250 over 5 years) for the building of new affordable homes. Thought not currently stated in the document the Council says that this refers to building inside Westminster, and Labour asks that this be formally clarified in the strategy. Westminster has decided to set a 250 per year target despite the strategy admitting that there is (at least) a 420 per year need for new affordable housing in Westminster, while over 6,000 households are waiting, on heavily restricted lists, for new social and intermediate housing. The Mayor’s London Plan sets out a 1,068 per year overall house-building target for Westminster and a London-wide target of 17,000 affordable housing units annually. This means that Westminster’s current plan would see just over 23% of the new-build housing in Westminster be affordable, contributing only 1.47% towards London’s annual affordable housing target.
There is therefore a gap of 7% between proposed new affordable house-building and Westminster’s planning policy target of 30% or more of all new housing development in the city being affordable. This gap will in part be plugged by the council purchasing properties from housing associations and the private sector. While helpful in housing management terms in particular circumstances, housing buyback should not be such a significant part of Westminster’s current and future new affordable homes strategy, particularly at such a low proposed level of new build, as they are not truly ‘new housing’”
1. ….Greater ambition in securing more genuinely affordable housebuilding. This should include:
- A higher percentage of new homes being affordable. Westminster’s current plan would see just over 23% of the new-build housing in Westminster being “affordable”, and that is on the narrow definition of affordability now in use.
- An affordable housing target of 40%, not 30% of new developments. The 30% affordable housing target itself is the core of the problem with the proposed strategy. This is lower than in any other Inner London Borough. 40% (427 out of 1,068) is not an unreasonable starting point for a housing target, given that the majority of inner London boroughs (including our tri-borough partners) have set this goal or higher.
- Whilst there is undoubtedly a need for additional ‘intermediate’/ sub-market properties, for rent and for sale, there is no justification for reducing the proportion of social housing in new developments, given the scale of need and the human AND financial cost of failing to meet it.
- A more realistic definition of what is ‘affordable’—properties are not ‘affordable’ when they require an income of £80,000 in order to cover the cost whilst spending no more than 40% of household income on housing.
- Following the example of other local authorities now pressing more strongly on developers’ viability assessments, to ensure that the process is more rigorous and transparent.
2.……To avoid making a bad situation worse through further loss of stock- particularly family-size homes- as a result of forced sales of social housing to fund HA ‘Right to Buy’ (and other disposals). Exact figures are not yet available but lettings would be at least halved under current proposals- and possible worse. The replacement ratio for properties sold under Right-to-Buy is around 1 in 11- it is simply unrealistic on the basis of past performance to believe that sales will be balanced by local, equivalent replacement.
3. …..Tougher action to ensure vital housing stock is not lost in scale to the ‘short let’ hospitality industry. The government has enacted measures in the De-regulation Bill that make it easier for owners to let their properties for up to six months in a single year, without the safeguards Westminster Council demanded. This creates opportunities for the systematic use of property for these purposes- not a ‘casual holiday let’, but a commercial venture. There should be renewed efforts to get these safeguards.
12% of Westminster properties do not have anyone registered as a permanent resident. This is socially damaging and represents a poor use of homes. We need stronger action against ‘buy to leave’ investment and empty homes, again in line with good practice in other London boroughs.
In the light of recent revelations concerning alleged money-laundering and related criminal activity in the top end of the London residential marker, Westminster should be taking a lead with the government to lobby for tougher rules governing disclosure of and company ownership of property.
4. …….A far better deal from the government in respect of Discretionary Housing Payments to cope with the impact of the Household Benefit Cap and other benefit cuts (there are still 817 households affected by the Bedroom Tax 2 years in, and new additions all the time) on households in housing need. Westminster has already had to contribute £1.1 million this year to cover for reduced Government funding. These pressures are certain to intensify with the proposed reduction in the Household Benefit cap and LHA freeze, and as more new households become subject to the Bedroom Tax over time.
Westminster should also agree to exempt Disability Living Allowance from any income calculations when making DHP decisions.
5. …..A comprehensive assessment of the impact of homelessness and housing need in Westminster on health, well-being, educational achievement and life changes. Homelessness, over-crowding and housing need cannot be seen solely as a housing problem but in the context of public health, child welfare, education and economic development.
At last count, Westminster had 2420 households in (expensive, unsuitable, often ex-Right to Buy) Temporary Accommodation properties. Homelessness continues to rise although the Council originally anticipated pressures would be easing by 2014/15. Many homeless households experience frequent moves, including moves to the other side of London and beyond. Schools are reporting more cases of children travelling for several hours a day to get to school. Parent’s employment and children’s education and well-being are severely damaged- and that is even before the financial cost of homelessness is factored in.
- Westminster should also not be lobbying the government for a change to the law enabling permanent homes to be provided outside the borough. Out-of-borough Temporary Accommodation may sometimes be unavoidable, but Westminster should be lobbying for support to keep all vulnerable households and those with local family connections/children in Westminster schools in or close to the borough.
6. ……Westminster has lost a number of recent court cases in respect of homelessness decisions (on out-of-borough placements, ‘reasonable preference, single homeless priority need) and there have been many other cases that should have been resolved without the need to go to court. This is expensive and bureaucratic, as well as adding to the stress on already vulnerable individuals and families. The gatekeeping and decision making processes should be reviewed to reduce the number of cases brought against the Council.
7. …A strategy to tackle over-crowding in both CWH and Housing Association properties, and to increase the range of options open to the adult children of local tenants, in line with the Mayor of London’s original commitment. It is unacceptable that Housing Associations are failing to meet their own obligations to reduce over-crowding (especially whilst also selling local stock) and many local families are caught in extremely difficult circumstances, with the Housing Association offering no prospect for a move and the Council unwilling to assist.
Whilst agreeing with the importance of ‘intermediate’ housing options (for rent and purchase), these should be aimed at those on average and below average earnings, so as to support local people and provide some of the same opportunities which were previously available via the Family Quota scheme.
8. …Tougher action by the council to ensure that Housing Associations fulfil their duties as landlords (my recent survey of standards in Genesis property revealed the extent of the problem in relation to one large local provider, but there are also problems with other HAs, ranging from repairs to transfers to neighbourhood management.
9. …A ‘Lessees Charter’, clearly specifying Westminster’s mutual rights and responsibilities, and with a commitment to greater speed and transparency in dealing with leaseholder’s concerns. A substantial proportion of my casework, and that of councillors, is generated by leaseholders unhappy with the quality of Major Works and Services; inadequate consultation procedures and poor billing and the clarity of financial information (a level of dissatisfaction borne out by the significantly lower level of satisfaction with CWH among leaseholders than amongst tenants).
10. …A strategy for the the growing Private Rented sector in Westminster- up from 32% to 43% in a decade, and covering a wide range of properties, from the top of the luxury market catering to international and business tenants to ex-Right to Buy properties and properties in multiple occupation, some of which is characterised by poor conditions and bad landlords. Apart from the fact that the entire sector is characterised by very high turnover; tenants across the spectrum can be at risk from exploitative letting agency fees and risks to deposits and there is a substantial need for better advice to this group.
Tenants need better access to advice and advocacy (see below); and Westminster could do more to promote the London rental standard and the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme. The Council should also be supporting measures to encourage longer tenancies for those who want them, to mitigate the impact of high population churn.
Two last comments:
11. ...I welcome the commitment to further action to tackle excess cold and damp in council properties (although Westminster should acknowledge the problems that have been caused by excessive delays in Major Works in some areas, such as the Hallfield Estate). However, it is often private and Housing Association properties were many of the most serious problems occur. Excellent work is being done by the Residential Environmental Health team but prevention would be greatly preferable to intervention after the event, when the resident has already suffered months and sometimes years of life in sub-standard accommodation.
12. The Council’s Housing Advice strategy was based on a comprehensive piece of consultancy five or so years ago- and never acted upon. The impact of the shortfall in advice was spelt out in the recent ‘Reform Advice in Westminster’ report and in the annual reports of the CAB, Law Centres and Z2K.
In the light of the loss of legal aid in many areas of housing/welfare/debt, and the high and rising level of need, Westminster needs to recognise the importance of advice, advocacy and representation- not only to residents, but to the Council itself- costs can be lowered, income can be maximised and homelessness applications sometimes avoided with the right intervention.
Finally, I agree with the comments from the Labour Group regarding the importance of tenant participation and consultation- this has been a fraught relationship for a number of years- and the benefits of an integrated and out-reach-based approach to raising skills and reducing worklessness and poverty locally. Westminster Council needs to better appreciate the complex demography and social factors (such as high population churn) which cut across many of its strategic objectives in these areas. There have been some examples of good practice (such as in Church Street and Harrow Road) with some genuinely good partnership working, but these are rarely sufficiently comprehensive enough, so that good work done by one team of officers is contradicted by Council actions in another area. Neither the establishment of genuinely ‘mixed, stable communities’, nor neighbourhood regeneration, nor an improvement in life chances for the poorest can be achieved without whole-hearted and sustained commitment.
Karen Buck MP
 Please note that for ease of public understanding this document uses the term ‘Housing Association’ to denote all types of Registered Social Landlord/ Registered Provider.
Whether measured by unmet housing need, the human and financial costs of homelessness or the pressure of maintaining viable mixed communities, Westminster (..London, the country…) is locked into a housing...