Tom Gann and Andrea Marie explain why they think the council is wrong to seek to evict tenants involved in last week's disturbances...
As Labour activists in Greenwich, we are ashamed that our Labour council has said that it will seek the eviction of council tenants involved in last week’s disturbances.
Currently, Greenwich has the power to evict council tenants who commit offences within the neighbourhood or locality of their house. The reason for this power is to remedy a situation where a tenant’s repeated pattern of antisocial behaviour makes their neighbours’ lives miserable, for example, where there has been an “ongoing campaign of harassment” against neighbours. Greenwich, alongside other councils, proposes to widen substantially the notion of “locality” underpinning this power to evict tenants involved in the disturbances. Where offences committed in the rioting differ from those that have usually resulted in eviction is that they are not linked strongly to the home, nor are they likely to be repeated, continuing to make neighbour’s lives miserable. Consequently, eviction is merely an extra punishment to those in this particular type of accommodation.
Unlike the millionaire’s daughter accused of looting shops in Charlton after travelling up from Orpington, Greenwich residents who live in council housing will be punished twice. Given, as the council’s own Equality Impact Assessment for its Housing Strategy makes clear, Black and Minority Ethnic residents are more likely to live in council accommodation, evictions also risk discriminating on the grounds of race.
Evictions will also target family members who live in the same house who have not committed a crime and are likely to be women and children. These families will be caused considerable disruption to their family life while being rehoused. Children living in temporary accommodation are some of the most deprived, missing out on schooling, on play, and opportunities to develop.
If, like Wandsworth Council, the council deems the family to then have made themselves deliberately homeless and sees no responsibility to rehouse them, the council will not only be undermining their right to a family life but also making destitution a punishment. Both of these things should never be used as a punishment for people, whether innocent or guilty of a crime.
A Labour council advocating this “double punishment” of council tenants and their families can only be made sense of within a wider context. The coalition government’s social housing white paper undermines the principles sustaining council housing and was initially, at least, enthusiastically welcomed by Greenwich Council. Councillor Offord, the cabinet member for housing, “welcome[d] the opportunities set out in the White Paper” and stated we “welcome...the capability to vary rents and lengths of tenure independently...we do not think that landlords should be required to offer a lifetime tenancy.”
The ideology behind this and the proposed evictions is one that characterises council housing as an emergency and charitable measure for people who have failed and need help to get back on their feet, at which point tenants are expected to progress to renting in the private sector or buying their own house. Without security of tenure living in a council house ceases to be treated as being worthy of respect. The right to a home ceases to be unconditional and becomes conditional in a way that would be experienced by any owner-occupier as profoundly oppressive.
Suggesting, at least for council tenants, that the right to decent housing is not unconditional is an attack on the rights of all council tenants, including the law-abiding. We are embarrassed to see our, Labour, council alongside Tory Wandsworth, and against Ed Miliband, who has warned against “kneejerk” responses like evictions, at the forefront of this tawdry and destructive populism.
It seems that there will be campaigns including direct action against evictions. We hope we will not have to take action against decisions taken by councillors who we usually respect.
Tom and Andrea are Labour activists in Greenwich. They blog on politics at http://labourpartisan.blogspot.com/