Bad Practice by Theori

I can only hope that the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower will not just bring to light the criminal actions by those running Kensington & Chelsea Council and its TMO but also the socially divisive housing policies of other councils which are increasingly failing the residents of their boroughs. Those who died at Grenfell died because they were poor and those responsible for their housing didn’t much care what happened to them. It isn’t just a local failure, but a national failure, and one expressed powerfully by Potent Whisper in his Grenfell Britain. Click and listen if you’ve not already done so.

It’s a failure that I’ve been documenting over the years, including social cleansing by Labour dominated boroughs such as Southwark at the Heygate and Aylesbury estates, in Newham with the Carpenters Estate and the disgustingly shabby treatment of the Focus E15 mothers and many more, most recently the £2 billion give-away of public assets by Haringey Council involving comprehensive demolition of roughly a third of their social housing. Of course it isn’t just these Labour councils who are at fault, but some seem to have embraced these anti-social policies with rather more fervour than the Tory-run areas.

Housing and food are the two most basic physical needs we have. Under the Tory government most of the responsibility for the second has been delegated to charity, with huge numbers of people having to rely on food banks to keep them from starvation, largely caused by the benefits system with its sanctions, cuts and administrative failures – which can leave some people destitute for long periods. Government cuts have given local authorities problems with meeting housing need, but the problems here are a long term malaise; Thatcher’s irrational hate of council housing was taken up and accelerated by Blair’s Labour under the title of ‘regeneration’ and austerity under the coalition was just another turn of the screw.

Some people in desperate housing need qualify for support from the local authority, though for others it is sofa-surfing or the streets (and the number sleeping on London streets continues to rise dramatically; 7,500 in 2015 and probably over 10.000 now.) Again in 2015, 48,000 London households were living in temporary accommodation – and that including 74,000 children.

London boroughs use companies like Theori Housing Management to provide temporary accommodation for vulnerable people they have a duty to care for, but rather like outsourcing of jobs, outsourcing of their responsibilities is a way of turning a blind eye to sub-standard and insanitary conditions. Of course the management companies will also play their part in the deception, putting on visits for council officials where they don’t get shown the damp streaming down the walls and the cockroaches and return giving the company a clean report.

Housing protesters from decided to bring the cockroaches with them to the protest outside Theori Housing Management’s offices in Walthamstow, a company used by many London councils including Waltham Forest and Newham, with two very large specimens – protesters dressed as them.

The protest was organised by residents of Boundary House and Focus E15 from Newham. Boundary House, managed by Theori, is not in London, but in Welwyn Garden City, which makes it difficult or impossible for those housed there to keep jobs or retain contact with friends or family in London and for their children to keep at the same schools – even an off-peak rail ticket costs £15. There were some residents and former residents present, but few could afford to travel and many were scared to complain in public. They complain of leaking roofs, mould on interior walls, cockroach infestation and say children could easily fall out of unguarded upper floor windows that appliances are dangerous faulty appliances, and large photographs stuck to the windows of Theori during the protest confirmed their stories.

Many had complained to Theori, but say they are hung up on, placed on hold for hours and called liars, ignored, insulted and patronised. So they had got in touch with Focus E15 (I’d been at one the weekly Stratford street stall when one of them had come to speak) and together organised this protest. Focus E15 themselves came together to oppose their own evictions and attempts by Newham council to move them into private rented accommodation in distant areas of the country away from nurseries, jobs and family – when a short distance from there hostel was a large council estate the council had forced most residents to move out from and kept empty for years. They argue and campaign to have people found homes in their own areas.

Cockroaches at Theori Housing Management

And back to Grenfell Tower, where we are now learning of the failure of Kensington and Chelsea to offer suitable homes to all but a small proportion of those made homeless. People want to stay in the area – but some have been told by officials that if they turn down properties a long way away they will be judged to have made themselves intentionally homeless. Rightly the nation has shuddered at this total lack of humanity and sensitivity towards these traumatised people – and I think the council has withdrawn the threat. But it is a threat that is routinely made in other cases in many if not all boroughs in London.

It isn’t even that there are no homes. There are said to be 1400 empty properties in Kensington & Chelsea at the moment, many of which would be suitable and could be bought by council or government. And nearby the large Silchester council estate is arked for demolition and new build gentrification in what has been described as “classic London social cleansing”.


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