Friday 13 August 2010

A House is Not a Home in Broken Barnet

I realise that the Tory councillors of this borough are not blessed with an abundance of intellect, but I would have thought that even they, and the Dear Leader, Lynne Hillan, might spot the ironic contrast of two stories on the local Times group newspapers website today.

Many people will have been upset to read the case reported this week of the 83 year old pensioner, Edward Meakin, who is being thrown out of his council home in Cricklewood, thanks to a decision by Barnet Homes, the housing agency of our local authority.

Edward has lived in his home for 74 years. Yes, seventy four years. He moved in, with his family, as a nine year old boy in 1936. He recently lost his sister, with whom he shared the house, and now faces being thrown out of his lifelong home, at his age, and despite the long history of occupation he has, because the faceless, heartless housing officials have decreed he cannot remain in a three bedroomed house. Mr Meakin is pictured forlornly outside what looks like a scrupulously maintained property and is quoted as saying that such a move at his time of life will probably kill him.

It is true to say that there is a chronic shortage of social housing in this borough, and that there are tenants who need three bedroomed properties. And we have the longest housing waiting list in the country. But why? Well, perhaps the most significant factor is the ideological resistence that our Tory authority has maintained to the need to replace the stock of housing that it has so enthusiastically sold off.

And so you could argue, as does Barnet Council, that with such a shortage, any three bedroomed property not fully occupied to the maximum potential should immediately be handed over to tenants with a family. But how do you operate such a policy fairly? Who is to judge what a household's needs are, and for how long? Is there no longer to be any security of tenancy for any council tenants? Is there really no need for discretion, compassion, and common sense? How many tenants currently inhabit properties which could theoretically house a larger family? A vast number, I would guess. Is Barnet Homes going to evict them all?

Mr Meakin has lived in this house for nearly eight decades. He has paid rent throughout all this time, has evidently maintained the property to a good standard, and presumably been a model tenant. When his family first moved in, and in all the years since, they would have believed that it was their right to live in this property as long as they needed to: and I think it would be a very interesting case if this were taken to court to prove whether on any basis Barnet has the ability to remove this right from them. But even if the legal protection is not there, surely any decent person would see that it is cruel and quite unfair to subject such an elderly person to such a traumatic move?

Contrast this story, then, with the comments made by Lynne Hillan in regard to Labour's opposition to her new easyBolics housing policy. She says they are only opposing the policy for the sake of it. And because they can't come up with such a brilliant plan themselves. Er yeah. Being the sort of person she is, she cannot understand that some people might object on a point of principle to a move which seeks to combine an amateur and highly dangerous foray into the dark arts of social engineering with a sticking plaster solution to the housing crisis in this borough. To be honest, I doubt whether she and her pals actually understand the point of a point of principle, anyway.

In easyBarnet, sorry, One Barnet, you see, there are two sorts of disadvantaged people: good and bad. The feckless poor must be punished and kicked off the housing list for their sins, into private accommodation - ha, like the luxury rat infested one supplied to my neighbours from hell. The deserving poor, who have a proven 'positive' contribution to their community, (you know, like Lynne and her mates) will be fast tracked to the top of the list and rewarded for their virtue.

Ah: so Mr Meakins, who has lived quietly in his home and worked all his life to pay his rent, and his taxes, can now be told at the age of 83 that his reward is to be thrown out to make way for what? For whom? Where is the justice in that? Is he not entitled to some recognition for his contribution to society, by being allowed to see out his remaining years in the house which represents his only home, with his memories of his late family, where he can enjoy the garden he has so lovingly looked after for so long? Where is going to go: some flat in a crack dealing estate where he will be too scared to open his front door?

Hillan and their chums can't have it both ways: if you are going to bring subjective moral judgement into the housing equation, then you have to make allowance for cases like Mr Meakin.

One thing is sure, whatever rationale this lot may present for their new housing policy, it is firmly rooted in inflexible ideology, cost cutting, and an urgent need to massage the housing list figures, rather than based in a compassionate understanding of what it is like to be homeless, poor or old in the rotten borough of Broken Barnet.

Update: this awful story has now been featured on ITV news: if you can watch this and not feel outraged on behalf of this man, there is something very wrong with you.
There is also now a facebook group which is, at the time of writing, acquiring nearly 1,000 new members per day ...


Citizen Barnet said...

It is quite shocking. Subject to Mr Meakin agreeing, I think we should pledge to support him in any way we can if he refuses to leave his home. And campaign for homes for all!

Mrs Angry said...

I feel so sorry for him. It would be nice to think some legal advice is available to him to challenge the decision somehow. If I were he I would simply refuse to budge and let them haul me out, but then I am not a frail old man.

Mrs Angry said...

Breaking news: see the local Times: Tory councillor Mark Shooter is allegedly showing signs of a dormant conscience amongst the ranks of the Tory group ... new leader, anyone?