WALTHAM FOREST: Council housing "as bad as Victorian times"

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: John Cyer was scathing in his criticism of council housing in Waltham Forest John Cyer was scathing in his criticism of council housing in Waltham Forest

COUNCIL and social housing tenants in Waltham Forest are suffering levels of overcrowding last seen in Victorian times, according to John Cryer MP.

The Leyton and Wanstead MP was scathing in his criticism of homes provided to the poorest members of the community during a Commons debate on Tuesday (March 7).

He said constituents regularly ask him for help over problems such as overcrowding and poor conditions, which are associated with poor health and exam results.

He added: “We are getting back to the sort of levels of overcrowding that probably were last seen during the Victorian era.

“If we continue down the path we are on, with overcrowding and bad living and working conditions, there will be an explosion in many of the illnesses that we associate with those conditions and serious public health problems.”

This week it emerged that Waltham Forest has the highest levels of homelessness in the country and there are currently 21,581 on the council and social housing waiting lists.

The Guardian regularly receives reports of poor housing conditions in council properties managed by Ascham Homes, which was created to bring all housing up to a basic standard of decency.

The housing management organisation said that all but 45 of the properties it manages achieved Decent Homes standard by December 2011.

And the problems are not just in the poorer parts of the borough covered by Mr Cryer’s constituency.

The walls in 83-year-old Clifford Robnett’s flat in Ropers Avenue, Chingford, are blackened with mould, a common problem across the borough.

He said the mould, which has been a problem for two years, creates a potent smell and he has been prescribed sleeping tablets because it keeps him awake.

Ascham Homes contractors have visited the property, but he has been simply told to open his windows open.

Mr Robnett said: “It’s dreadful, they’re asking us to risk being robbed to have the damp problem sorted. The smell is horrible but we have not been able to fix it all this time.”

Council house rents are set to increase by an average of 6.9 per cent in April, but the authority says it has little choice due to government changes to funding.

The council campaigned against a rent rise of 5.8 per cent in 2009, with then cabinet member for housing, Cllr Marie Pye, describing it as unfair.

Margaret Smith, 71, of St George’s Court in Wood Street, Walthamstow, will see her rent rise by 8.2 per cent, from £87.2p a week to £94.19p.

She said: “I am not on benefits and because I had savings and a pension I pay the rent all myself. It’s a big increase and it’s tough.”

A spokeswoman for Ascham Homes said: "Following an inspection of Mr Robnett's flat, Ascham Homes can confirm that there is condensation in the property.

"We regret that condensation has been a problem in his property and believe that installing windows with secure ventilation will alleviate this issue.

Mr Robnett's property is scheduled for window replacement this year and he will be informed when the programme has been confirmed by the council.

"Ascham Homes have arranged for a surveyor to visit the property next week and discuss any issues with the resident directly.

Cllr Saima Mahmud, the council's cabinet member for Housing, said: "The council recognises that the rent increases will be challenging to those on low incomes and sympathises with tenants that may find the rises difficult in the current financial climate.

"Waltham Forest, like most councils, follows Government policy when deciding the level of rent rises. The policy makes a link with the RPI increase in September, plus an additional amount to move towards target rents – that is to bring them closer to housing association rents

"The council has written to Government about the scale of the increase, but has been informed that the policy will not alter.

"While the council has looked at options to absorb some of the increase, this would necessarily mean less money to invest in the maintenance and improvements of council homes.

"Like many of its residents, the financial climate is having a significant impact on the Council, which is having to cope with cuts in Government funding that mean it needs to find savings of £65m over four years.

"As a landlord, the council is obliged to keep homes safe and warm and to meet all of its legal responsibilities in terms of repairs and maintenance to council homes.

"Accordingly, while the council does not take the decision lightly, it must stick to the Government policy in order to provide a decent housing service."

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Comments (17)

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12:02pm Fri 9 Mar 12

myopinioncounts says...

Even with social housing with 5 or 6 bedrooms there is still overcrowding. Tell people on the waiting list that they must do something to limit the number of children they have.
Even with social housing with 5 or 6 bedrooms there is still overcrowding. Tell people on the waiting list that they must do something to limit the number of children they have. myopinioncounts

2:13pm Fri 9 Mar 12

G_Whiz says...

You would have thought John Cryer and His Party would have had this in mind, while they had been implementing their mass immigration policies.

Nice picture of the smirking hypocrite though!
You would have thought John Cryer and His Party would have had this in mind, while they had been implementing their mass immigration policies. Nice picture of the smirking hypocrite though! G_Whiz

2:51pm Fri 9 Mar 12

Sam Hain says...

Keep up the good work, John. The last Labour Goevrnment's Decent Homes policy did a huge amount of good but, in venting their wider frustrations at the last election, the elctorate effectively shot itself in the foot. We'll never see that level of investment from this Tory-led Coalition, who will cover their callouss disregard for social justice by blaming 'Labour profligacy'.
Keep up the good work, John. The last Labour Goevrnment's Decent Homes policy did a huge amount of good but, in venting their wider frustrations at the last election, the elctorate effectively shot itself in the foot. We'll never see that level of investment from this Tory-led Coalition, who will cover their callouss disregard for social justice by blaming 'Labour profligacy'. Sam Hain

4:23pm Fri 9 Mar 12

Tom Thumb says...

The last Labour government, like the ones before it, did nothing to reverse the Thatcherite policy of selling off council houses.

The local Labour Party is enthusiastically Blairite and Waltham Forest Council was among the first in the country to privatise its housing department, handing it over to the tender mercies of Ascham Homes.

So let's not heap all the blame on the Tories when the Labour Party has enthusiastically adopted most of their policies.

For John Cryer to fret about health issues is strange from a man who opposed the smoking ban.
The last Labour government, like the ones before it, did nothing to reverse the Thatcherite policy of selling off council houses. The local Labour Party is enthusiastically Blairite and Waltham Forest Council was among the first in the country to privatise its housing department, handing it over to the tender mercies of Ascham Homes. So let's not heap all the blame on the Tories when the Labour Party has enthusiastically adopted most of their policies. For John Cryer to fret about health issues is strange from a man who opposed the smoking ban. Tom Thumb

5:21pm Fri 9 Mar 12

mdj says...

'in venting their wider frustrations at the last election..'
This seems to imply that other people had an inferior grasp of issues to your own, Sam: to me, it seemed that the voters brilliantly worked it so that no party won (which none deserved to, that's for sure), without the help of a PR system.

There are several issues tangled here, which need separate answers. One is the affordability of public sector rents, and how this compares with the private sector. Is the difference so great that many without a chance put their names down, just in case? Why else might our lists be so long? Is the Olympic construction programme, which is having the effect of stuffing expatriate workers into housing that would otherwise be available for locals, not part of the reason? Are people moving here from dearer parts of London? If so, how? Into what, if they're not moving in with relatives? That doesn't add up.
We mustn't forget the Council's own gross mismanagement: they had to put an extra £5 million into Ascham Homes to make good the loss caused by failing to consult properly their leaseholders over repairs. None of the guilty - or at least incompetent - parties was held to account, because that would have been too embarrassing, and might have brought several local careers to a close. Given LBWF's 'loss' of £15 million BNI money, there may be other tales of massive wastage lying behind these figures. As a Labour insider, can you help us with that, Sam?
'in venting their wider frustrations at the last election..' This seems to imply that other people had an inferior grasp of issues to your own, Sam: to me, it seemed that the voters brilliantly worked it so that no party won (which none deserved to, that's for sure), without the help of a PR system. There are several issues tangled here, which need separate answers. One is the affordability of public sector rents, and how this compares with the private sector. Is the difference so great that many without a chance put their names down, just in case? Why else might our lists be so long? Is the Olympic construction programme, which is having the effect of stuffing expatriate workers into housing that would otherwise be available for locals, not part of the reason? Are people moving here from dearer parts of London? If so, how? Into what, if they're not moving in with relatives? That doesn't add up. We mustn't forget the Council's own gross mismanagement: they had to put an extra £5 million into Ascham Homes to make good the loss caused by failing to consult properly their leaseholders over repairs. None of the guilty - or at least incompetent - parties was held to account, because that would have been too embarrassing, and might have brought several local careers to a close. Given LBWF's 'loss' of £15 million BNI money, there may be other tales of massive wastage lying behind these figures. As a Labour insider, can you help us with that, Sam? mdj

5:31pm Fri 9 Mar 12

ruby newbie says...

oh, how convenient for all the developers who want to build on any piece of land they and the councils see as empty.seems as if they think we are all very silly..........
oh, how convenient for all the developers who want to build on any piece of land they and the councils see as empty.seems as if they think we are all very silly.......... ruby newbie

5:59pm Fri 9 Mar 12

tjw422 says...

Surely, the first question that must be asked, is WHY we have that many people in LBWF that need housing. Following on, where have they appeared from in such quantities? Is this not a direct consequence of Governments failing to control immigration of people who have no possibility of supporting themselves and families, therefore throwing themselves onto UK taxpayers and ratepayers?
Surely, the first question that must be asked, is WHY we have that many people in LBWF that need housing. Following on, where have they appeared from in such quantities? Is this not a direct consequence of Governments failing to control immigration of people who have no possibility of supporting themselves and families, therefore throwing themselves onto UK taxpayers and ratepayers? tjw422

9:28pm Fri 9 Mar 12

Brisbane says...

Fully agree with you tjw422. And what's the explanation for some people living in overcrowded accommodation? Are people having more children than they have available bedrooms? If so they perhaps need to brush up on their maths.
Fully agree with you tjw422. And what's the explanation for some people living in overcrowded accommodation? Are people having more children than they have available bedrooms? If so they perhaps need to brush up on their maths. Brisbane

6:14am Sat 10 Mar 12

dukes of hazzard says...

The two names in the article seem pretty British to me. So wat has immigration got to do with this piece.
The two names in the article seem pretty British to me. So wat has immigration got to do with this piece. dukes of hazzard

10:39am Sat 10 Mar 12

myopinioncounts says...

If you think immigration is not a factor then you need to open your eyes while travelling through Waltham Forest, dukes of hazard!
If you think immigration is not a factor then you need to open your eyes while travelling through Waltham Forest, dukes of hazard! myopinioncounts

11:22am Sun 11 Mar 12

Sam Hain says...

Not so much of an 'insider' mdj that I haven't expressed disappointment with the issues you raise and criticised the previous portfolio holder. I may be a supporter of the Labour Party but that doesn't mean I've surrendered my critical faculties of performance locally or nationally. I still maintain, however, that had the electorate nationally (however disenchanted) stuck with Labour we'd be in a better place than we are now. And locally now we have a majority Labour council we have a Tory-led coalition government who aren't going to rush to our aid so I think we're between a rock and a hard place now.
Not so much of an 'insider' mdj that I haven't expressed disappointment with the issues you raise and criticised the previous portfolio holder. I may be a supporter of the Labour Party but that doesn't mean I've surrendered my critical faculties of performance locally or nationally. I still maintain, however, that had the electorate nationally (however disenchanted) stuck with Labour we'd be in a better place than we are now. And locally now we have a majority Labour council we have a Tory-led coalition government who aren't going to rush to our aid so I think we're between a rock and a hard place now. Sam Hain

12:44pm Sun 11 Mar 12

mdj says...

'I think we're between a rock and a hard place now.'

All too true, Sam: but you can always depend on the Tories because they always let you down. In that sense, they have integrity.
But what do we do when the alternative has been corrupted into a club for the enrichment of its leadership, that simply farms for profit the people it was set up to serve?
Until its followers realise that Labour is itself, institutionally, a major part of the problem, we won't get the changes we desperately need.
'I think we're between a rock and a hard place now.' All too true, Sam: but you can always depend on the Tories because they always let you down. In that sense, they have integrity. But what do we do when the alternative has been corrupted into a club for the enrichment of its leadership, that simply farms for profit the people it was set up to serve? Until its followers realise that Labour is itself, institutionally, a major part of the problem, we won't get the changes we desperately need. mdj

5:54pm Sun 11 Mar 12

Sam Hain says...

That's what 'Re-Founding Labour' was supposed to achieve, mdj. I agree that it's hard not to be cynical about such processes (still on-going in this case) but I'm not so totally disenchanted as to give up on it. Fed up, yes, disappointed, undoubtedly, but not so jaded as to stop trying. It may be the triumph of hope over experience but they do say hope springs eternal!
That's what 'Re-Founding Labour' was supposed to achieve, mdj. I agree that it's hard not to be cynical about such processes (still on-going in this case) but I'm not so totally disenchanted as to give up on it. Fed up, yes, disappointed, undoubtedly, but not so jaded as to stop trying. It may be the triumph of hope over experience but they do say hope springs eternal! Sam Hain

12:19pm Mon 12 Mar 12

Walthamster says...

"what do we do when the alternative has been corrupted into a club for the enrichment of its leadership, that simply farms for profit the people it was set up to serve?"
What indeed, mdj? This is the heart of the problem. The so-called Labour council has abandoned its working-class voters.
"what do we do when the alternative has been corrupted into a club for the enrichment of its leadership, that simply farms for profit the people it was set up to serve?" What indeed, mdj? This is the heart of the problem. The so-called Labour council has abandoned its working-class voters. Walthamster

4:48pm Mon 12 Mar 12

Tom Thumb says...

Tony Blair corrupted local government when he removed power from all the ordinary committees and concentrated it in a handful of councillors who make up the Cabinet. This replaced open and transparent decision making with cosy agreements between Cabinet members and senior officers behind closed doors at the town hall.

Also by introducing a lavish set of allowances Blair ensured that the role of councillor suddenly became attractive for financial reasons alone. Under the old system, when the maximum allowance was around £2,000, nobody became a councillor for the money. Now with allowances starting at around £8,000 with an additional £20,000 for Cabinet members and committee chairs, there is every incentive to toe the party line, or to become a councillor simply for the money.

In addition Labour Party membership these days is much more made up of the well-heeled middle class rather than working class people.

No surprise that one local Labour councillor's means of transport is a chauffeur-driven Bentley, or that several councillors are landlords of multiple tenancy properties. I wonder how many, if any, local Labour councillors actually live in social housing?
Tony Blair corrupted local government when he removed power from all the ordinary committees and concentrated it in a handful of councillors who make up the Cabinet. This replaced open and transparent decision making with cosy agreements between Cabinet members and senior officers behind closed doors at the town hall. Also by introducing a lavish set of allowances Blair ensured that the role of councillor suddenly became attractive for financial reasons alone. Under the old system, when the maximum allowance was around £2,000, nobody became a councillor for the money. Now with allowances starting at around £8,000 with an additional £20,000 for Cabinet members and committee chairs, there is every incentive to toe the party line, or to become a councillor simply for the money. In addition Labour Party membership these days is much more made up of the well-heeled middle class rather than working class people. No surprise that one local Labour councillor's means of transport is a chauffeur-driven Bentley, or that several councillors are landlords of multiple tenancy properties. I wonder how many, if any, local Labour councillors actually live in social housing? Tom Thumb

6:09pm Mon 12 Mar 12

Walthamster says...

Dead right, Tom Thumb. Trouble is, what's the alternative around here? I've encountered about 20 Waltham Forest councillors on various issues, and most of them seem like a waste of space.

We have one excellent councillor in High Street ward, Clare Coghill. But don't get jealous, because we also have Liaquat Ali, and that shouldn't happen to anyone.
Dead right, Tom Thumb. Trouble is, what's the alternative around here? I've encountered about 20 Waltham Forest councillors on various issues, and most of them seem like a waste of space. We have one excellent councillor in High Street ward, Clare Coghill. But don't get jealous, because we also have Liaquat Ali, and that shouldn't happen to anyone. Walthamster

12:43pm Wed 14 Mar 12

local 1 says...

The answer is simple too may people want to live in the Inner London boroughs. In the Victorian days when people had to work for a living there was no choice but to live in the London area. The same cannot be said about today because so many that live in the area are not in work, and would be able to live in any part of the country thanks to the welfare state.The lure of London will always exist and the situation will get worse, and yes, be like the bad old Victorian days of overcrowding but not, as them by the need to be near work.
The answer is simple too may people want to live in the Inner London boroughs. In the Victorian days when people had to work for a living there was no choice but to live in the London area. The same cannot be said about today because so many that live in the area are not in work, and would be able to live in any part of the country thanks to the welfare state.The lure of London will always exist and the situation will get worse, and yes, be like the bad old Victorian days of overcrowding but not, as them by the need to be near work. local 1

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