11th August 2015
Dear MP, Boris Johnson, parliamentary candidate, mayoral candidate or Labour leadership candidate,
Today I’m starting another round of phoning London estate agents in my local area, seeking out whether anyone will be prepared to accept me as a tenant.
A simple process, you may well think. It is a simple process when you have a decent salary or when you have an additional income in your household. It is not an easy process if, like me, you are single and you are in receipt of Housing Benefit due to having a long term health condition.
The phone calls are hard enough. I have a condition which makes me extremely tired at the slightest exertion. I was diagnosed with this in 2011 having had 25 years of productive working life here in the UK, paying National Insurance contributions throughout that time, believing that I’d have a safety net if the worse happened.
I was a keyworker too. One of the people who hold up essential services in our capital city. As a keyworker I did not command a salary high enough to put down a deposit and buy a property, so I’ve always rented.
The worse did happen. I have MECFS. It’s the same condition that Yvette Cooper, Labour Party Leadership Candidate had in her 20s. She no doubt remembers all too well how it feels, how it runs through your life like an earthquake. Luckily for her, she recovered. I’m 3 years into having this disease which has taken my health, my job, my future and my salary away from me. There is no treatment programme for this illness, it affects me every hour of every day.
Since 2012 I’ve been in the ESA Support Group. That’s the group of disabled people that George Osbourne decided should not suffer more cuts in the recent 2015 emergency budget. So although I’m safe and I can continue to claim benefits, they won’t cover me for my housing, due to the Housing Benefit cap introduced by the Coalition government.
Usually making one or two phone calls a day is the maximum of that sort of activity I can manage. For the last 10 days I’ve been forcing myself to make calls when I’m ill, when I feel so tired and my body is complaining in pain or headaches that all I want to do is go to sleep. I’ve also had to view flats – way beyond what I usually do every day, let alone every week. The process is draining my meager health away from me in slow increments.
I have to push though. I have to because no-one is helping me with the search for affordable housing that can be rented by someone on Housing Benefit in London.
It is farcical, a mammoth institutional, governmental denial that anyone can find a property at an affordable rent in London. The private landlords must be laughing all the way to the bank! They can command high rents, avoid renting to anyone on benefits and there is no compunction from their side to change their view or governmental instruction or incentive either. They don’t have to in the London market, you see.
In my local area the single person’s Housing Benefit cap is £909.00 pcm. That, in my local area, will just about afford a studio flat of about 5 square meters in size. That’s 5 meters space to live in if you are lucky. The average price of a 1 – bed flat or a large studio flat starts at £1000.00 per calendar month. More usually it is around £1100.00 pcm upwards.
It is the reason why I am living where I am at the moment, in a cheap flat which is privately owned. This cheap flat is cheap for a reason. It is sub-standard. I’ve been writing about the problems with it throughout the time I’ve been writing about this blog. It is damp, it is mouldy and my landlord is so unscrupulous that no matter how much I try to talk to him about carrying out repairs, he slips and slides around the issue, avoiding it.
I have finally made a decision to move. The flat made me so ill last winter that I declined in health considerably and my health is more important now, including continuing the fight with my landlord. The fact that my home makes me iller and I’m in the ESA Support Group is not something my local council assessed as important enough to render me above a Band D – the lowest banding of need – when I applied to my council for housing on medical grounds.
They suggested I got a social worker to help me – they have no other option for me either. So I can’t get a council home, despite being on benefits and despite being long term disabled.
I wouldn’t be rehoused quickly even if I was eligible for council housing anyway. My disability rights advisor has explained to me that my local council has a waiting list years long. They also haven’t built any council houses for over 35 years because there has been no effective housing policy forcing councils to replenish the stock they sold off in Right To Buy in the 1980s.
The subsequent London-wide affordable housing initiatives implemented by the Labour government made no difference to me. In fact I laughed at them. In my local area ‘affordable’ was deemed to start at about £200.000 to buy. As a keyworker at the time I couldn’t afford to find the deposit, let alone have a salary that would gain me the mortgage for that price.
I continued renting until the Perfect Storm happened: this is the phrase I use to describe becoming disabled at the time the Coalition Government came into power and implemented austerity measures, cutting the Housing Benefit entitlement to people like me.
That was then. This is now.
In the general election hustings there was 1 candidate who talked directly to my situation – the Green Party candidate Natalie Bennett. I cheered and cheered; here was someone who knew this was affecting people on a fundamental every day basis.
I couldn’t vote for her – I voted for the Liberal Democrats. After the election and at the start of this blog, I watched what I see as true democracy disappear in the face of capitalism, lack of action around affordable housing and my future as a disabled person got lost in the merry-go-round of cuts also.
I’m watching the Labour party leadership and the London mayoral hustings with great interest. You see in the absence of anyone else picking up on this hugely important issue people like me are languishing in poor accommodation, with no hope of ever moving into somewhere better.
Will the right candidate happen in time for me though?
I will carry on calling today, carry on having conversations with Estate Agents that are at best guarded about renting to me. I will continue to count down the 2 months notice I’ve given to my current landlord, surrounded by the smell of damp in my home and continue to fear that at the end of this notice period I will NOT have found anywhere to live.
According to the council this is ‘intentional homelessness’ and does not mean I will then be housed by them. My disability rights advisor tells me this is the worst of the worst of the options anyway as I could end up in B&B accommodation for months and months and months.How would that affect my health and well being? I ask myself.
On Tuesday morning I spent £3.00 making myself a registered member of the Labour Party. This is because I want to vote for the next leader.
To the candidates I say: this leadership contest is the most crucial of any in my memory. Not only will you be responsible for battling the worst of the austerity measures implemented in the last 7 years, but you will have to address the issue of affordable housing in London too. Do not avoid this issue, step up, deal with it, tackle it head on.
If anyone reading this has a nice 1-bedroom flat in London that they’d be happy to rent to me, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment.
I’m running out of energy now but writing this open letter was so vital today – it’s literally the difference between me being housed and being homeless at the end of September.
Thank you for reading, thank you even more if you respond.