The great housing postcode lottery: Ex-Newham mayor slammed over 3,000 homeless moved out of borough
- Credit: Archant
Newham’s Labour-run council has come under fire for failing to prevent 3,000 homeless households being moved out of the borough - from its own mayor.
Today, as part of our special Hidden Homeless series, the Recorder can reveal there has been a mass uprooting of homeless families from Newham as a bitter housing crisis continues to take hold.
Our investigation has found 3,292 households were forced to accept flats and houses outside of the borough from 2012-17, moving them miles from jobs, schools, friends and family.
Just over 10 per cent (449) were sent out of London altogether to places as far away as Birmingham (102 households), Thurrock (156), and Welwyn Hatfield (51).
More than 2,800 were placed into flats, hostels or B&Bs in other London boroughs, with 758 households moved to Redbridge and 438 to Waltham Forest.
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Newham’s current Labour mayor Rokhsana Fiaz appeared to lay the blame roundly at the door of the council’s former Labour leadership under her predecessor Sir Robin Wales - as she vowed to reverse the controversial trend.
“I really wish the previous administration dealt with this better,” she told the Recorder, “as it’s terrible for those families to be uprooted from the social and support networks they have in Newham.”
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“We are doing everything we can to stop this happening. I have asked my cabinet member for housing services to review our current policy. It hasn’t been great in the past and we are determined to reverse this and challenge the impact of the government’s welfare reforms which are making the capital unaffordable for many families on low incomes.”
The mayor said the situation had been compounded by the dearth of affordable homes in Newham and throughout London.
“With a high number of homeless households approaching the council for help, we have to make offers where accommodation is available,” she said.
Yet even moving miles away from Newham sometimes does not result in a decent home for those who are forced to go.
Newham single mum Isabel, 33, whose name we have changed to protect her identity, moved 20 miles to Brentwood with her five children four years ago.
Her two-bed council flat is on a leafy estate, but her children sleep two to a room and Isabel is on a pull-down bed in the living room with her toddler in a cot nearby.
The walls of her kids’ bedrooms are mouldy and Isabel says she and the kids regularly breathe in cannabis smoke seeping through the floors from a neighbouring flat.
“It’s stressful, because I’ve not got a room and the kids are arguing and in each other’s faces,” she says.
Despite the cramped conditions, her bright and chatty eldest daughter, 11, is trying to tidy her room to make it look nice when the Recorder visits.
“My children are ashamed,” says Isabel, who works nights as a hotel receptionist while the kids’ dad looks after them three times a week. “Where they go to school a lot of their friends have all got really big houses with en-suites and they say, ‘Mum, I don’t want anyone to know we live in a flat’.
“Their friends never come around because they’re really ashamed of where they live. But I tell them: ‘Don’t be ashamed, at least we’ve got a roof over our heads and at least your friends can see how the other half are living.’ But it is so stressful living the way I am living.”
The single mum, who grew up in Newham and has been on the housing register since 2004, was evicted from her home of six years in Dagenham as the landlord wanted to sell-up.
Unable to afford rising rents, she sought help from the council but options were limited.
She was placed into emergency accommodation in a hotel above a betting shop in Barking where the family lived and slept in a one room
“It was a nightmare, every night I would cry myself to sleep,” says Isabel. “We were right opposite a pub that played loud music, drunk people outside screaming and swearing, and a mad man running about the street with a knife. My kids were scared. It was a traumatic time of my life.”
At breaking point and with Christmas only weeks away, she took the tough decision to accept a Newham council flat in Brentwood.
She hoped to swap the two-bed second floor property after a year for something more suitable but this has not happened.
The family have now exceeded the maximum number who should be in the flat and are classed as “severely overcrowded”. But Isabel has been told Newham has a 12 year waiting list for three bedroom council properties.
Asked whether she would consider a move even further away for a larger flat or house, she says: “My children are in a good school and I would like to stay around the area, but I’m so desperate to move now, I would move anywhere and I will commute. I wouldn’t go as far as Birmingham though, that’s too far.”
The Out of Borough placement data also revealed at least 2,500 homeless households have been moved into Newham by other councils, although the figure is likely to be significantly higher as not all councils have answered the FOI request.
MPs call for action on housing to stop exodus from Newham
Newham’s MPs have backed the calls of homeless families and the new Labour mayor for urgent action to address the severity of the housing crisis in the borough.
Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, said: “House prices and rents have risen fast in east London, but wages haven’t. More and more families have been badly squeezed. Many have to live in sub-standard, over-crowded conditions.
“Others have to leave Newham - or London - altogether. We need to channel the vast amounts being spent on housing benefit into building new homes - and Newham council has some good ideas on this. And it’s high time as well for a new wave of council house building.”
Fellow Labour MP Lyn Brown, for West Ham, said: “Over the past eight years the Tories’ in government have chosen to fuel a housing crisis that helps only developers and landowners, leaving ordinary people without the decent homes they need to live comfortably and raise their families.
“This is a national crisis which everybody knows is worst in London. The only way to fix a national crisis is with national solutions and Labour in government will make more houses genuinely affordable, stop the sell-off of 50,000 social rented homes a year, and give councils and housing associations the funding to build the homes our families need.”
NEXT: In the third of our Hidden Homeless reports Newham’s new mayor sets out her vision for building new council houses in the borough and reversing the chronic failure to erect affordable homes capital-wide