“Did you hear the water’s been cut off?”
“Newham Council say it wasn’t them, but they were photographed out there with their van. They have broken the water mains”
This was the news I was met with when I arrived yesterday to visit the E15 Mums in a squatted social centre in the Carpenters Estate, Newham. Sprawling onto the streets is a hive of activities: kids painting, a free shop, free food and banners that read ‘social housing not social cleansing’. People are chatting, planning meetings, attending workshops, playing guitars and discussing community issues. Why would the local council try to sabotage a property occupied by a community of vulnerable single mothers?
Last week the E15 Mums squatted some homes that had been left empty by the council for up to eight years. They live in a hostel which is being closed down to make way for one of the many luxury high rise developments springing up in the area as part of the ‘Olympic Legacy’ (aka giant corporate land grab). Excuse the emotive language, I’m beingunfair – there is some provision in the developments for existing residents in Newham (one of the poorest corners of Europe)… it’s not “social housing”, granted but it is “affordable housing” only 80% of market rate! Now you can’t say fairer than that… No you cant… now move to Birmingham, or Manchester.
The hostel residents are being relocated out of London one-by-one so they don’t get together and kick up a stink. Some have ended up on the streets. Many are there because they are fleeing domestic violence or are very young Mums. They don’t have family networks to support them. They are each other’s lifeline and their fragile community is being broken up. Or is it?
The Mums saw that their estate was being purposefully turned into a ghost town by the Council. They saw how thousands of perfectly good properties were being left empty (often with windows left open to accelerate weather damage) to justify demolition and sell off. So they went into a semi detached house and squatted it.
This is a brave move. It is a residential property, so they are now committing a criminal, rather than civil offence under new squatting legislation (one of the Tories’ latest acts of compassion). The E15 Mums desperation could land them in jail.
No wonder they had their water cut off! Not only are they single mums they are also now squatters! Why should they be afforded basic human rights like a temporary shelter or access to water? I guess I should hate these people, but try as I might, I just can’t.
One mother told me she had been moved into temporary private rented accommodation that costs £900 a month (for which she is being supported by Housing Benefit). She is trying to skill herself by doing an apprenticeship, but that only brings in £400 p/month.
“What can I do? If I’m on twelve month contract and I’m forced to move every twelve months that means I have to pullmy daughter out of school. Then she doesn’t get a proper education, and then she can’t get a job and the whole vicious cycle keeps repeating!”
Danny Dorling, in his landmark book about the Housing Crisis, ‘All that is Solid’ (2014) demonstrates how housing benefit is effectively the tax payer being used to subsidise the private sector by covering grossly inflated rent prices. Clever work private sector! There is no public housing left because you bought it all!
Dorling also describes squatting as ‘entrepreneurial’. Is that not what these mothers are? Are they not finding their own solution to the crisis in affordable housing by taking direct action to provide for themselves and their family? So why has the Newham Mayor, Robin Wales, attacked what they’re doing as “disgusting”, saying it’s not his fault if they can’t afford to live in Newham? Would that not mean the only qualification for you being able to live in an area is a financial one?
Surely not, that would mean that the rich from around the world could just buy up thousands of properties as marketinvestments and leave them empty, making hundreds of thousands homeless. He can’t mean that. He wouldn’t say that working class families who’s families are here, who’s children are being schooled here, who’s grandparents were sent to fight fascism (in disproportionate numbers from Newham) who’s grandparents were brought from the West Indies to rebuild the borough after the War, have no right to be here. The Mayor cant mean that. He is a labour man after all.
I work in a primary school around the corner as a part time spoken word educator. I’m quickly learning that I’m surrounded by spoken word experts. There are speakers of over one hundred languages in Curwen Primary School. Newham is one of the world’s most diverse boroughs in the world. Its cultural capital is immense. I know! Lets destroy its communities and bleach the area with more unaffordable gated communities for white, middle class, privately educated professionals! That’s what has made London the cultural capital of the world. That’s what we need more of!
Show your solidarity with the E15 Mums who have captured the nations imagination and shown that laws and developments to benefit private wealth become meaningless when we take direct action, working together in solidarity.
– Visit them, bring, clothes, food, bottled water
– Share their action online https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343?ref=br_tf @FocusE15 #E15SocialCentre
– Complain to and disgrace the Newham Mayor @NewhamMayor @NewhamLondon and Council
– Occupy a long term empty building and use it house people provide a space to about housing.
Having been shut out of dialogue with the Mayor some mothers went to embarrass him and were met with a violent reaction from him