Category Archives: Posted

30% profit on every Persimmon home sold last year thanks to taxpayer ‘help to buy’ subsidy

Outrage as help-to-buy (help-to-sell) boosts Persimmon profits to £1bn

Builder condemned for making massive gains from taxpayer-funded programme

Housebuilder Persimmon has reported full-year profits of £1.09bn.
Housebuilder Persimmon has reported full-year profits of £1.09bn. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Housebuilder Persimmon made a record-breaking £1bn profit last year – equal to more than £66,000 on every one of the homes it sold – with almost half of its house sales made through the taxpayer-funded help-to-buy scheme.

The York-based builder, which sparked widespread public and political outrage for attempting to pay its former chief executive Jeff Fairburn a bonus of £110m, posted pre-tax profits of £1.09bn.

The huge profit – the biggest ever made by a UK housebuilder – means Persimmon banked £66,265 from every one of the 16,449 homes it sold last year. The average selling price was just over £215,000,

The profit from each house it sells has nearly tripled since 2013, when the government introduced the help-to-buy scheme in an attempt to help struggling families buy their first home. Last year the company paid an average of just £31,536 for each plot of land, and spent £112,295 on actually building each home.

Cable demanded that the government immediately end the help-to-buy scheme and take action to crack down on “outrageous” executive pay. “This greed is coming at the expense of the public purse through the subsidies in help-to-buy,” he said. “Help-to-buy is a scam, enriching developers while forcing buyers off the ladder by pushing up prices.”

Greg Beales, the campaign director of the housing charity Shelter, said: “Persimmon represents everything that is wrong with the housebuilding system. The firm has generated huge profits from taxpayer subsidies whilst doing very little to help solve the housing crisis we face.

“Piecemeal schemes such as help-to-buy have made the situation even worse by inflating house prices and giving big developers a leg-up – while doing next to nothing to help those most in need of a genuinely affordable home.”

Many Persimmon customers have complained that their homes are poorly built, with pipes springing leaks and windows cracking just days after they moved in. Persimmon has been awarded only a three-star Home Builders Federation customer service rating every year since 2014, compared with four and five stars for its major rivals.

Victoria Baker, who bought a £380,000 five-bedroom Persimmon house in Ingleby Barwick, near Stockton, last year described the building work on her home as horrific. “We noticed leaks straight away as we were putting things away under the sink; there was a pool of water under the sink in the kitchen,” she said. Baker, who lives in a home built by Charles Church, a brand owned by Persimmon, said numerous other leaks later appeared. She is part of a Facebook group called “Charles Church (Persimmon) Homes From Hell”.

Persimmon has made so much money in recent years that it triggered a near-£500m bonus bonanza for its 150 most senior bosses. The company’s former chair quit when he recognised that the huge bonuses were wrong, but was unable to prevent them being paid out.

Persimmon’s former chief executive Jeff Fairburn was eventually persuaded to give up part of his payout but still walked away with £75m. His replacement, Dave Jenkinson, collected more than £40m.

The company’s huge gains from the help-to-buy scheme, in which the government provides a guaranteed interest-free loan, have sparked a ministerial review. James Brokenshire, the housing minister, is said to be “increasingly concerned by the behaviour of Persimmon”.

A source close to the minister said: “Given that contracts for the 2021 extension to help-to-buy are being reviewed shortly, which overall is a great scheme helping hundreds of thousands of people into home ownership, it would be surprising if Persimmon’s approach wasn’t a point of discussion.”

A government spokesman said officials would “carefully” examine the vast profits made by Persimmon and other housebuilders. “Help-to-buy will look different,” the spokesman said. “We’ve already said it will look only at first-time buyers and we will definitely not be funding leasehold properties. We will look carefully at developer performance over recent years.”

Jenkinson, who was appointed Persimmon’s new chief executive on Tuesday, defended the company’s use of the help-to-buy scheme, saying the company had “helped hundreds of first time buyers” and “given them the opportunity to own their own home”.

He said the help-to-buy scheme was just one element behind the firm’s financial success and the government had not contacted the company with any concern about its use of the help-to-buy scheme.

Jenkinson said his £40m bonanza “isn’t distracting [him] – I’m incredibly focused”. He said his bonus payment was tied up in Persimmon shares, which he had no intention of selling soon. He was not paid a bonus in 2018 and will not receive one in 2019. His basic pay is £518,000.

More than a year ago, Fairburn pledged to set up a charity with a “substantial proportion” of his bonus but has so far failed to do so. He has not registered a charity with the Charity Commission or made any inquiries about how to set one up.

Independent property expert Henry Pryor said: “There is no doubt that help-to-buy has been the crack cocaine of the housing industry. Listen carefully and you can hear the housebuilder bosses chortling into their cornflakes as taxpayers pump up the executive bonus pool.

“With 100,000 kids waking up in B&B accommodation this morning, it’s a national outrage that the government is still pouring accelerant on to the smouldering housing market. Bosses who have trousered the profits from selling to taxpayer-supported buyers have taken the place of bankers on my dart board. They have a business model, thanks to successive governments, that would make Al Capone blush.”

Kirklees land grab: Huddersfield’s David and Goliath allotments fight heads for the High Court

David and Goliath allotments fight is going to the High Court

The one-day case will be heard in the High Court in London

Cemetery Road Allotments, Birkby.
Cemetery Road Allotments, Birkby. 

Campaigners fighting to stop their allotments being bulldozed for new school playing fields in Huddersfield have been granted a judicial review.

It is the latest twist in the David and Goliath battle between plotholders in Birkby and Kirklees Council.

The one-day case will be heard in the High Court in London between March 11 and April 17.

Tenants with plots at Cemetery Road Allotments in Birkby say the ruling is a landmark moment that could have national implications.

The application was filed by Jonathan Adamson, a plotholder and a member of Friends of Cemetery Road Allotments.

Senior Labour councillor Graham Turner said the matter was now a legal process and he could not comment further.

He did advise that the judicial review would not affect the construction of the new £9.7m school, which is expected to open in time for the September term.

Tenants have been offered new, alternative plots.

Campaigner Debby Fulgoni commented: “This is a brilliant result for us and could be a landmark case for allotment holders up and down the UK.”

The decision by the Honourable Mrs Justice Andrews comes just days after  senior councillor Graham Turner said the council was not anticipating facing a judicial review.

Debby Fulgoni and Isaac Romain , plot holders on the Cemetery Road Allotments, which are under threat from building proposals
Debby Fulgoni and Isaac Romain, plot holders on the Cemetery Road Allotments, which are under threat from building proposals.

Her letter warns the council not to develop the disputed land until the review is complete and adds: “The claimant appears to me to have a real prospect of persuading the court [that the allotments carry statutory status].”

Kirklees Council is building a 420-place primary school at Clare Hill in Edgerton. It intends turning tenants’ allotments at neighbouring Cemetery Road into playing fields.

The council says the land at Cemetery Road is designated as temporary allotments.

Campaigners reject that. They say the land would have been appropriated during the Second World War for allotment use and that that provision would have been made permanent in the 1950s.

That argument forms the basis of the tenants’ fight.

The campaigners have been backed by the National Allotment Society, which has been listed as an interested party along with Housing Secretary James Brokenshire.

Mrs Fulgoni added: “This is happening up and down the country.

“Councils are picking off allotments because they think they are easy targets. Then they can put the land in their land banks.

“Now our case is going through the proper process that it should have gone through from the start.

“The council knew that the court had ruled in our favour and that the judicial review was going ahead before Clr Turner made his comments last week. It should have been mentioned.

“The question that I am asking myself is why was he unaware?

“We are happy for the school to go ahead. We want the school. Our argument is that there is plenty of room for the playing fields elsewhere.

“We have previously repeatedly offered alternative suggestions but the council doesn’t want to know.

“If they succeed in taking the top section of our allotments they will eventually come for the rest.”

Book review: The New Enclosure by Brett Christophers – the sale of public land in neoliberal Britain

Since the 1979 dawn of Thatcherism, the state has sold 10% of Britain’s land, and 50% of its public land. Why is no one scandalised?

Will Self – Thu 6 Dec 2018

If you’re someone who’s interested in Britain – and I mean Britain tout court: the whole 80,823 square miles of its physical existence – then this is a book you must read. If, further, you’re any kind of student of the nation (its politics, its social forms, its economic particularities) then Brett Christophers’ painstaking survey of land privatisation since the Thatcher era will tell you many things you already know. But it will also reveal how all these things you already know are, in fact, underpinned by a single terra incognita – in this case a literal one. For, after painstakingly scrutinising the evidence, and crunching the numbers, Christophers arrives at this extraordinary estimate: since 1979, no less than 10% of the land area of Britain has been sold by the state – in all its various guises and incarnations – to the private sector.

What land exactly are we talking about here? There’s certainly been a great deal of Forestry Commission land shed (at its peak, in 1981, it’s estimated that some 10% of Scotland was owned by the commission), although not as much as you might expect. And there is the land associated with the formerly nationalised industries – railways, coal, steel, water etc. Local authorities have notably allowed schools to build on their playing fields, and allotments to be concreted over, while the NHS, since the establishment of the so-called internal market, has disbursed itself of great swatches of the green and pleasant stuff, together with assorted buildings. As a result, some trusts now find themselves in the invidious position of having to buy back land to build hospitals on. As do some of those councils with the temerity to start building social housing again, because, of course, the land beneath the properties Margaret Thatcher gave their tenants the “right to buy” has been flogged off as well. So has a lot of the Ministry of Defence’s estate – old aerodromes and redundant firing ranges – but Christophers devotes considerable space to the utter fiasco attending the sell-off by the MoD of its residential properties. I could go on: suffice to say we’re talking billions of pounds here, approximately 400 of them. Christophers estimates total land privatisation sales to exceed the government’s bail out of RBS by a factor of 12.

This is the “new enclosure” of Christophers’ title: a transfer of rights to land comparable to the great centuries-long alienation of the so-called “commons” that constituted – for Marx at least – the “primary accumulation” of capitalism. We’re all familiar with the narratives associated with these original enclosures. For boosters, civilisation as we know it was born out of putting up the fences and stopping the peasantry from grazing their livestock. Christophers is at pains to distinguish between the alienation of rights involved in these historical enclosures (which didn’t necessarily entail transfer of title), and the new ones, where ownership is of the essence. In both instances, however, the rationale has been increased efficiency of resource exploitation.

The grand narrative of liberal progress, from improved agriculture, to investment in new industrial processes, to the giddy elevation of the City’s glassy epitomes of purely financial capitalism, arguably rests on this very prosaic footprint: land. As for neoliberalism, Christophers, after considering the available options, plumps for privatisation itself as its defining element. If privatisation, he writes, “is indeed the cardinal feature of British neoliberalism, then the biggest privatisation of them all, that of land, is arguably the country’s seminal political-economic development over the past four decades”. Why then, do we know so little about it – especially given we Britons are currently going through such a grand public convulsion regarding our sovereignty?

Christophers acknowledges the pioneering work of the late Doreen Massey (to whom his book is dedicated), whose analysis of land tenure in the period immediately preceding Thatcher’s privatisation drive sets the scene for what ensued. Massey was quick to understand that land was becoming “financialised” before the term was even coined – quick, also, to grasp its implications for both the commonwealth and individual rights.

That her initial work wasn’t taken further – or was developed only sporadically – is in large part, Christophers suggests, due to secrecy. The parties involved in the land privatisations have made no effort to publicise them. What’s more, while a vast array of state organisations have been charged with selling off their land to the private sector few have kept comprehensive records. This, perhaps, shouldn’t surprise us. The underlying pattern of land ownership in Britain has always been weirdly opaque, with no mandatory and centralised registration of title as there is in other countries. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see something sinister in this: Britain’s landlords are blatantly accorded more political power than the dispossessed. Christophers estimates that a quarter of currently sitting MPs are landlords of one sort or another, and avers that the most radical measure introduced by the Blair government was undoubtedly the abolition of the hereditary peers’ right to sit in the House of Lords, because this represented the last overt linkage between ownership and suffrage. But then casting a vote isn’t the only way of making the political weather – Christophers tellingly observes: “There is a clear symmetry or alignment between input (lobbying) and output (land privatisation and its beneficiaries) that is impossible to ignore or dispute.”

Land and power have been inextricably bound up with each other throughout British history, certainly since William of Normandy claimed ownership of the entire landmass by right of conquest. We can see the attenuation of monarchical and aristocratic power writ into law in the form of successive Reform Acts, which lowered the property requirement for suffrage – see it also in the large scale acquisitions of public land that began with the first world war, then continued throughout the 20th century, up until the Thatcherite climacteric.

If their justification for the big sell‑off was to invoke the “hidden hand” of the market as an agent of greater efficiency – both as an exploiter of the land’s resources, and as a means of signalling optimal investment opportunities – then the Thatcherites really didn’t know their Adam Smith. Christopher’s, by contrast, quotes gleefully from The Wealth of Nations: “As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where never they sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.”

An arch-liberal of the 19th century, John Stuart Mill, was yet more pointed: the landlords “grow richer, as it were, in their sleep, without working, risking or economising. What claim have they, on the general principle of social justice, to this accession of riches?”

So acute was Smith’s diagnosis of the problems associated with a market in land – namely, monopoly practices, followed inevitability by price volatility – that Christophers observes there could have been no Marx without him. (And it’s worth recalling that the first demand made in The Communist Manifesto is for the nationalisation of all land.) Far from private landowners utilising land more efficiently, and thereby boosting the overall economy, Christophers demonstrates that privatisation leads to the inversion of the so-called “tragedy of the commons” (the idea that if a community shares the ownership of something, nobody bothers to maintain it), because in their pursuit of the highest possible rents they restrict everyone else’s opportunity to enjoy social amenities. Taking the long view, it’s easy to see that the privatisation of public land since 1979 has heralded the beginning of the end of public space itself – if by that is meant the civic and rural spaces enjoyed by a notional “public”.

Christophers isn’t the only one to have addressed these troubling developments – more than a decade ago, Anna Minton’s Ground Control offered a prescient view of the impact of neoliberalism on urban space; and the sell-off of Britain’s once enviable stock of public housing has been well catalogued by James Meek in Private Island. Christophers points out that the most valuable element of a council property is usually the ground it stands on – as it is with many other properties: and this is because permission to build remains extant. There were measures in the past to ensure that the increased value of land zoned for construction would be shared by all – the so-called “betterment” levy, enshrined in the 1947 Planning Act – but the landlord interest soon saw to its abolition. In its place we have instead the land-banking practised by the so-called “big six” British house builders, as they drip-feed the market with a view to maximising their shareholders’ profits.

A rentier economy (Christophers uses the term unapologetically) is driven by profits, which have increased in real terms as the poor have been denied social housing and instead compelled to pay increased rates for ageing private stock. Setting to one side the scandal involved in quite so much land being shed – and often at prices well below market rates, given that if a seller is compelled, they’re hardly in a position to haggle – this transformation of the national wealth struck me as at once utterly bizarre, and strangely predictable. It’s a rule of contemporary economics that the sort of annual growth rates historically required to make Britain great were in the region of 6-7%; in the past we managed these mostly by ripping off stuff belonging to poorer people in other parts of the world, or by selling them stuff we’d made using equipment they didn’t have. But nowadays such comparative “advantages” no longer obtain, while the stock market has continued to decline, as have the bond yields of chronically indebted western nations. So it seems that in order to maintain the necessary returns on capital, we’ve resorted to a weird form of auto-cannibalisation: forcing our least advantaged to pay rents that, serendipitously, have increased by 6-7% per annum since 1979. Meanwhile, the rentier class keep right on reaping where never they sowed.

• The New Enclosure is published by Verso. To order a copy for £17.60 (RRP £20) go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

 

The collapse in public ownership of land

NOVEMBER 8, 2018 By: Brett Christophers

In this guest post, Brett Christophers, professor in the Department of Social and Economic Geography at Uppsala University in Sweden, outlines the recent history of land privatisation in the UK. His latest book, “The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain” was published by Verso Books on 6 November 2018.

It is an oddity of political discourse in Britain that far-and-away the biggest privatisation also happens to be the one about which least is known.

This is the privatisation of land. Since 1979, when Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street, approximately 2 million hectares of land — or 10 per cent of Britain — has disappeared from public hands, the vast bulk of which has entered private, as opposed to charity or community, ownership.

Around the same amount of land remains in public ownership today, and the government currently values this estate at £420 billion. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the land that has been sold is worth a similar amount. (In reality, it is probably worth much more: the most valuable parts of the public estate, such as local authority land, have suffered the biggest proportionate reductions; individual public-sector bodies have typically sold their most marketable sites; and much of the disposed land, unlike that remaining in government ownership, had planning permission). By way of comparison, no other UK privatisation has been worth more than a tenth of that sum.

There are many reasons this transfer is scarcely acknowledged in the vast archive of media and scholarly commentary on privatisation. The key one is that this has been a quintessential case of death by a thousand cuts. There are in the region of 1,000 different public bodies in the UK and the vast majority have sold sites, ranging from forest to defence land in the case of central government bodies, and from recreational to farm land in the case of local government bodies.

It is impossible to say with any certainty how many individual pieces of land have been sold in total: record-keeping, at least until recently, has generally been dire. But it is certainly several tens of thousands; there have been over 10,000 sales of local authority-owned school playing-fields alone. And yet because nobody has connected up the dots, land privatisation has essentially been ignored. After all, compared to the privatisation of British Telecom or a regional water utility, the privatisation of one hectare here or two hectares there is all too easy to overlook.

If the realisation of land privatisation has been fragmented, its origination has not. From the start this has been a deliberate program, driven centrally from Whitehall, and pursued with particular gusto during periods of Conservative-led government.

A variety of mechanisms have been employed to get landholding bodies to sell. Whitehall has dangled carrots, sometimes allowing sellers to retain and reinvest (some) disposal proceeds. It has set disposal targets. It has squeezed budgets, more-or-less compelling landholders to liquidate assets. And it has introduced laws preventing landholders from blocking sales, as it did most notably with local authorities and housing land under the Right to Buy.

Given the amount of land that has been sold and the fact that government guidelines stipulate that public bodies should secure market value on disposal, it is perhaps surprising that the UK’s public finances remain in such a parlous state. But the reality is that, very often, market value has not been achieved.

Sometimes this is because public bodies have been forced sellers. Sometimes it is because they have seen fit to ‘de-risk’ sites (read: sell them below market value) to appease developers, who have been the principal buyers of public land. Sometimes it is because discounts have been part of the very policy fabric — Right to Buy is again the best example. And sometimes it appears to have resulted from plain incompetence.

Throughout the past four decades, and especially since the global financial crisis, one of Whitehall’s principal justifications for driving the sale of public land has been to enable the private sector to build new homes on it. But it is increasingly clear that the private sector has under-delivered.

Much of the public land released to developers in recent years has not been built on but has instead simply been added to their already engorged land banks. The average number of years of housing supply sitting in the major UK housebuilders’ ‘current’ banks — those containing land that has, or is close to receiving, planning permission — doubled from around three in 2006 to around six a decade later.

Although Sir Oliver Letwin’s final report into landbanking practices was a damp squib, the letter he wrote to Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid midway through his investigations made clear the issue. When developers bank rather than build on land (including ex-public land) they do so not due to the alleged “web of commercial and industrial constraints” but because building too many homes too soon risks ‘disturbing the market price’ of housing. In other words, it hits profits.

The government bears significant responsibility. Inexcusably, it has consistently failed to impose any requirement that developers actually build houses (still less affordable ones) on land privatised specifically for that purpose.

If it is hard to see any material gains from the history of land privatisation in Britain, examples of disbenefits are hiding in plain sight. Ex-public land fills the land banks that buttress housebuilder share prices that, in turn, determine housebuilder executive remuneration. The £75 million bonus recently ‘earned’ by the former chief executive of the UK builder Persimmon must be understood is this light.

Land privatisation is also intimately linked to the declining capacity of the public sector, especially the local public sector, to continue to provide many of the basic social and environmental infrastructures that it has done historically. Such benefits include affordable housing to allotments, libraries to leisure facilities, and playgrounds to parks, all of which depend on the ready supply of land.

Short of widespread compulsory (re) purchase, which would be inordinately expensive in the absence of reform of the 1961 Land Compensation Act, it is too late to do anything about the 2 million hectares of public land that have been lost to Britain. It is not too late, however, to pause and think carefully and creatively about appropriate ownership and use of the 2 million hectares of public land that remain.

There is no reason to believe that land is always necessarily better off under public than private or community ownership. But nor should privatisation remain the default policy option that it has effectively been since the end of the 1970s.

Related Links:
No, the housing crisis will not be solved by building more homes

Buckingham Palace ‘should be converted into housing for 50,000 people’

Tanveer Mann Wednesday 23 Jan 2019 – https://metro.co.uk/2019/01/23/buckingham-palace-converted-housing-50000-people-8380613/

A company has come up with a bold solution to affordable housing in London – by transforming Buckingham Palace. Architecture firm Opposite Office believe their redesigns for the Queen’s home would provide living arrangements for a staggering 50,000 Londoners.

Named ‘Affordable Palace’, the company’s designs would completely transform the 775 rooms that currently make up the palace, which was opened in 1703.

Architecture firm Opposite Office believe their redesigns for the Queen’s home would provide living arrangements for a staggering 50,000 Londoners

There is a downside though – in order to squeeze so many residents into one place, the designs include no corridors and barely any circulation areas, while folding screens and walls would allow for certain spaces to be repurposed as needed.

Private single and double bedrooms would have access to shared living rooms and dining areas. Apartments within the palace would be connected by eight staircases, and part of Opposite Office’s plans would involve a multi-story extension that would be placed on top of the structure. Founder of the company Benedikt Hartl, who also wrote an open letter to the Queen about the proposals, said: ‘For us, it is important that you live together with people, not next to each other.

Apartments within the palace would be connected by eight staircases

Part of Opposite Office’s plans would involve a multi-story extension that would be placed on top of the structure

‘The Affordable Palace should be a collective space for living, meeting people, cooking together, and drinking tea with the Royal Family – a democratic house. ‘All men are created equal – that’s why all rooms are the same size.

A normal earner can no longer afford to live in many large cities. ‘Rent explodes and people live in precarious conditions. We live in a time of madness, a time when everything seems to be possible. ‘Why shouldn’t it then be possible to transform Buckingham Palace, a symbol of royal power and wealth, into social housing?’

Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2019/01/23/buckingham-palace-converted-housing-50000-people-8380613/

What the ‘Irish famine’ genocide teaches us about Palestine

https://mondoweiss.net/2019/01/genocide-teaches-palestine/

Middle East  Avigail Abarbanel on January 15, 2019 20 Comments

James Frecheville in Black 47 plays an Irishman who fought for the British in Afghanistan only to return home and find his family shattered by the coloniser there.

A few evenings ago I watched the 2018 film, Black 47. It tells of the Irish Famine through the story of one traumatized Irish returned soldier. The main character, Martin Feeney (played by the young Australian actor James Frecheville), returns to Ireland from India (another British colony) after fighting for the Empire, only to find the devastation brought on Ireland by the British colonizers, enforced by the very same army he fought for.

This film is painfully well made in every way and is not easy to watch, but watching it honors the memory of the victims and ensures we do not forget crimes against humanity. The film’s main story is fictional and so are the characters. But the context in which the story unfolds, the time and events of the Irish Famine, are devastatingly real.

One of the most important messages from this film is that big historical events that affect a lot of people are not some abstract thing that happens ‘out there’ that has nothing to do with us. Everything that happens to human beings is personal both to victims and perpetrators, albeit in different ways. For those looking at significant historical events from outside or from the distance of time, it can be too easy to perceive them in the abstract. In fact, the way history is written and taught makes it too easy for all of us to view things with detachment. This film warns us against that. It makes history personal.

The victims of the famine were people, human beings like us. We don’t have to know them personally to be able to put ourselves in their shoes. What would it be like to be so poor that you have nothing, to have no shoes, no warm clothes, to not be able to feed yourself and your children, to watch your children die of starvation? How frightening and how desperate would this be? We all know what it feels to be afraid. We all know what desperation feels like, even if we have never experienced the particular conditions the film shows.

What would it be like to be stripped to the bare bones of survival because of the deliberate and calculating actions of someone more powerful than you who views you with contempt because of who you are? What would it be like to be treated like you are piece of garbage, a nothing, by someone who is so much more powerful than you that he can do anything he wants to you? It isn’t that hard to imagine and right now this is life and reality for many people around the world, including the Palestinian people. There are degrees of suffering, yes, but in my profession, we do not compare suffering. Every human being’s suffering matters to them and those around them and it should matter to all of us.

The events between 1845 and 1849 that devastated Ireland are called the ‘Irish Famine’. This is a descriptive title, and yes there was a terrible famine. But such a title makes it sound like this was an unavoidable natural disaster, a force of nature, when it was anything but. The so-called ‘Irish Famine’ was really a genocide committed with intent by the colonising British Empire. It saw millions die of starvation, disease and exposure and millions leave Ireland never to return.

Britain took advantage of a natural disaster that caused a devastating failure of potato crops not only in Ireland but elsewhere in Europe to reduce the population of Ireland and break its resistance to British colonial rule. The potato blight that swept through Ireland left millions starving. The genocide saw the Brits ship food out of Ireland deliberately, while the local people were starving. Starving people were cold-heartedly evicted out of their dwellings into the harsh and cold countryside because they were too poor to pay rent to well-nourished English and English-sponsored landlords who stole and colonized Irish land and lived in comfort and warmth. Millions, entire families, were made homeless for no reason at all and no fault of their own. They were victims of the cruelty of the ruling classes of an Empire that wanted their land. They were thrown out with nothing, starving and barefoot like useless bits of rubbish with nothing to eat, and many died.

Britain felt contempt for the indigenous Irish. It chose not to see them as fellow human beings. Charles Trevelyan, the assistant secretary to the Treasury who was effectively in charge of Famine relief in Ireland said:

‘The judgment of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated . . . the real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.’ (From Tim Pat Coogan. *The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy*. 2013)

This quote does not need interpretation. It speaks for itself. Dehumanization is a common tactic all colonizers and settler-colonizers have been using throughout human history. All colonizers and genocidal regimes convince themselves (and all the bystanders out there) that they are not committing any crime, that in killing millions of their fellow human beings they are in fact doing something virtuous, essential and even godly. It is necessary to dehumanize victims so the job of harming, killing and displacing them is not only made easier but is in fact possible at all. Most people would not harm one another when they feel empathy and relate to each other’s experience. Colonizers do a good job convincing large sections of their own population and outsiders to turn off the empathy switch. They would not be able to carry out atrocities otherwise.

Britain managed to reduce the indigenous population of Ireland by half, and even after the worst of it was over, the population of Ireland kept declining. Britain did fail in the end. Ireland eventually freed itself from British colonialism in 1937, just under a century after the famine genocide. The entire journey however took hundreds of years of ongoing resistance to horrible cruelty, brutality, injustice, internal divisions fostered by the colonizers, a civil war and an unbelievable amount of suffering of an untold number of people.

Halving the population of a country that you colonize is one effective way to try to prevent resistance. The British ruling classes wanted Ireland not for natural resources but for strategic advantage. But regardless of the reasons that might lead one group of people to invade the land of another, colonizers and settler-colonizers are always abusive and parasitical opportunists. They invade, they take over, they turn people against one another, they suck the land and its population dry, they steal from and discard the host, or at least try to.

We see one such case unfolding in Palestine right in front of our noses and no one is doing anything about it. Most of the world looks on as it always has done. It views what is being done to the Palestinians either with the indifference of detachment, or with contempt toward the victims fueled by the choice to believe the perpetrators’ (predictable) dehumanizing propaganda. The perpetrator, the exclusively Jewish state of Israel created by the Zionist movement – itself a product of the colonialist mindset of 19th Century Europe – is still, incredibly, perceived as legitimate rather than as the crime that it is. It is as if we have learned absolutely nothing from history.

It took this long for such a painful, uncompromising and realistic film to be made about one of the many crimes of British colonialism in Ireland. I wonder when someone will finally make a film like this about the Nakba.

No Right To A Home: Amsterdam’s ADM Squat Evicted Today, Amsterdamse Droogdok Maatschappij

No Right To A Home: Amsterdam’s ADM Squat Evicted Today, Amsterdamse Droogdok Maatschappij

Life in Amsterdam’s biggest squat – in pictures

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2018/oct/08/life-amsterdam-biggest-squat-amsterdamse-droogdok-maatschappij-in-pictures
Several children have been born and raised in the community that has grown up around the former shipyard

#Amsterdam: #ADM squat evicted today

Posted on January 7, 2019 by Enough is Enough!  Leave a comment
https://enoughisenough14.org/2019/01/07/amsterdam-adm-squat-evicted-today/
Amsterdam: In the early morning hours cops started with the eviction of the ADM squat today.
Published by Enough is Enough. Written by Riot Turtle.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

After more than 20 years the ADM squat was evicted today. The home of dozens of people and several initiatives fought for a long time to preserve this unique free space, but the wannabee Green left party that governs Amsterdam did not want to wait for the outcome of another court case that takes place tomorrow.

At 8:50am 6 police vans arrived at the ADM complex in the harbour of Amsterdam. A helicopter was fying over the area to monitor the eviction. Shortly before 11:00 a big crane came to ADM. After the eviction of some of the smaller houses at back of the complex, the crane immediately started to demolish the houses. One of the residents of ADM was beaten by a security guard (pucture 1 below (left) is the woman that was beaten, picture 2 (right) is the security guard that was beating her)

At 12:15 cops started to evict people that were chained with lock-ons. In the video in the tweet below activists are singing �Thank you Femke� (Femke bedankt). Femke Halsema is the mayor of Amsterdam.

Mike Muller@_MikeMuller
Krakers zingen nu: �Femke bedankt!� #ADM
11:24 – 7. Jan. 2019

Weitere Tweets von Mike Muller ansehen
Twitter Ads Info und Datenschutz

The cops arrested at least 11 people who refused to leave ADM today. At 03:00pm the cops evicted the last squatters from the roof of the ADM building. Tonight there will be a noise demo in front of the prison for all people who were arrested today.

With ADM, Amsterdam lost another free space where people lived and worked in a self-organized way. Many squats were evicted in the past decades and there are not many free spaces left in the capital of the Dutch territory. Its a sad day but the struggle continues. Solidarity to all people who resisted the eviction

Here is a short AT5 (mainstream media) documentary about ADM :

The (not yet) Lost Free-state � part #1 ‘The Children of ADM’ SUBS from Suwanne CCtv on Vimeo.

The (not yet) Lost Free-state � part#2 SUBTITLED from Suwanne CCtv on Vimeo.

And 2 independent media ADM newsflash videos:

ADM NewsFlash #1 (January 4th. 2019)

ADM NewsFlash #1 (January 4th. 2019) SUBTITLED from Suwanne CCtv on Vimeo.

ADM NewsFlash #2 (January 6th. 2019)

ADM NewsFlash #2 (January 6th. 2019) SUBTITLED from Suwanne CCtv on Vimeo.


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Amsterdam: ADM eviction

– January 7th, 2019

The ADM eviction has started on monday morning, 7 january 2019. Time line, pictures, videos and more news are to be found on Indymedia Nederland. No statement at the moment about this eviction on the ADM website. More news to follow as soon as possible
https://en.squat.net/2019/01/07/amsterdam-adm-eviction/
ADM
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
https://squ.at/r/5g4
https://adm.amsterdam/

Some squats in Amsterdam: https://radar.squat.net/en/groups/city/amsterdam/type/squat
Groups (social centres, collectives, squats) in Amsterdam:https://radar.squat.net/en/groups/city/amsterdam
Events in Amsterdam: https://radar.squat.net/en/events/city/Amsterdam

Nearly 600 homeless people died last year in the UK, first official government figures show

Homeless deaths soar by 24 per cent in five years

May Bulman – Social Affairs Correspondent – @maybulman – Fri 21 December 2018

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/homeless-deaths-2017-last-year-figures-streets-rough-sleeping-a8692101.html

Nearly 600 homeless people died last year in England and Wales, according to government figures published for the first time.

The figure marks a 24 per cent increase over the last five years, according to the data.

Only two days ago, a homeless man was found collapsed yards from parliament. He later died in hospital, prompting claims ministers were ignoring the growing problem of street homelessness on their doorstep.

Another homeless man died in the same place during a freezing cold night in February.

The latest figures, collated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), show more than half of all deaths of homeless people in 2017 were due to drug poisoning, liver disease or suicide.

London and the northwest of England had the highest mortality of homeless people, both in numbers of deaths and per million population of the region.

Some 84 per cent of those who died were men. The average life expectancy for homeless people was found to be 44 years for men and 42 years for women.

For the general population of England and Wales in 2017, the mean age at death is 76 years for men and 81 years for women.

The records identified are mainly those sleeping rough, or using emergency accommodation such as homeless shelters and direct access hostels, at or around the time of death.

Separate figures published by Crisis last week revealed levels of rough sleeping in the UK – including sleeping on public transport and in tents – had doubled in five years, rising by 20 per cent to 24,000 in just 12 months.

Gyula Remes, a 43-year-old Hungarian national, was found by British Transport Police on Tuesday night outside Westminster underground station. Although officers administered first aid, he died hours later.

He was initially found by his friend Gabor Kasza looking “all blue” near a set of revolving doors used by politicians and staff in the House of Commons.

Mr Kasza said Mr Remes had been drinking that night and had been given a cigarette, which he suspected had been laced with the synthetic drug spice.

He said the Hungarian had recently begun work as a chef’s assistant. He said that Mr Remes was due to receive his first pay cheque “some time this week”, which he had hoped would enable him to get off the streets for good.

Mr Remes’ death caused widespread outrage. Labour MP Neil Coyle said: “We should all be ashamed that Westminster – a world heritage site – is also a place homeless people are forced to try to stay warm.”

Responding to the latest figures, shadow housing minister Melanie Onn said: “These figures are utterly shameful and reflect a complete failure of Conservative policy on housing, which has seen rough sleeping skyrocket since 2010.

“We are one of the richest countries in the world and there is no excuse for people dying on our streets.”

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo’s, which supports rough sleepers across the south of England, said: “The figures don’t surprise me. I wish they did. I have personally been informed of five deaths in the past couple of weeks.

“We’ve seen increased numbers, but also increase in the need of people in terms of range and depth of need, particularly in last three to four years. People’s mental health needs are far greater, people’s dependency on drugs is far higher.

“It’s a result of cuts in funding, particularly to NHS services and local authorities. This is one of the effects of austerity – the services people need have been reduced, so it’s no surprise that it’s what we’re seeing day in day out.”

Greg Beales, campaign director at Shelter said: “This appalling loss of life should be a source of national shame. There is nothing inevitable about homelessness or about these tragic deaths which are a consequence of a housing system which fails too many people.

“Our crippling shortage of social housing and a threadbare safety net are at the root of this national emergency and we call on government to make this year a turning point in the fight to ensure that there is a safe home for all those who need it.”

Ben Humberstone of the ONS said: “Every year hundreds of people die while homeless. These are some of the most vulnerable members of our society so it was vital that we produced estimates of sufficient quality to properly shine a light on this critical issue.”

Communities secretary James Brokenshire said: “No one is meant to spend their lives on the streets, or without a home to call their own. Every death on our streets is too many and it is simply unacceptable to see lives cut short this way.

“That’s why we are investing £1.2bn to tackle homelessness and have bold plans backed by £100m to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027.”

He said he was also committed to ensuring independent reviews into the deaths of rough sleepers are conducted where appropriate and that he would be holding local authorities to account.

Revealed: over 500 a year. The UK homeless deaths this Tory government refuses to count

The number of homeless deaths tops 500 amid empty government promises

The Bureau’s count of people who have died homeless in the UK since last winter has now passed 500 – days before the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is due to produce its first ever count of deaths.

Our year-long investigation, currently stands at 554 deaths, though that is likely an underestimate. Those that died include an 81 year-old man who was sleeping on the streets, a mum of two that died in a night shelter and a 47 year-old man who died after being tipped into a bin lorry.

The project prompted the ONS to start compiling its own figures on homeless deaths in England and Wales, which it will release on December 20. Scotland and Northern Ireland’s national records offices are now also considering similar counts.

In October the government pledged to make sure deaths were investigated by local authorities so that lessons could be learned. The Bureau’s figures are “utterly shocking,” said Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, and “it is so important that we understand what has caused those deaths, [by] actually having serious case reviews.”

However the government has admitted since then that it has not offered any extra funding or support to councils to help them do this. The Bureau has found many local authorities are still failing to carry out such reviews, citing lack of resources or saying they do not believe the cases meet the relevant statutory requirements.

Despite the fact five people died in the same homeless hostel in one year, Brighton and Hove council said that no Safeguarding Adult Reviews would be undertaken, because the deaths had not met the “statutory criteria”. Redbridge council also echoed this reasoning.

It is crucial that all homeless deaths are investigated so that lessons can be learned, said Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis. “It is disappointing that no progress has been made to support local authorities to implement this,” he said. “We cannot wait any longer, we need to see action now.”

The Bureau’s statistics on deaths were a harrowing reminder of how deadly life on the streets could be, he added.

“It’s a failure of the largest magnitude that in one of the world’s richest nations, people with nowhere to turn are dying. This has to stop and the government must put in place a full-scale plan to end homelessness once and for all.”

Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, went even further and called for specific funding for reviews: “We think there is a strong case for Government to fund a separate programme outside of the Safeguarding Adult Review process to ensure every death of someone sleeping rough is reviewed. This way we can identify the changes needed, at the local and national level, to stop these tragedies,” he said.

2018: A year of deaths

One of the first deaths we recorded in January was that of 81-year-old Alan Higginson. The octogenarian had been sleeping rough near a John Lewis shop in Norwich city centre. Alan died in hospital of natural causes. Despite an appeal by the police, no family members were found.

Later that same month, 47-year-old Russell Lane died from injuries he sustained when the bin he was sleeping in was tipped into a lorry. An inquest into his death has been postponed.

In February, Polish-born Henrik Bartlomiej was found in Watford outside the tent he slept in. Chief executive of local charity New Hope, Matthew Heasman, said: “We were shocked and saddened to learn of Bart’s death, he is missed dearly by both service users and staff. It’s devastating for someone to lose their life so young because of rough sleeping.” An inquest found he had died from acute alcohol toxicity.

A spell of very cold weather labelled “the Beast from the East” stretched into March, and homeless deaths continued. The weather forced former quantum physicist Hamid Farahi, who had fled the Iraq war, out of the car he lived in and into emergency shelter in a local hotel, where he died.

Martin Dines, 56, died in April after suffering a prolonged physical attack during which he sustained more than 70 injuries. His body was found in a stairwell. Two men were convicted of murder and a woman was convicted of manslaughter.

Mother of two Anna Raynes died in May aged 28. She had spent the night in a shelter after sleeping rough in Bristol and Bath. She was described as “a very kind person” and “the most amazing mum.”

In June, Tracey Patsalides’ body was found in a beach shelter in King Edward’s Parade, Eastbourne. A man was later convicted of her manslaughter. Friends and well-wishers left tributes at the spot but were saddened to see them cleared away by street-cleaners. Her friend described her as “a lovely lady” saying: “She used to light up a room when she walked in, she’d have a smile on her face.”

Anna Raynes died in May aged 28
Tracey Patsalides’ body was found in a beach shelter in Eastbourne

Big Issue seller Fabian Bayet – known as “the Belgian Waffle” for his ability to tell a good story – died in July at the age of 48. He was much loved in the Midlands town of Stony Stratford and in late November a portrait of Fabian was unveiled on the town’s high street.

Kawal Singh, 61, came to the UK from India. He lost his job and ended up rough sleeping for nine years in the Ilford area. He repeatedly asked authorities to return him to his family in India without success, according to a friend. He died on the entrance steps of Redbridge Council in August.

Thirty-two year old Michael Cash, described as a “gentle soul” by his aunt, was found dead in a Middlesborough cemetery in September. Days earlier, a local man Aaron Jones had sprayed red paint over him using a water pistol. The story shocked the country and Jones was later convicted of common assault and criminal damage.

October brought the death of Craig Cunningham, who was also known as “Blakey” and was much loved. He was in his early 40s when he died in hospital. A friend said: “He was always pleasant, always good mannered and always very smiley.” A local charity worker said: “We will all miss him dreadfully, words can’t explain the pain we feel when this happens.” A fellow rough sleeper told local media Craig used to manage a Kwiksave supermarket branch before falling on hard times.

In November, Joanne Jones 44, became the second person to die in a homeless hostel in Bath in just one week. Workers at the shelter described her death as a “tragedy”.

Earlier this month Lee Jenkinson died in hospital with family members at his bedside. He had been sleeping rough in Leeds, despite having a council flat. Charity Simon on the Streets said: “He was a lovely man, well known to services and the public alike. RIP.”

Fabien BayetFabian Bayet was much loved in the town of Stony Stratford
Kawal SinghKawal Singh died on the entrance steps of Redbridge Council

Remembering the dead

Across the country, people have been coming together to mark the deaths and make sure they are remembered.

In London, an annual memorial service at St Martin in the Fields in November heard the names of 170 people that had died homeless in the area last year. In Long Eaton, local campaigners have created a memorial stone with the number of those that have died, while in Manchester a candle lit vigil was held last week.

Jacob Quagliozzi is director of Housing Justice, the charity that organises the annual memorial in St Martin in the Fields. “Each person we remember at that service and those the Bureau has documented have their own story and represents a failure of public policy,” he said. “No one should die on the street in Britain in 2018.”

Header image of tents in an underpass in Milton Keynes by Alex Sturrock

Skin deep beauty of Britain’s Lake District: Villages that no one calls home

Lake District: Villages that no one calls home

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1059840/lake-district-villages-second-houses-britain

VILLAGES in the Lake District are being turned into “ghost towns” because of the large number of people buying second homes in the national park, the former leader of the Lib Dems has said.

By DAVID MADDOX – 
Many people buy second homes in the national park
Tim Farron is to demand a change in planning and local taxation laws in Parliament this week because of the problem in one of the most picturesque parts of England. He wants local authorities to have the power to demand double the council tax rate for second homes. The issue, which is replicated in areas of natural beauty such as Devon, Cornwall, North Wales and Norfolk, sees the number of second homes driving up the cost of housing, pricing out local people and threatening services.
Mr Farron, whose Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency includes the Lake District, said: “We don’t want to be unwelcoming or say that people should not buy second homes, but there is a problem in many villages which are being turned into ghost towns because there is nobody living there for much of the year.

“I went door knocking in one village near Hawkshead and every house was empty apart from one where there was just a man in his 70s.”

Mr Farron said the knockon effect was that schools close because there are no children to go there any more, bus services are cancelled and shops go out of business.

He also wants to close a loophole where second homes owners register as a small business avoiding local tax.

“It seems wrong that people who own these homes are not even contributing financially to the community,” he said. “Many people would think it was fair for them to actually pay extra to help keep services alive even if they are not there for much of the year to spend money in the community.”

Mr Farron wants to force property buyers to seek planning permission for a second home designation.

The MP said: “That way the number of second homes in a village could be limited simply by the council refusing to give planning permission.”

He added: “We need to restrict the impact that second homes are having on communities.”

Homeless pods designed to keep rough sleepers alive in the cold and safe from street violence, are denied funding

Homeless pods designed to keep rough sleepers safe are denied funding

The pods were launched in October but haven’t been seen since

The pods on Bridge Street, Newport (Image: Stuart Johnson/Amazing Grace Spaces)

The roll out of pioneering sleeping pods for homeless people has been dealt a blow.

The so-called “pods”, described as an emergency space for rough sleepers, were manufactured by charity group Amazing Grace Spaces.

The units, which offer a warm self-contained space with a bed, chemical toilet and light, were launched in Newport back in October.

Husband-and-wife team, Stuart and Caroline Johnson, who run the charity, showcased two pods on Bridge Street in Newport city centre in an effort to attract interest from organisations and councils.

The two prototypes were funded out from the couple’s own pocket – with each pod costing around £5,500 to produce.

So, where did they go?

Stuart, the charity’s founder and designer of the pods, was in talks with Newport City Council, who were looking to help the charity secure funding for the project.

(Image: Amazing Grace Spaces)

However, the funding application, which went to the Welsh Government, was rejected.

Stuart said: “When we launched the sleeping pods, we had such a fantastic response from both housing professionals, the public and the homeless and we are deeply disappointed and perplexed as to why funding for them was turned down”.

“The sleeping pods are a relatively inexpensive short term emergency accommodation option for the homeless to keep them safe away from the dangers of sleeping in doorways, tents and in underpasses.”

A spokesperson for Newport City Council said: “A funding application to Welsh Government was submitted by Newport City Council in partnership with the Pobl Group and the Wallich.

“It focused on three themes: the provision of additional outreach support for rough sleepers, additional and intensive move-on support and the pod accommodation.

“Two parts of the bid were approved but, unfortunately, funding was not provided for the pods.

“The council is currently considering options as to how this scheme could be funded and supported from potential avenues.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are investing more than £20 million in tackling homelessness and rough sleeping over the next two years.

“This includes funding for projects in Newport to fund more outreach workers to work proactively with people who are sleeping rough to support them into longer term, stable accommodation.

“We will continue to work with Newport City Council and other partners to prioritise the most effective appropriate projects to support people to move off the street and into longer term housing solutions.”

What now for the pods?

Amazing Grace Spaces will be utilising the two sleeping pods that were showcased and have arranged with a local businessman to house the two sleeping pods at the back of his premises.

Stuart said: “We need to put some final touches to the sleeping pods and arrange insurance and put in place the support required to maintain the pods and we hope to get them out before Christmas.

“We will not give up and will continue to talk with councils across Wales and the Welsh Government to get more of these pods out on our streets so our homeless have a safe emergency shelter to sleep in rather than sleeping in shop doorways.”

Inside the pods (Image: Amazing Grace Spaces)

Amazing Grace Spaces says its does not see this as a solution to homelessness but as an inexpensive option to keep homeless people safe when they need emergency shelter.

They are now looking at other options for funding and one of those is to start their own fundraising campaign, which should be set up in the next few weeks.

For more details, visit the charity’s website.

Email or call us for more information
Email | info@amazinggracespaces.org
Telephone | 07802 451340

a Landrights campaign for Britain

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