Monday, May 30, 2016

The UK's housing bubble: ready to pop?


As someone who was badly caught out by the last major crash in 1990 - this chart frightens me.

The report is from Fathoms, who are economic advisors to Newham Council Investment and Accounts Committee.

"The UK's house price to income ratio has been inflated to within a whisker of its pre-recession peak and is well above its long-term average.

Property prices would need to fall by up to 40%, or household income grow at ten times its current pace for the next five years, in order to bring the ratio back to balance.

We maintain our view that this increase is demand driven, brought about by both exceptionally low real rates of interest and Chancellor Osborne's Help to Buy scheme.

The housing market is likely to remain overvalued at anything other than near-zero interest rates. Fearful of destabilising the fragile arithmetic that underpins the housing market, we believe that Bank Rate normalisation is a distant prospect - regardless of the EU referendum result".

Greece Solidarty Campaign delegation visit March 2016: Day One "Refugees Welcome to Piraeus".


This is a  late post on a 3 day delegation visit I went in March to Athens with the Greece Solidarity Campaign (GSC). The GSC is an independent campaign and non-party political organisation, established in response to an appeal by Tony Benn in February 2012 for solidarity with the people resisting ‘austerity’ in Greece. It is supported by the TUC and has a number of affiliated organisations and individual members. The GSC have run various delegation visits to Greece in recent years but the theme of this visit was about "Local Government". I was interested in this as both a local Councillor and also a public service trade union activist.

All members of the delegation arranged independent travel and accommodation and we met for the first time on the Sunday in a hotel in the centre of Athens. The delegation included trade unionists, Councillors, supporters and Jon Lansman, the National secretary for Momentum. David Lammy MP arrived the following day.

Our first visit and tour was to a Solidarity Centre, which was set up for and run by unemployed Greeks. It began in 2012 and now supported 200 families. It helps with food, legal advice, chemists, education and training. It is not a "charity" and all members have to volunteer for at least 4 hours and have to attend monthly meetings. Focus is on the out of work. 60% are unemployed. 30% have inadequate pensions and the remaining 10% inadequate income for other reasons.

As well as supporting Greeks hit by austerity they are also now collecting food for  refugees. "Solidarity for all" is their slogan. Their motto is the best way to show solidarity - is to do it. 

The kitchen in the back feeds refugees. But the refugees do not want to stay in Greece and tend to head out for "Macedonia and Germany".  Due to the border restrictions more people are staying longer (the restrictions have since become far worse). Greece is in danger of becoming a "deposit of lost souls". 75% of Greeks are supportive of refugees and show solidarity but this could change very quickly. See the rise of the fascist and racist Party "Golden Dawn".

Next we went to the Commercial Port and the E1 passenger terminal.  The terminal was a make shift refugee camp. Despite the efforts of volunteers the conditions were pretty shocking. Families and young children were sleeping on blankets over concrete floors. The children were making the best of it and playing games while their parents looked desperate and exhausted. Some of us also visited a former warehouse across the road which was also being used to house refugees. The conditions were even more appalling here being overcrowded, dark and dank. Many of our delegation were openly upset at what they witnessed. I for one never thought that I would ever see scenes like this in modern day Europe.

We met some of the young volunteers who included refugees themselves from Syria and Yemen and a British student helping out during her gap year. The volunteers worked 6am to 6pm shifts, 2 days on and 1 day off. Other volunteers handed out clothing and food while off duty Greek hospital doctors and nurses ran an emergency medical clinic.

The refugees wanted to tell us their stories. Horrific tales about suicide bombings and killings, the fear of drowning when crossing the sea, the uncertainty and worry about their future.

One of our guides explained that despite the poverty and economic hardship in Greece, ordinary Greeks still supported the refugees because so many of them were once refugees themselves because of past war and conflicts. He asked the British people to think that who knows, one day they might well be refugees and need help and support.

I will post on the other 2 days later.

On Sunday 17 July I will be attempting to complete a Olympic distance triathlon to raise funds for the GSC and for UNISON Charity "there for you".

You can donate to the GSC here (drop me an email to let me know) and/or to There For You on the "Just Giving" page I have set up.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Canning Town North Labour Party meeting on proposed Silvertown Link Tunnel - 9 June



Canning Town North Labour Party
Email: Labourparty.canningtownnorth@hotmail.co.uk

Twitter:@LabourpartyCTN

Facebook: coming soon

Branch Meeting:

The Hub, 123 Star Lane, E16 4PZ

Thursday 09th June 2016 Start 7.00pm

Venue: Community Links
105 Barking Road, Canning Town
LONDON E16 4HQ

RE:The Silvertown Link Tunnel

Dear Member:

You are invited to a meeting to meeting regarding the Silvertown Link Tunnel, this a open meeting were members can bring friends and family.

Agenda:

*Robert Gordon & Jim Ludlum will open the meeting and talk about the effects on the Canning Town North area.

*Ann Robbins from (say no to Silvertown Link tunnel) will talk about the effects of tunnel from Greenwich.

*Then invited speakers(TBA) from Labour Party, Green Party, and other parties will talk about their views on Silvertown link Tunnel.

*The floor will be open for members of the public to ask questions.

* Closing arguments.

So Please all ward members and residents please attend this, thks.

Shaban Mohammed.
Branch Secretary.
Canning Town North.

Register to Vote in EU Referendum - online in 5 minutes (By 7 June)

If you haven't registered to vote - Click on https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. It will take about 5 minutes and all you need is your national insurance number (on a pay or pension slip, tax form, or plastic card). You can even use a smart phone. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Axe the Housing Act

Picture is from the Defend Council Housing lobby against the Housing and Planning Bill in the House of Commons earlier this month. A number of MPs, Lords, Tenant representatives, campaigners and trade unions came to speak at it.

I was late due to a union commitment and missed Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but managed to hear Bethnal Green MP, Rushanara Ali, call for unity in order to oppose the bill. Later Diane Abbot MP, spoke about the need to build more and more Council Homes as the only real solution to the housing crisis, while Emily Thornberry described the housing misery of so many of her constituents, which is why she is known as the "Housing, Housing, Housing MP".

The Bill will steal homes from hard pressed Councils to pay the Tory election bribe on Right to buy for Housing association tenants and it will double or triple the rents of many social tenants who work and likely to result in mass evictions.

I spoke later on why UNISON is so opposed to the Bill. Out big issue is where will low paid families and key workers be able to afford to live in the future?

Not only do we have around 100,000 trade union members who work in social housing but we have 1.3 million predominately low paid, female members, many of which cannot afford a decent home to buy or rent. A recent survey found that a third of our members had grown up children still living with them and now twice as many live in private rented accommodation as in the social rented sector.

After the lobby I went to watch in the gallery the actual debate on the Housing Bill in the House of Commons. I saw Labour and other opposition MPs rip the bill to pieces and completely out of touch rich Tory MPs try to defend it on the grounds that it will benefit families who earn £100,000 per year!

The Bill is now law and despite some concessions is still vile. However, it does not come in force until next year and the Government will have to return to Parliament for approval on regulations etc so there is still time to campaign, oppose and axe!
  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Pension v ISA: what future for workplace saving? 27th June 2.30-4.40pm

This should be fascinating. A debate between the quiet and unassuming, Michael Johnson and trade union Baroness, Jeannie Drake on the future for pensions (or is it workplace savings?)
 
"Dear colleague
 
The coming year will be pivotal for the future of UK retirement savings with a major review of automatic enrolment and the launch of a potential rival to workplace pensions in the Lifetime ISA.

On June 27, the TUC is to set out its proposals for the future of automatic enrolment with the publication of a report Unfinished Business: where now for workplace pensions?. It continues the long-standing campaign by the trade union movement to secure decent retirement provision for all workers.

The report will be launched with a debate between two of the foremost figures in devising these contrasting approaches to saving for retirement.

Baroness Drake was one of the three members of the Pensions Commission that revolutionised workplace pensions saving with its advocacy of automatic enrolment a decade ago. She is also a Labour peer and former Deputy General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union.

Michael Johnson is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies who has provided much of the intellectual ammunition for a move towards an ISA-based system for retirement savings.  A former investment banker, he later worked for an actuarial consultancy and ran David Cameron’s Economic Competitiveness Policy Group.

The event will be chaired by TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak.

It will take place at Congress House with registration from 2.30pm for a prompt 3pm start. The event will finish by 4.30pm.

This event will be of interest to trade unionists, policy experts, pensions industry representatives and others.

To register please click on the link below:


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Forest Gate "Labour In"

Picture is from the stall on Saturday in Forest Gate of West Ham CLP supporters campaigning for "Remain" in the EU referendum.

This was led by our MP Lyn Brown (left of picture).

There was a very good response. Lots of "thumbs up" and positive comments by local residents.

Next time we need more balloons to hand out.

We also sent out leafleters to surrounding streets and asked local shops and businesses to put up "VOTE REMAIN 23 JUNE" posters.


Monday, May 23, 2016

UNISON "there for you" grants for School Uniforms

UNISON's special charity for its own members "there for you" is helping low paid families to meet the cost of providing school uniforms. If your net earned (work) income is less than £18,000 per year (see below) and you have savings of less than £800 then you can get £40 per child uniform grants from UNISON "there for you"  up to £120 (for 3 kids).

What are UNISON There for You School Uniform Grants?
In addition to our normal range of services and in response to the growing difficulties many members on low income  face,  a programme has been put in place that will assist our most vulnerable members with the cost of purchasing school uniforms.

How much are the Grants?
They are one-off grants of £40.00 per school age child, up to a total of £120.00

Am I eligible?
To be eligible you must be:
·         A member who has paid 4 weeks subscriptions before the launch date of this programme (23/5/16)
·         Have a total net annual household income of £18,000 or less.  [Note:By household income we mean net earnings after tax, national insurance, pension deductions  of you, your partner and any other adults living in the property.   Please also refer to next bullet point:
·         The following is not included as income for the purpose of this specific grants programme:
-          Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payments, Child Benefit and the childcare cost element only of Working Tax Credit
·         Responsible for meeting household bills and struggling to pay them
·         Financially responsible for the child/children.
·         Not eligible for funding for uniform costs from your Local Authority

Is there anything else that may affect my entitlement to apply?
·         Members and their partners must not have combined savings or, a rolling bank balance of more than £800.00.  Savings of any other adults in the household do not apply
·         You must not have received financial assistance from UNISON There for You during the previous six months
·         Applications are limited to one per household
·         Ensure you send all requested paperwork with the form or the application cannot be accepted

How do I apply?
To apply for a School Uniform Grant simply:
·         Download from our website www.unison.org/thereforyou
·         Contact Unison Direct on 0800 0857 857 for a form to be posted to you
·         Provide us with evidence of your entire household income by sending copies of :
o   You and your partner (if applicable) last month’s payslip(s)
o   Last full month’s bank statements for all bank accounts held by you and your partner (if applicable)
·         Submit the form along with the completed short survey by 15 July 2016.
·         Post your application including all supporting paperwork to: UNISON Welfare, UNISON Centre, 130 Euston Road, London NW1 2AY.

Where can I go for further help or advice?
There is a limited amount of funding in the school uniform grants programme and once it has been exhausted no further awards for the year can be made.  However if you are facing unforeseen hardship it may be possible for you to apply to our general grants programme.  We will let you know if this applies to you. 

For further information, please see our web pages at www.unison.org/thereforyou, contact your Branch Welfare Officer or the There for You Support Team on  020 7121 5620  or email thereforyou@unison.co.uk.   If you are experiencing difficulty with credit card and other consumer debts, please refer to our additional  information at https://www.unison.org.uk/get-help/services-support/there-for-you/debtline-support/, or contact our Debline direct on 0800 389 3302.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

London Loop Walk Section 6: Banstead to Kingston

This post is a little late and off message but the weekend after the May 5 elections I resumed my attempt to walk around the London Loop route from last year.

The London Loop is a 150 mile circular walk around London split into sections. I had hoped to complete the whole walk last year but only managed to do the walks 1-5. The further away from East London the more difficult it was to get to get to and fro the start and finish of each walk.

This time I decided to do one Loop walk on the Saturday and stay over for the night then do the next walk the following day (Sunday).  It was about 11 miles.

It was a nice walk but mostly urban and suburbia.  Tudor Nonsuch Park and Palace was pretty and interesting but the main path along the river Hogworth was a bit disappointing. Ewell was well worth a visit with the Roman remains and the Village Jail. Brought refreshing ice lollies at Bourne Hall. There was beautiful tree blossom throughout the route. May is a wonderful time of year to go walking.

The best part of the walk was the ending in Kingston upon Thames. There was a Airbnb apartment just off the route and 10 minutes walk from the centre. Kingston is lovely and had a great meal in a restaurant next to the river in the evening and was able to carry on route 7 the following day (Sunday).