Posts filed under 'Homes and housing'
On a bleak, finger-chilling day, some heart-warming moments. At the demonstration against the bedroom tax outside the Scottish Parliament, a young Edinburgh student stirs the blood with invective against Holyrood Palace: will they be paying tax on unoccupied bedrooms? Like f*** they will. And, a trade unionist raises hopes: “This will be Cameron’s poll tax”. Loud cheers.
Well, we all remember what happened to Maggie Thatcher don’t we?
Or do we? The victorious campaign against that foolish policy is now a long time ago. Almost 23 years to the day since the riots in London, and the Scottish rebellion which saw Tommy Sheridan banged up and (eventually) Mrs Thatcher booted out.
A lot has happened since then. The latest Social Attitudes Survey indicates that a new generation care less about solidarity. Despite marches against tuition fees and support for the Occupy movement, most young people don’t see the point in political action. And, besides, the wily Coalition has decided the best way to rule is to divide the people who are going to feel the sharpest end of their cuts.’ Strivers versus skivers’ rhetoric is carefully calculated to make sure of that.
There’s another crucial difference. The poll tax would have affected everyone. I remember anti-poll tax fundraising events in middle class dining rooms and restaurants where academics, lawyers, politicians and community activists sat down together to plot the next rally. These were cross-party affairs uniting Labour, Lib Dem, SSP and SNP.
The bedroom tax (Cameroonian: ‘spare room subsidy’) hurts a much smaller segment of society: disabled, carers, single parents or people otherwise dependent on housing benefit to support the cost of their home. Under new rules from the beginning of April, the average reduction in benefit will be £14 a week for council tenants and £16 a week for housing association tenants. DWP estimates about 7 per cent of Housing Benefit claimants face a cut of £31. In total affecting maybe 600,000 people. Or many more.
New rules are fiddly and keep changing. The government can’t seem to make up its mind about them. By the time anyone reads this further changes may have been made.
And yet, maybe there is cause for hope in this characteristic Cameron clumsiness. Although the SNP government line is also complicated (they haven’t yet agreed to protect bedroom tax tenants from eviction), both Labour and SNP activists are out campaigning and Scottish middle class dining rooms are once again buzzing with the mindless unfairness of a Westminster policy which will not only cause great suffering to thousands of people, it will almost certainly not save any money.
Where tenants move they will be entitled to full housing benefit on more expensive properties. (The real problem is not under-occupancy it is under-building of properly affordable homes and over-pricing of rented properties.)
And when families are evicted because they stayed put (near jobs, schools, family support) but couldn’t afford the increased rent – well, then the council has to pick up the tab of finding them alternative, more costly accommodation.
This is a lose-lose policy and Cameron deserves to pay the price. Just like Thatcher.
March 16th, 2013
A new book burst on to the scene this week, a best seller on Amazon before the shops opened on Thursday. And no, I’m not talking about Ray’s book this time, I’m just grabbing a sneaky chance to revisit the mystery of the Hogwarts Treehouse.
To be honest I know nothing about hogwarts or where they live. I have never read Harry Potter but last month my eye was caught by the news that his creator had planning permission to build an adventure treehouse in her Crammond back garden. Apart from some neighbours grumbling that it will spoil their view, no-one is complaining. But that’s not the mystery. After all the week leading up to launch of The Casual Vacancy produced a crop of sympathetic stories including Decca Aitkenhead’s profile of JK Rowling in the Guardian and the revelation that the multi-millionaire believes in paying her tax – although that should not have come as a surprise to anyone who had read her Single Mother’s Manifesto published before the last general election.
Altogether, JKR sounds a thoroughly decent sort. So the mystery (to me) is why she should bring builders all the way from Kent to make a playhouse for her kids? Why not choose local builders to do the job? In one fell swoop the philanthropic Rowling could have done her bit to support Scottish innovation, increase local employment and reduce carbon emissions at the same time.
David Douglas Pavilion, Pitlochrie by Robin Baker
Blue Forest, based in Kent, may be an excellent company but three years ago Ray and I spent a very interesting few months meeting some of the most talented, progressive and idealistic architects and builders in Scotland. We were collecting case studies for a chapter on timber building for a wonderfully wide-ranging book called The Woodlanders. (the subtitle was New Life in British Forests but much of the material was gathered in Scotland).
Over moors and mountains we went – sometimes by phone or email but often by road in real life – to remote and romantic places where the living can be far from easy. We met a great bunch of creative people using a mix of ancient methods and advanced technology to create beautiful, environmentally sustainable and highly desirable homes, schools, offices and community meeting places (plus some very interesting composting loos). We found the promise of a Scottish timber-building renaissance which could bring social, environmental and economic benefits to both town and countryside but it needs government investment – in tree planting and tax incentive schemes – to reach fulfilment. And a little celebrity endorsement would do no harm.
The beautiful strength of a timber frame by Heartwood Frames
So, as an interesting counterpoint to the breathless publicity about JK Rowling’s new ‘adult’ book, there was another news story on Friday – design awards for a house built from Scottish timber demonstrating the potential for sustainable, affordable homes in rural communities.
I can thoroughly recommend a browse through the illustrated pages of Woodlanders – or take a look at the websites of Scottish pioneers like Neil Sutherland, Robin Baker, Gaia Group, North Woods, Heartwood Frames, Sylvan Stuart … to name just a few. If JKR, or any other imaginative philanthropists fancy making more dream buildings come to life they are truly spoilt for choice in Scotland.
September 30th, 2012
The Jolly Roger, as seen on Occupy Edinburgh Facebook page and slightly edited on Ian Fraser’s blog
He never writes, he never calls. Now more than a week since I emailed Stephen Hester chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland and still no reply. Of course I did not really expect an answer from him, still less that he would buy the idea of transferring £500 million RBS bonus payouts to a philanthropic fund for affordable housing.
Mr Hester has other things on his mind.
Newspaper reports say RBS is considering selling off the troublesome investment arm of the business, making perhaps 5,000 people redundant. But that won’t stop the bonus bonanza this year. According to the Financial Times RBS is determined to go ahead with the bonus payments (whatever David Cameron might say) and the top man at RBS investments, a nicely named John Hourican, stands to gain £4 million.
The injustice is staggering. The arrogance is breathtaking. We own 83% of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Which is why we have both a right and a duty to keep up the pressure on our bank. At first I was astonished at the response my blog produced, mainly from young people (no other post has attracted so many hits, Facebook comments and tweets, not even the local protest against Tesco). But I think there are two main reasons: people want banks to be made accountable and they are angry at Britain’s growing inequality. There is a pent-up fury at the unfairness of a system that allows banks to ruin the economy and then pocket the bailout money.
Some encouraging thoughts. Both Malcolm Chisholm MSP and Mark Lazarowicz MP have responded sympathetically and tweeted their support for the idea of asking RBS to invest in a philanthropic fund for building homes (and boosting the economy in the process).
The lasting legacy of the Lewis Trust, still providing affordable homes to buy or rent
From Alex Neil, Scottish Government cabinet minister with responsibility for housing? So far just a confirmation that his office has received my email. (Mr Neil also has plenty of other things on his mind right now – not least his leader’s claim that an independent Scotland would not be responsible for the cost of bailing out RBS).
So what next? On Facebook one comment suggests taking the protest to SEAD, Scottish Education and Action for Development, who held the RBS shareholder “counter conference” to raise awareness of the bank’s involvement with Dirty oil.
But if we are to hold our RBS accountable, if we want to turn our publicly funded pirates into philanthropists, it will take action and energy and relentless determination. Are we up for it? If you are reading this please leave a comment, or write to your MP and MSP. Oh yes, and send a copy to Stephen.Hester@rbs.co.uk
January 12th, 2012
Stop Press: Monday 9 Jan. No reply yet from RBS but this idea has provoked great response from young people and sympathetic support from Malcolm Chisholm MSP and Mark Lazarowicz MP so I will be posting an update as soon as possible…
The Skinny Magazine has wickedly bestowed Stand Comedy Club comedians with magic powers to make New Year resolutions for others (please read David Cameron’s and make a wish that real life could be like this). While the spirit of good will is still in the air, I’m writing my New Year resolution for the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Dear Stephen Hester, as RBS chief executive, instead of paying out a reputed £500 million bonus to your investment bankers this year, why not put the cash into a philanthropic fund for affordable housing? Better still, do a deal with the government and other banks for matched funding to set an inspiring new direction for a gloomy and fearful nation at a time when we are short of both hope and housing.
For good examples, you need look no further than other men of money – the London-based American George Peabody , a banker, who built housing for the poor in Britain during the 19th century or the London money-lender Samuel Lewis whose 1901 legacy endowed a trust to house the poor. As we are fast recreating the social structure of Victorian Britons why not follow their philanthropic footsteps too?
I venture to suggest such a scheme, Mr Hester, at a time when RBS is once more appearing in public places as a sponsor of the arts. Your target market is cleverly chosen. With projects like the highly successful RBS Museum Lates the aim seems to be to connect with a new audience of bright young people.
Investing in creative activities for young people is good but there is no need to stop there. Investing in affordable homes for young people would be a PR master-stroke; providing security for a new generation, stimulating the economy – building houses, you may remember, is good for construction and retail industries – and transforming the image of RBS all at one go.
Your investment bankers will protest of course. They will threaten to go elsewhere (please, oh please). But what exactly are they planning to do with their bonus money procured at our public expense? What could they possibly buy that would make their life better and benefit the economy too?
Lewis Buildings in Islington: still good places to live after 100 years
Philanthropists often talk of the warm glow that comes from giving. Rather sadly, there is no mention of warm glow in the very businesslike corporate social responsibility description of RBS sponsorship on your website.
Our involvement in sponsorship has previously helped us build our brand and deliver specific business objectives across the globe.
Branding and business objectives? Motives for charitable giving are always complex, as Professor Hugh Cunningham revealed in the recent BBC Radio 4 programme How New is the New Philanthropy: desire for power and philanthropy have always gone hand in hand.
What inspired George Peabody? Who can say, but Peabody Estates still provide affordable housing for both rent and sale as does the Lewis Trust (now renamed Southern Housing Group) Here, Stephen Hester, is your chance for the feel good experience of a lifetime. Royal Housing for First Time Buyers! Make it green housing and your warm glow could light up Scotland for years to come.
A philanthropist’s gift. I just happen to be rather closely connected to someone who was born in the bottom right flat of this block of Lewis Buildings in Islington.
December 30th, 2011