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GMTU Anti-racism Statement

The Black Lives Matter global uprising that followed the murder of George Floyd has forced a reckoning with racist state violence, its history and its ongoing perpetuation across the world. Recent research by Resistance Lab has shown that Greater Manchester Police are, after the London Metropolitan Police, the most frequent users of tasers; with Black people subject to the use of tasers by GMP at nearly 4 times the rate of white people. 

 

In housing too, racial inequality is starkly apparent and has a long history with deep roots. It is well documented that Black communities are more likely to face overcrowding, disrepair and general poor housing conditions.  Homelessness is also disproportionate among these same communities — one in three homeless households aren’t white, compared to around one in seven in the general population. Research done by the Runnymede Trust also demonstrated that the impact of a decade of government austerity has disproportionately impacted Black communities.

 

A report published in 2016 summed up by stating: “four decades of struggle by black and minority ethnic communities, bolstered by legislation, statutory and regulatory codes from the 1960s onwards, have failed to confront adequately and systematically racial disadvantage and discrimination in housing”. The following year, the Grenfell Tower fire was tragic evidence of this fact. As Leslie Thomas QC said at the Grenfell Inquiry earlier this year, the fire was “inextricably linked” with race and reported that that “40% of those living in high-rise buildings in the social rented sector are black, Asian or other. This, compared to the percent of the population (14%), is high.”

 

Overlapping with housing, are other factors. The government’s racist hostile environment, which led to the Windrush scandal, has ensured that the UK border is present across society — including in housing, where both private and social landlords increasingly conduct immigration checks, controlling peoples’ access to housing. Injustice in our immigration system means that asylum seekers are often housed in substandard accommodation, with companies like Serco hanging the threat of eviction over their tenants. The politicisation of the border has been the result of a decade which has seen the rise of the far right, which has racism at its core. 

 

The Covid-19 pandemic, and its health and economic impacts have highlighted the pre-existing inequalities of our society. Amongst Health and Care workers, and the wider population of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse communities, infections and mortality rates are far higher. The poverty and destitution, barriers to tenants challenging the exploitation and disregard of landlords, and the impact of severe overcrowding and disrepair problems, have disproportionately fallen on our Black, Asian and ethnically diverse communities.




In this context, our position is clear. The Greater Manchester Tenants Union is determined that campaigning against racism and racial inequality will be a priority for our organising. We want to ensure that our organisation is not merely non-racist, but a proactive anti-racist one. We will organise to fight the housing conditions that disproportionately affect Black communities. Beyond this, we will position ourselves as part of a broader anti-racist movement in society. We are forging links with campaigns beyond housing, and stand in solidarity with struggles against police violence, the hostile environment and the rise of the far right.

 

What we are doing

 

Upon the election of a new committee in October, it was agreed that anti-racism would be a priority. This has led to the formation of an anti-racist working group, convened by the Chair, Secretary and Treasurer, with staff time allocated as well. This working group reports to the Committee and is overseeing our anti-racist work, including:

 

  1. Developing a strategy for growing our membership, focusing on Black, Asian and ethnically diverse membership.
  2. Leading the growth of links of solidarity with organisations and grassroots campaigns combatting racism.
  3. Reviewing and updating GMTUs diversity policy, for staff, committee and members.
  4. Coordinating a programme of training and education for the membership, committee and staff on anti-racist organising, history and principles.
  5. Writing an anti racist policy document for GMTU to be reviewed and approved at the next AGM.

 

This document stands as a statement of purpose and intent from the new committee and the anti-racist working group. We intend for it to shape and direct our organising through 2021 and beyond.



This document is dated January 2021, to be reviewed on a six monthly basis.



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Renters’ Reforms – Queen’s Speech 2021

By Allison Fewtrell

We received a whopping 158 page document – “Queens Speech 2021 Pack” which contained quotes from the speech and the government’s comments for each. As expected, it’s a mixed bag, with some positive things and some not so great. Here’s our take on it – no holds barred!

Quote: “My Government will help more people to own their own home whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent.”

Until affordability is addressed, you will not enable more people to move from rented to home ownership. How can anyone save for a deposit and associated home buying costs when over a third and in some areas over half of their income is eaten up by rent?

In addition – implementing rent control would probably cause house prices to fall – something that horrifies property speculators, but something that would really help those wishing to buy their own home. The over inflated property market is why so many people are renting in the first place.

In 1997 the average UK house price was just 2.5 times the average median salary, but the current cost of a home in Manchester will set you back 8 times workers annual earnings.

At our recent Housing Hustings, Andy Burnham committed to supporting rent controls and has invited us to work with him on the Good Landlords Charter for Greater Manchester. See the recording of the hustings with the mayoral candidates here

The government says it is committed to having a “Better Deal for Renters in England”, by publishing it’s consultation response on abolishing Section 21 and improving security for private sector tenants.

Binning Section 21 is something we have been demanding for years, but we need to remember that Landlords have plenty of loopholes at their disposal to get around this and will use them to rid themselves of ‘inconvenient’ tenants, simply by hiking the rent to an unaffordable amount or pretending they are going to sell the property when they have no intention of doing so.

The remark about improving security for tenants is potentially a good thing – if they mean security of tenure. The ability to have a long term tenancy of 5 or even 10 years will provide stability and end the constant worry of tenants on statutory short hold tenancies which can be terminated at the landlord’s discretion at any time – leaving the tenant only a couple of months to find somewhere else that is within their budget – something that is becoming increasingly difficult with a shortage of genuinely affordable homes in the private rented sector.

We will outline proposals for a new ‘lifetime’ tenancy deposit model that eases the burden on tenants when moving from one tenancy to the next.

We like this one – 1 in 10 people in the UK have no savings at all, and with so many in rent arrears and fuel debt after the disastrous effects of the pandemic, the prospect of moving to another tenancy and having to pay a deposit up front is a grim one. The only fly in the ointment is, we know how landlords try it on when tenants move out, making bogus claims for damage that is either fair wear and tear or simply repairs that were neglected by the landlord. With that in mind, we want to see more clarification on this point.

Bring forward reforms to drive improvements in standards in rented accommodation, including by ensuring all tenants have a right to redress, and ensuring well targeted, effective enforcement that drives out criminal landlords, for example exploring the merits of a landlord register.

Don’t just ‘explore the merits’! A landlord register is absolutely essential – we need it now. It’s good to see this mentioned though – along with acknowledgement that the quality of rented accommodation needs addressing. The quality of your home has a direct effect on your health – both mental and physical. We’re pleased these things are getting a mention.

Explore improvements and possible efficiencies to the possession process in the courts, to make it quicker and easier for landlords and tenants to use.

Wait, what? Making it quicker and easier to render someone homeless is not something we approve of. Why the mention of tenants in this statement? Why would a tenant want it to be easier to get evicted and where is the safety net for someone who’s been fast-tracked out of their home?

In the ‘Key Facts’ section of the document the government takes the opportunity to pat itself on the back, reminding us of 

  • 6 month pause in court possession proceedings between March and September 2020
  • 6 months notice required before eviction between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 
  • restrictions on bailiff enforcement until 31 May in all but the most egregious cases

Yet we know for a fact people were evicted throughout the pandemic.

Rent arrears that have built up during the pandemic must be cancelled. Means test the landlords so that those in genuine hardship can apply for govt support. Moreover – we and other tenant unions, charities and campaign groups repeatedly fought tooth and nail to force them to extend the eviction ban – they make it sound as though it was handed to us on a silver platter!

Their self congratulation continues:

  • extensive financial support has also been provided for renters through the furlough scheme
  • boost to the welfare safety net of billions of pounds
  • an increase in the Local Housing Allowance in April 2020 to cover at least 30 per cent of market rents

People on furlough did not necessarily have the remaining 20% topped up by employers, many were still expected to do their jobs for 80% of their wages, freelancers, agency staff and those in bogus self employment could not get furlough, people on zero hours contracts or poverty wages were driven into further hardship and rent arrears.

In spite of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit – many people had to use food banks for the first time, and as we have mentioned before countless people are in rent arrears and fuel poverty.

Covering 30% of market rents is nowhere near good enough – it needs to cover the bottom 50 percentile of rents. 

We are also providing £140 million for this year through Discretionary Housing Payments to help people pay their rent.

This sounds great, but depends on the criteria – we’ve not heard anything about this so we’re keen to find out how tenants can apply.

They say they are publishing a White Paper in the autumn – we’ve already waited two years for this bill, so now we know the deadline, we can spend the next few months campaigning and pressuring the government to properly address the things we desperately need. 
Get involved! Join us so we can build power for renters, and hold the government to account so that we can finally live better lives.

Allison Fewtrell is Campaigns and Comms Officer for GMTU

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Housing Question Time

Over the last six months, renters across Greater Manchester shared ideas about how to fix the problems they collectively faced and put them into a manifesto. 

We invited four of the candidates for Greater Manchester mayor to a Housing Question Time event and sent them the manifesto to read over in advance of the event. The candidates were:

  • Andy Burnham (LABOUR)
  • Laura Evans (CONSERVATIVE)
  • Melanie Horrocks (GREEN)
  • Simon Lepori (LIBERAL DEMOCRAT)

(Please note, the Conservative candidate did not respond to any of our invitations and so did not attend the event)

We’ve summarised their responses below, but you can rewatch the event back on our Facebook page here.

What did they say on…

Burnham (LAB) Horrocks (GRE) Lepori (LD)
Rent Controls in the private sector
Stronger regulation against number of AirBnB properties
Right To Housing enshrined in law
Support for housing campaigners fighting demolitions of social housing in Rochdale 
Covid arrears Up front government funding for landlords paid back over a number of years ✅ Cancel rent arrears, furlough scheme for landlords ✅ Lobby government for grants/loans to those in arrears ❌

The broad range of questions we asked meant that it was easy to get a sense of where each of the candidates priorities lie when it comes to housing. 

One of the most important questions we posed was whether they backed rent controls. This was a demand that had consistently been brought up in discussions private renters held on problems facing renters. Although we understand the Mayor would not be able to bring in rent controls directly, we asked the candidates if they supported them in principle and whether they would lobby the government to devolve these powers to the Mayor. Both Burnham and Horrocks enthusiastically agreed, with Horrocks going as far as to lay out Green Party policy of a cap on rents at 35% of local income (our manifesto put that figure at 30%). Lepori was less committed, and said that while he was fully in favour of rent controls in the social sector, they would not work in the private sector as landlords would become financially unstable and be forced to sell their homes. 

We welcome the initial support from Andy Burnham on the ongoing situation in Rochdale, as put to the candidates by one of our members, Mark. We think it is imperative that whoever is elected uses their position and voice to amplify the work of campaigners here to save social housing and ensure that residents are not forced away from communities they have built their lives in. 

Another important question came from Kate at Greater Manchester Law Centre, on how candidates would approach rent arrears built up as a result of Covid. Both Burnham and Horrocks clarified that the onus for relief or government help would be put onto the landlords, which is good news for renters who have been furloughed or lost their jobs entirely as a result of the pandemic. Lepori suggested grants or loans to be paid back by renters would be the best solution, which does nothing to fix the slippery slope of debt many have found themselves in through no fault of their own. 

As we come out of the Covid crisis, evictions, rent arrears and homelessness are going to be at the forefront of struggle. But we don’t want things to go back to normal; it wasn’t good enough. We would encourage everyone to think carefully about what renters need, and how each of the candidates promise to fulfill that, and pressure whoever is elected into keeping those promises.