“Kensington Council Made £129m From Selling Property That Could Have Prevented Cost-Cutting At Grenfell”

“Kensington and Chelsea council made £129m from selling property in the years leading up to the Grenfell fire tragedy – money which we can show for the first time could have prevented cost-cutting on the tower’s renovation works.

An investigation by HuffPost UK, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service can reveal the property deals overseen by senior officers and the council’s cabinet in the run up to the Grenfell disaster.

Evidence shows one of these deals was directly linked to the financing of the Grenfell Tower renovation and our investigation reveals that the council had far greater power over its funding of the works than it has previously admitted.

The council has previously claimed legal restrictions meant it could only use rental income from local authority housing to pay for renovation works. But this was not the case.

In fact, the council’s own documents show £6m of the Grenfell works was paid for with proceeds from the sale of council property – basement units in Elm Park Gardens in Chelsea.

The government has confirmed to us that councils are free to use money from the sale of property to fund improvements in housing stock.

This new information means the council had a far larger pot of money available to invest in its council housing than it has previously acknowledged – including on Grenfell Tower.

Our investigation also found the council had £37m in the bank, specifically from the sale of property, at the time when funding decisions over Grenfell were being taken.

But in 2014, cuts were made to the budget for building work by the tenant management organisation that was managing the project, including saving £300,000 by using cheaper, more combustible cladding.

The cladding was a key contributor to the speed with which the fire tore through the building on June 14, 2017, killing 72 people and leaving hundreds of families homeless.

The revelations have prompted fury over why spending on the Grenfell works was tight when the council had a significant income stream that could have been used to increase the budget. …”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/kensington-chelsea-council-property-sales-grenfell_uk_5ced6003e4b0bbe6e3342f04?utm_hp_ref=uk-homepage&guccounter=1

“Number of over-70s still in work more than doubles in a decade”

“… Over three times more men aged 70 and above are working full-time compared with a decade ago: 113,513 up from 36,302 in 2009.

The number of women aged 70 and above who are still working has also more than doubled in a decade. Today, there are 175,000 women aged 70 and above in work: an increase of 131%.

In addition, the research found, there are currently more than 53,000 over 80s working in the UK, 25% of whom are working full-time.

But Catherine Seymour, head of policy at Independent Age pointed out that the rise in people working beyond 65 coincides with increases in pensioner poverty. “One in every six people – nearly two million – of pension age are now living in poverty and every day, another 226 people join that number,” she said.”.

“Many people who are now working in their late sixties and seventies are doing so out of necessity to pay the rent, heat their homes and afford their weekly shop,” she added. “Everyone who wants to should be able to retire from paid work at state pension age, and these figures suggest many people cannot afford that right.” …

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/may/27/number-of-over-70s-still-in-work-more-than-doubles-in-a-decade?

Bus services in England down 10%, fares up 32% since 2010

“… Nearly three out five journeys by public transport are on buses, but passengers are getting a poor deal say MPs as there are long-term funding plans for rail and roads, but not buses.

And the House of Commons’ Transport Committee is calling for a “national strategy” for buses to give passengers a better deal.

The strategy should make bus services more passenger focused and provide value for money, help to bring more people, especially young people, onboard.

The report says local authorities should be able to create new publicly-owned bus companies and encourage people to switch from cars to buses.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: ”The Tories have neglected buses, along with the people and communities who rely on them. …”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/bus-services-services-plunged-damaging-16205852

“Destitute children unlawfully denied support by local councils”

“Local councils are unlawfully denying destitute children support because their parents’ immigration status is under suspicion, the Guardian can reveal.

Families whose immigration status becomes insecure can quickly become destitute because they lose their right to work and access benefits. Such families who have dependent children can seek support under section 17 of the 1989 Children’s Act, which states that local councils have a duty to provide cash or accommodation to ensure a child’s immediate needs are met.

Hundreds of these families have been unlawfully denied this support since 2010 because local authorities have focused on the parents’ immigration background.

Many of the children affected are either British or entitled to British citizenship, and campaigners say it has now become normal practice for them to threaten local authorities with legal action in an effort to ensure a fair assessment. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/may/26/destitute-children-unlawfully-denied-support-local-councils-immigration-status?

“UN poverty expert hits back over UK ministers’ ‘denial of facts’ “

“… Alston, an eminent New York-based human rights lawyer, said the government response amounted to “a total denial of a set of uncontested facts” and that when he first read its public comment “I thought it might actually be a spoof”. He said he feared it showed ministers were not willing to debate official figures that showed 14 million people were living in relative poverty and therefore consider what he believes are essential changes to the welfare system.

“The statement is as troubling as the situation,” he said. “There is nothing that indicates any willingness to debate over issues which have generated endless very detailed, totally reputable reports across the political spectrum in the UK. All of these are dismissed.”

Alston’s report compared Conservative policies to the creation of Victorian workhouses. Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, felt it was politically biased and alleged that Alston did not do enough research, only visiting the UK for 11 days. The government said it would complain to the United Nations and the UK’s ambassador in Geneva is understood to have this week requested a meeting with the UN high commissioner on human rights over the matter.

When Alston said the Department for Work and Pensions had created “a digital and sanitised version of the 19th-century workhouse”, some commentators said he had gone too far. Writing in the Daily Mail, the historian Dominic Sandbrook said it was “simply ridiculous” and “an insult to our national intelligence”.

But far from backing away, Alston, who describes his politics as progressive and left-of-centre, has pushed his argument harder.

“I think breaking rocks has some similarity to the 35 hours of job search [required per week to receive universal credit] for people who have been out of work for months or years,” he said. “They have to go through the motions but it is completely useless. That seems to me to be very similar to the approach in the old-style workhouse. The underlying mentality is that we are going to make the place sufficiently unpleasant that you really won’t want to be here.” …”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/may/24/un-poverty-expert-hits-back-over-uk-ministers-denial-of-facts-philip-alston

“UN report compares Tory welfare policies to creation of workhouses”

“A leading United Nations poverty expert has compared Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses and warned that unless austerity is ended, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

In his final report on the impact of austerity on human rights in the UK, Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, accused ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies, including the rollout of universal credit, since 2010. He accused them of the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population” and warned that worse could be yet to come for the most vulnerable, who face “a major adverse impact” if Brexit proceeds. He said leaving the EU was “a tragic distraction from the social and economic policies shaping a Britain that it’s hard to believe any political parties really want”.

The New York-based lawyer’s findings, published on Wednesday, follows a two-week fact-finding mission in November after which he angered ministers by calling child poverty in Britain “not just a disgrace but a social calamity and an economic disaster”. Now he has accused them of refusing to debate the issues he raised and instead deploying “window dressing to minimise political fallout” by insisting the country is enjoying record lows in absolute poverty, children in workless households and low unemployment.

The “endlessly repeated” mantra about rising employment overlooks that “close to 40% of children are predicted to be living in poverty two years from now, 16% of people over 65 live in relative poverty and millions of those who are in work are dependent upon various forms of charity to cope”, he said. …

In his most barbed swipe at Rudd and her predecessors in charge of welfare, he said: “It might seem to some observers that the department of work and pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th-century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens.”

He said he had met people who had sold sex for money and joined gangs to avoid destitution.

[Owl won’t bother wirh the Tory responses …. predictable … everyone happy … no problems … only we can …. the usual drivel …]

Alston will present his report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month and will argue that successive Conservative-led governments persisted with austerity and welfare cuts amid high levels of employment and a growing economy despite evidence that large-scale poverty was persisting. In doing so, “much of the glue that has held British society together since the second world war has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos … British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach apparently designed to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping.”

The report slams the government’s austerity programme, with criticisms of “shocking” rises in the use of food banks and rough sleeping, falling life expectancy for some, the “decimation” of legal aid, the denial of benefits to the severely disabled, falling teachers’ salaries in real terms and the impoverishment of single mothers and people with mental illness.

Alston said austerity had “deliberately gutted” local authorities, shrinking library, youth, police and park services to the extent that it was not surprising there were “unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation”.

There was some praise for ministers for increases in work allowances under the universal credit welfare system and supporting the national minimum wage, but Alston said these measures had had not stopped the “dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well-off”.

He recommended ministers reverse local government funding cuts, scrap the benefits cap, eliminate the five-week delay in receiving initial universal credit benefits and rethink the privatisation of services including rural transport.

“Thomas Hobbes observed long ago, such an approach condemns the least well-off to lives that are ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’,” he said. “As the British social contract slowly evaporates, Hobbes’ prediction risks becoming the new reality.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/22/un-report-compares-tory-welfare-reforms-to-creation-of-workhouses