This letter is published by the Church Times this morning
LONDON BISHOPS AND CLERGY URGED SHOUT FROM THEIR COMFORTABLE ROOF TOPS FOR JUSTICE FOR TENANTS IMPOVERISHED BY WELFARE “REFORM”
Sir, - I live on my pension in Tottenham. Thanks to Queen Anne's Bounty, a generous laity, and taxpayers through Gift Aid, plus the skilled exploitation of a free market by the capitalist Church Commissioners, I am secure till the end of my life, paying 25 per cent of my gross pension to them for a two-bedroom terraced house.
The bishops and clergy of the diocese of London live in church property rent- and council-tax-free. We are surrounded by insecurity of tenure and the innocent suffering of the tenants of local councils and social housing. The injustice is self-evident.
Typical cases are a single mother with two young children placed in sub-standard private temporary accommodation in Tottenham; the flat is damp. The ceiling falls in on her child's cot, mercifully not on the child. Her doctor tells the council that the family's health is at risk from the damp flat. Haringey moves her to a flat in the borough of Enfield; it, too, is damp. She does not know that she has to reapply for her council-tax benefit; so Enfield charges her account with £900 of council tax. She is therefore in arrears; they summon her to the magistrates' court, adding £70 court costs to the arrears for a liability order, putting her at risk of a very expensive visit from the bailiffs. She brings her child back to school in Tottenham every day.
Another single mother with two children has been in temporary accommodation since 2002. She has been moved eight times by Haringey Council in and out of the borough, twice into bed and breakfast in a hotel. She, too, has struggled to keep her children at the same school as their friends.
We should be protesting from our comfortable rooftops, if not on the streets. But there is a lack of formal public engagement, at every level of our diocese of London, in the suffering of the poorest London tenants. It is created by the lack of both adequate incomes and affordable housing, as well as the unlimited access of national and international speculators to London property in short supply, which forces up land values and rents, and leaves properties empty.
There are no signs of any national or local policies, from any political party, that will improve the circumstances of the poorest London tenants. Inadequate incomes, unaffordable housing, council tax, and its enforcement are creating malnutrition, hypothermia, and debt-related stress. There is a known connection between mental-health problems and debt.
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus: "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19.39-40).
REV PAUL NICOLSON
Taxpayers Against Poverty
Taxpayers Against Poverty