Foundations for a good life

When will our conservative government realise just how nigh-on impossible it is to build yourself a life without having solid foundations in place?

By foundations I mean the basic building blocks of society that are there within every community for every single citizen. A home, education, health service, quality utilities, well funded public services. A life in which you feel safe, feel supported and encouraged to be the best you can be. To have the opportunities to learn skills and achieve your ambitions. No matter where you were born, who your parents are, the colour of your skin, your mental or physical abilities, you should have the same opportunities.

You cannot hope to build a successful country without meeting the foundational needs of the people first. This is such an obvious route to success, but one that has been largely ignored and undermined by the conservatives.

The government waffle on about building a country for business, for expanding exports into new markets, foreign affairs, about dealing with Brexit etc etc, and yet they are ignoring the major social problems right under their noses. These are the issues they need to address first. Don’t the government get it? It’s like they are trying to do a university degree in pure and applied mathematics but they haven’t yet learnt their basic sums!

Try asking them a simple question and it’s virtually impossible to get a straight answer. They appear to think that a condescending sound-bite will keep you down, keep you in your place. Enough! There is no more time for this type of rule.

One of the main problems I can see that needs overcoming is the constant brainwashing of people by the media. People are gullible. Most never look and explore beyond the headlines. They don’t probe, they don’t research. They do as they are told, accept the information given and head bowed down get on with their daily grind. They cannot see there is a massively different way we could be living. It really doesn’t have to be like this.

The lies we are told, again and again are the utter betrayal of common decency. There appears to be no room for honesty. Whilst the ordinary person often struggles to get by the very wealthy are continually skimming off the top.

To build a truly great society, to live a life worth living, we MUST insist that our basic needs are met. From that we can grow and flourish. We can become a great nation. We can become part of a wonderful community that pulls together, that supports those in need, that encourages everyone to succeed.

I believe that unless changes come, and soon, there really will be a revolution. The ordinary guy in the street has had enough. Whilst the Tories strip the assets of the country and uphold the insidious belief that they know what they are doing there is an increasing awareness that all is not as it should be. Fortunately we have a different way of reaching out to people now. Increasingly the newspapers are not the only way of learning the news. Word quickly spreads through the internet, through social media, of the great injustices within our country.

The young are not as easily brainwashed as the more mature, they lead very different lives and they receive alternative information. News black-outs don’t work when social media has already plastered the actual events all over the internet.

It’s not going to be easy. Changes rarely are. There is however a new feeling of hope that is spreading, an underlying army of decent people who are pulling this all together. That is the word – together – there is not a stronger word. Together we can stand, shoulder to shoulder, shouting from the roof tops, questioning those in power, bringing about real changes.

Let’s start building a wonderful life. Let’s start with the foundations and build on that. We must not, must never be complacent.


Housing Crisis Britain June 2017: The Problem

To be in expensive temporary accommodation or at worse to be homeless, marginalises whole swathes of our society.

At long last people seem to be waking up to the largely hidden injustices within Britain, one of the most important of which is the dreadful lack of housing.

Being born in 1956 I grew up in a very different country to that which I see now. There was a real feeling of hope when I grew up. Even with the inequalities which faced most women in the workplace, there were still opportunities for most people to achieve their aspirations.

I was born in North London but my family moved to Essex when I was only six weeks old. My parents were both brought up in council housing and spent the first five years of their married life renting three rooms whilst saving for a deposit for a home. My Dad was a glass blower and my Mum was a part-time secretary when I was young, so not what you would ever call high earners. Can you believe that with strict budgeting they were able, in their mid twenties, to buy a detached bungalow with a wonderful garden for us to play in? That same bungalow was sold ten years ago for a price in excess of £300,000 and is well beyond the reach of ordinary working class families.

In 1965 we moved to Twickenham, just outside London. Mum and Dad bought a very nice three bed semi overlooking a green. All our neighbours were working class families with children. Dad was still a glass blower and Mum then worked part-time in local estate agents. We were not rich and had to be careful with spending, but the point is that those houses were affordable. Several of my friends lived in council houses which were roomy and well-built and again had lovely big gardens.

Mum and Dads old house in Twickenham is currently on the market at just a shade under £700,000. How many ‘ordinary’ families can possibly hope to buy a house with these crazy prices?

House prices have underlined the utter greed of our society. The estate agents earn commission on the sale prices so they push prices as high as possible. Lenders have continually turned a blind eye to the ridiculous valuations. Land owners have charged increasingly exorbitant prices. Totally unchecked greed.

In 1980 council houses were beginning to be sold off to their tenants under Conservative policies. I remember hearing the news on the radio and had, wrongly as it turned out, assumed that the income from the sales would be re-invested into further social housing. Instead of that the money was ‘ring-fenced’ and councils were not allowed to use that money to re-invest in housing. Rather than re-writing the whole sorry story this a link to an excellent article

Nothing has been done to halt the lack of housing. What chance do young people have of setting up a home, possibly having children and progressing with their lives under these disastrous circumstances?

Housing is possibly one of the most important issues that any government must address. Too many unscrupulous rich landlords have been able to get away with letting properties in appalling conditions. Nowhere near enough social housing has been built and the majority of the young in our society cannot even consider leaving home until they are in their late twenties or even older.

To be in expensive temporary accommodation or at worse to be homeless, marginalises whole swathes of our society. How can you possibly look favourably to the future when you don’t have a home?

An alternative solution?

From the off I have to say I am not and never have been a housing minister.

However, prior to becoming chronically ill and having to give up work in my early forties, I held a responsible financial position in a reasonably small but successful private company for 20 years. From the late seventies through to the late nineties I had to make decisions every week which didn’t just effect me, but which also affected the twenty or so staff we employed.

Rarely would we find ourselves sailing through calm seas, there always seemed to be some type of crisis to throw us off-course. Recessions, inflation, housing booms, housing busts, exchange rate changes, interest rate fluctuations, budget cuts, even wars etc. etc. It was not always easy.

My life was a constant round of budgets, cash flows and accounts. I had to adjust and adjust, then re-adjust as the sales went up, as the sales went down, as regulations changed, as raw materials became more expensive. More importantly, we often had to find alternative ways to keep the business going. We often went against usual business norms. We invested in new markets when our current markets went into recession. We manufactured as much as we could in-house to keep our costs down and avoid paying excessive profits to outside suppliers. We even made our own boxes for packaging our products and sold the surplus! Oh the joy of it!

Now, almost twenty years on, and often not able to get the energy to even get up most days of the week, my mind still works in the same way. Its like no-one told it that it really is ok to switch off.

So …. I have watched, in total dismay, the dreadful housing crisis that now faces Britain. Not enough houses have been built. Not enough social housing. Those that have been built for sales the open market are generally well beyond the reach of ordinary people on what are, unfortunately, falling wages. The conservatives actually consider that a property with a price tag of £450,000 is affordable. Well it might be to those who are fortunate enough to be born into wealthy families, but certainly not for the majority.

With an average salary of £28,000 there is no way a family can afford to buy a home for such crazy prices. Three times salary was the norm for mortgage borrowing for decades. At that rate a mortgage of £84,000 would be offered. There are very few places, if any, in the UK where prices are that low.

So … there has to be another way forward. There has to be. A different way of utilising social housing budgets. People have to be given the opportunity to put down roots, to make a permanent home and build communities. We have, in this country, had a love affair with bricks and mortar style of building. In many other countries however, they live very comfortably in wooden homes.

I’m not talking garden sheds here or the post war pre-fab homes. Take a look at the lodge type properties you can rent all year round for a holiday throughout the UK. These are light, bright, spacious well insulated homes. Manufactured using modern materials, they will, at worst, with virtually no maintenance, last at least 50 years. The build cost is far less than a conventionally built home. They could be placed on land that is unused, i.e. ex-military bases etc, land that already is designated for future building, and further brownfield sites that could be available.

If the government itself actually set up its own manufacturing of these homes they wouldn’t be paying profits to private companies and I daresay the costs could be reduced still further. If, for arguments sake, only four standard designs were built, from one bed homes to four bed homes, the savings could be advantageous.

There is also a desperate need for housing for the disabled who require one level homes. These would be ideal. If, also, ‘parks’ were designated for people who required physical assistance, how much money could be saved by having a central hub of carers, rather than them spending so much of their times travelling between patients?

Loneliness and isolation is becoming a massive problem for both the disabled and the elderly and again living in a purpose built community could enhance many lives. There have been many successful privately run assisted living developments. These are great, but not everyone can afford to buy.

Family communities could be formed where there were facilities for children, for nurseries etc. With permanent homes people would feel settled and secure.

Other countries have considered new ways to alleviate housing needs. One town in Canada has totally eradicated homelessness. They have actually found that whilst it gives people wonderful opportunities to improve their lives, the actual financial savings of not dealing with the problems of the homeless, have been far in excess of what they imagined,

Nothing is ever perfect, but for the people living in dreadful overpriced, cramped sub-standard hones, this could, I believe, be a possible way forward.