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Not so affordable

The number of council homes available in Swindon today is around 200 less than in 2011. This is bad enough but now the ruling administration is proposing a policy which will increase the number of unaffordable homes to rent. As part of their ‘regeneration’ of Queen’s Drive they are proposing to cut the number of council homes which charge a council rent (or ‘social rent’ as it is called in the jargon) and charge instead so-called ‘affordable rent’. This can be up to 80% of the market rent.

This would mean that some council tenants would have to pay up to twice the rent that other council tenants pay in a similar property with the same number of bedrooms. Probably the only people who will be able to afford such rents are those who qualify for full housing benefit. However, even they could come unstuck when they have to go onto Universal Credit. When they do, they will be thrown into arrears as a result of their housing benefit being stopped, whilst their UC claim is being processed. We already know that 75% of tenants on UC have rent arrears compared to 25% of tenants overall. Arrears for ‘affordable rent’ will be considerably higher than ‘social rent’.

In order to pay for the new building the council is planning to convert anything from 191 to 312 existing council homes from ‘social rent’ to ‘affordable rent’. This administration is planning to progressively cut the number of homes with genuinely affordable rent.

Already there are people who are so poor they cannot afford a council rent. The council’s Green Light for Housing policy means-tests people and denies them a tenancy, even if they have come top of the bidding for a property, because they are deemed not to earn enough to cover the rent. If this is the case with council rents, then even more people will be unable to afford ‘affordable rent’.

When people apply to go onto the housing waiting list they are means-tested. They will not be allowed on the list if they “can afford a suitable property on the open market”. So there are no high earners on the list. It’s unlikely, therefore, that there will be people on the list who can easily manage ‘affordable rent’.

The crisis of housing affordability in this town will not be helped by driving up council rents to unaffordable levels. This administration is adopting policies which can only make the housing crisis worse.

Martin Wicks, Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group, Welcombe Avenue, Park North

Labour works for us

Roger Lack writes to accuse every Labour Government of overspending and under achieving, (Left in the cold, S.A. 7th April). I suspect he’s younger than me because I remember the 1930s under the Tories, when my mate’s little brother Tommy was taken ill with an upset stomach. Although the doctor would have made a house call, Tommy’s parents didn’t call him because they already had four unpaid doctor’s bills on the mantelpiece. They couldn’t face the shame and humiliation of the doctor placing another one there with a gentle reminder of the amount he was owed. Bear in mind that five bills would have been a week’s wages for an ordinary working bloke like Tommy’s dad.

So Tommy was given a patent medicine remedy (six old pence from the village shop), but he continued to worsen. Two days later the doctor was hastily called on Sunday evening when Tommy began passing blood. He was rushed to hospital where he died of dysentery a few hours later. It was Clement Atlee’s post war Labour Government that set up the NHS which brought an end to such miseries. The same Government was also responsible for erecting thousands of pre-fabs and kick-starting a public housing programme to replace the slums and to rebuild the properties bombed in the war.

More recently, it was a Labour Government that finally brought peace to Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement, an accord that now seems threatened by Brexit. It was the also the Blair Government in 2006 that paid off the final tranche of national debt incurred during the Second World War. Lastly, on the subject of financial probity, I would like to remind Mr Lack that the national debt stood at about £1 trillion, or 48% of GDP, when the Tory-led coalition came to power in 2010. Now, only eight years later, it’s 80% of GDP at £1.75 trillion, which is the most it’s ever been in peacetime.

Labour “historically ruining the country”? I don’t think so Mr. Lack.

Don Reeve, Horder Mews, Old Town

We’ll miss a dear friend

Life has this habit of biting you in the bum when you least expect it.

Very recently a dear friend of my wife and I, Lyn Venn, suddenly died. Her death although, not violent or anything similar, was distressing. Lyn lived alone, she was a very talented lady and a really great friend. Loyal, generous to a fault, outgoing, and in some areas extremely clever. She was also dyslexic although this never fazed her. Many the time she would turn to me and say “Read this to me”. I would do it, and she instantly understood what it was all about. She was totally self taught on computers. Indeed she built mine for me, and its great. She was going to take it for a week while we were away and overhaul it and update a few things. 

Unfortunately now that will never happen! 

She was at home over the Easter break. We telephoned a few times, got no reply. But we assumed she was in Bristol at her son’s house seeing her newly born grandchild. Instead Lyn had sat down on the sofa for a rest, and then with no sign of pain she apparently died in her sleep. I suppose it’s not a bad way to go. But it’s one hell of a shock for her friends. I was so proud of her and the fact that she was my friend. My computer will probably rot away and then I won’t be able to stay in touch with my friends. 

But the real loss is our friend Lyn. Computers can be replaced, but friends can never be replaced. We will always remember her so fondly and of course regret her passing. God bless, Lyn.

David Collins, Blake Crescent, Swindon


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