In September 2021 as part of our canvass of Highgate, the Workers Party – Birmingham surveyed residents in Studley Tower, some of whom had complained to our party of poor maintenance of their property by Birmingham City Council.
Our survey found:
Some residents we spoke to had issues of overcrowding, one man occupied his one bedroom flat with five children
Many residents we spoke to had issues with heating and ventilation, broken windows, broken boilers, poor heating systems
Other residents we spoke to had issues with vermin, with both rats and cockroaches reported as being present
On 20 September we raised these matters with Birmingham City Council.
Birmingham city council officers responded promptly.
To get these issues addressed we’ll be working with residents and the council to ensure the issues are sorted.
Reproduced below is a statement from Kings Heath BID following the successful and peaceful demonstration organised last Saturday by businesses and residents to protest against the undemocratic imposition of the Kings Heath LTN. It has been passed to us in the knowledge that we fear no democratic discussion, nor do we seek to control, manipulate or divert whatever any resident or business wishes to say, we believe absolutely in the right to freedom of speech.
The Workers Party – Birmingham considers it our duty to give the message a wider audience since no spokesperson for the BID itself came forward to speak during the demonstration in front of residents and businesses, though they are clearly taking an interest. In the wider interests of democracy we feel it is only right, that we give this point of view wider circulation, and the platform it denied itself last weekend.
“The Directors of Kings Heath Business Improvement District (BID) would like to convey their disappointment with the way that the BID was represented at an anti-LTN demonstration in York Road on Saturday 5th June.
Not for the first time, the BID has been unfairly brought into issues and concerns that some businesses have with Birmingham City Council’s introduction of the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) scheme. Moreover, the Directors cannot condone comments made at this demonstration that were direct and false attacks on individual business owners and Councillors who have been elected to represent this area within Birmingham City Council.
To address specifically some of the comments made:
The BID has supported businesses that are against the LTN (as well as those that are in favour of it). Given that it is such a divisive issue, though, the BID’s position, since the LTN was introduced, has been to remain neutral and to support and signpost any business that wants to share its opinion on the LTN
The BID is prepared to examine any independent survey and would not dismiss it as “fake news”
At the BID’s recent AGM, members voted strongly in favour of the BID itself remaining neutral with respect to the LTN
The BID was not set up by the Council, rather it was voted for by businesses in Kings Heath. It is absolutely not in place to take over council services. These are protected, as with all BIDs in the UK, by a baseline services agreement which actually prevents the BID from doing this
There are not “9 people controlling the BID”. The BID Board is currently comprised of Directors from 13 businesses from across the BID area, who, individually, share a range of views on the LTN
7 of these Directors represent businesses on York Road, from both retail and hospitality sectors
It is therefore fundamentally untrue that the people running the BID are pro-LTN
Any representative of a levy-paying business or organisation that has paid its levy in full can nominate themselves to become a Director and serve on the Board
It was stated that there are 6 people on the BID with a vested interest in the LTN. Again, this is simply untrue and the majority of businesses in Kings Heath will have a vested interest of one sort or another
The issue relating to the dismissal of the BID’s previous Town Centre Manager is currently sub judice. Contrary to comments made at the demonstration, however, the owner of the Kitchen Garden Café had left the BID before any proceedings against the Town Centre Manager began and had no further involvement with the BID until April this year
Councillor Lisa Trickett is not currently a Director of the BID, although the BID has invited Birmingham City Council to nominate a representative to join its Board – in line with the majority of other BIDs both in Birmingham and across the country. The Council representative will be representing the Council as a levy-paying member of Kings Heath BID
Kings Heath BID has been working on behalf of businesses across Kings Heath Town Centre since 2008 and in that time has achieved a great many things. Unfortunately, in that time, it has also had to deal with businesses who feel that their way is the only way.
The LTN has impassioned the local community, residents and businesses alike, but for the BID to take a stance against the LTN would be to ignore those businesses that support it. Equally, the BID cannot simply endorse the LTN as there are businesses which are so clearly against it.
The Directors of Kings Heath BID, on behalf of all businesses within the BID area, are committed to working with Birmingham City Council and other partners to ensure that whatever measures are put in place to improve traffic flow and environmental air quality in Kings Heath are enacted with the best interests of Kings Heath businesses at heart and to seek solutions to these and other issues that affect our area.”
TO JOIN THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE LTN FILL IN THE FORM
The proportion of people with a job who live in poverty went up for the third consecutive year to a record high.
Government data shows 1.4 million people across the West Midlands region were living in relative poverty between 2015/16 and 2017/18.
An article in the Birmingham Mail has reported that,
“Poverty has increased for children and pensioners over the last five years with some of the worst hardship in the West Midlands.
The study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said that, despite rising levels of employment, in-work poverty has also gone up because often people’s pay, hours, or both, are not enough.”
The report says that about 56% of those living in poverty were in working households, that seven in ten children who were in poverty had parents in work.
The Josef Roundtree Foundation (JRF) has said the poverty indicator it used is when a family has an income of less than 60 per cent of median UK income for their family type, after housing costs. Just over half of people in poverty are in a working family, compared to 39 per cent 20 years ago, according to the research.
JRF said 14 million people were living in poverty, including four million children and two million pensioners, up by 400,000 and 300,000 respectively over the past five years.
The report said people were more likely to be in poverty if they lived in certain parts of the UK, in a family where there is a disabled person or a carer, if they work in the hospitality or retail sector, or if they live in rented housing.
Distribution of private wealth
The richest 10 percent of households own 44.6 percent of private wealth in Britain, while the poorest 30 percent have less than 2 percent. The poorest ten percent have £18bn of non-property debt (credit cards, overdrafts, HP, etc) while the richest ten percent only have £11bn.
Socialists must never tire of telling people that the political system that we live under (capitalist imperialism) is the cause not only of the fabulous wealth of a tiny handful of leeches who live by exploiting the masses, but is the cause also of the misery, exploitation, ill health, etc that the mass of the workers experience to a greater degree year upon year.
Only a workers’ movement that replaces this parasitic set-up with a socialist planned economy can provide the solution – an economy that is geared towards providing a decent standard of living for all workers, and which will lay the foundations for a future world of peace and plenty.
A report in The Times on July 8 described the rush of foreign capital into Birmingham’s housing market. With cheap, cramped and ugly apartments flying up across the city, it is clear that there is money to be made.
Birmingham reportedly has the youngest population of any city in Europe, is now the most popular destination for those escaping from London and stands to benefit from even better rail links to the Capital once HS2 is completed (journey times of 1hr 15mins are already available on some services). Furthermore, with house prices a fraction of those in London it is easy to understand why workers from the south are looking to cash in and buy in Birmingham, and other poorer workers merely escape to cheaper rents in the West Midlands.
“While London and Manchester were previously the prime targets for foreign investors there has been a surge in interest in Birmingham, with overseas buyers snapping up as many as 100 flats each in new developments.
As well as the promise of huge yields renting to young people, investors are being lured by glossy brochures boasting that Birmingham is “one of the greenest [cities] in the UK” has “more miles of canals than Venice” and is home to the “iconic” Bullring. Another developer, whose conversion of a factory in the trendy Digbeth area is being marketed in Hong Kong, promises almost guaranteed rental income.
Seven Capital, which is behind numerous developments in the city, is telling investors that demand from tenants is so high that some properties are being let on the same day they are purchased.”[i]
The Times, which is not well known for being concerned with the prospects of ordinary working-class people reported that,
“Chloe Thorn, 26, has been saving for a deposit to buy a flat in Birmingham since she was 16. But when she began putting offers in she found that minimum deposits were either out of reach or flats were marked as investment-only. “It’s like being priced out of the city I’ve grown up in,” she added. “I remember when I first started looking in 2017 and seeing all these new buildings being built and thinking I may stand a chance of buying somewhere in the city once they are done. But once they went online to buy it was all investors-only on the majority.””
Capitalism only builds for profit
What Chloe failed to realise is that houses are not built so that working people can have a nice place to live, to bring up children and start a family. Under capitalism flats and houses are built so that they can be sold for a profit. Under capitalism, commodities (houses, cars, food, video games) are produced so that they can be sold on the market, they are not sold at their value, they will be sold for as much as the seller can persuade somebody to part with. Capitalism does not work for ordinary working people.
Housing under capitalism has become a vehicle for the wealthy to invest money in. The influx of foreign capital into housing in Birmingham is a consequence of the lack of better (more lucrative) schemes for the wealthy to invest in, and despite the claims of estate agents in Hong Kong and elsewhere, it is far from certain that investment like this can return the rents which these landlords hope for. Birmingham is a working-class city, more than 100,000 children live in poverty and one in five workers earn less than the Living Wage (£8.25p/h), recent accounts from the city council show that many workers cannot afford to pay their council tax with Birmingham owing £115m in outstanding arrears – not a cast-iron guarantee for great rental incomes.[ii]
Whilst estate agents will say anything to shift overpriced, poor quality housing, it is surprising that there are so many gullible enough to fall for it. Even in London the property bubble is due to pop, and there are already signs that in the highest end of the market the glory days are already over,
“Viewed from Bangalore, the purchase of a newly built three-bedroom apartment in London for more than £1.4m seemed like a safe investment bet. The top-floor three-bedroom home under construction in Keybridge House south of the Thames boasted views of the City of London and the Shard skyscraper. As Shonu Bhandari considered the purchase two years ago, agents told him he could expect the value to rise 15 per cent before the property had even been finished. The Indian entrepreneur, who runs a medical products company, happily signed up to buy. But his purchase soured quickly. When Bhandari approached a mortgage lender, it valued the property not at 15 per cent more than he had agreed to pay — but at 20 per cent less. With completion of the building looming, he signed over the property to a new buyer in March this year for £1.2m, losing more than £200,000 of his deposit.
…One new-build brochure from the estate agent Savills in 2016 said price growth in prime central London was expected to average 21.5 per cent by the end of 2020. Prices have so far fallen 10.4 per cent since that date, according to LonRes, a data provider.
“Global capital entering local real estate markets is not particularly new, but what was new was the intensity with which it entered places like Vancouver, New York, London, Melbourne and Sydney,” says Andy Yan, a planner and academic in Vancouver.”
“…In London, research by Savills shows construction continues to be out of step with demand. The London market over the next five years will need 42,500 new homes a year for sale or rent at cheaper than market rates, the property agency found — but only about 3,500 a year will be built.
Demand also far exceeds supply in the “lower” and “mid” markets, up to £700 per square foot. But above that, planned supply starts to exceed demand. In the £700 to £1,000 a sq ft category, annual demand for 7,000 homes a year will be catered for by almost 10,500. Prices at the top end are falling, but the median London house price remains more than 12 times average earnings. “What we don’t need in London are more £1m-plus apartments with swimming pools, spas, cinema suites and service charges of £7 or £8 a sq ft [per year]. Those are not for normal Londoners,””[iii]
Socialism the only answer
Houses should be homes for people, shelter and a secure family life is a right for every worker. Houses should not, as they are under capitalism, be commodities, sold only to those who can afford to buy or rent them, rather than provided for those who need them. By its utter inability to solve the housing question and meet this basic need of working people, the capitalist system is providing yet more proof that it is well past its use-by date and due for demolition.
The Eighth Congress of the Communist Party (CPGB-ML), held in September 2018, passed a resolution on housing which put forward the basic demands of the Communist Party on the housing question. These demands form the basis of the party work on housing, and should be taken up by all advanced workers:
Scrap the 2016-17 housing bill:the immediate scrapping of the 2016-17 housing bill, which threatens hundreds of thousands with poverty and homelessness.
Build council houses not ‘affordable homes’:the provision of at least 300,000 new council houses per year to end the crisis.
Guarantee secure social housing:guaranteed, secure and well-maintained social housing for all who want it, close to people’s work and families, and the abolition of divisive allocation criteria.
Council ownership not ALMOs:the return of housing association and ‘non-profit’ properties to council ownership.
Abolish housing charities:the abolition of housing charities and the reintroduction of the legal right to decent, secure housing for all; slums, overcrowding and homelessness are an indictment on capitalism and a crime against humanity.
Set a rent cap: the introduction of a rent cap at 20 percent of minimum wage for all privately rented accommodation, and the scrapping of housing benefit (a subsidy to landlords that has helped to fuel rent rises).
Protect existing council housing:the scrapping of all schemes that fuel prices, create shortages and offer subsidies to landlords and developers.
Use existing surplus housing stock:the confiscation of all surplus homes and unfinished developments and their transformation into council housing.
Provide decent homes for all:the establishment of residents’ management committees to oversee planning and maintenance and ensure that all workers have access to adequate space, necessary amenities and decent facilities, including having usable and pleasant outdoor spaces and community halls.