29 East London-based young mothers are under threat of eviction after Newham Council cut funding to their accommodation, in East Thames’s “Focus E15” building in Stratford.
The mums have been fighting to stay in social housing since last October. They have been making national news and local front pages. Most recently, on Friday 17 January, they confronted their landlords, East Thames, occupying one of the “show flats” that East Thames has been promoting to the wealthy to entice rich people to move to Stratford.
The accommodation that the mums and their babies are housed in is already inadequate. They live in small bedsits, with little or no ventilation, and some of the flats have severe damp and pest problems, including rats. The damp conditions have caused breathing problems for some of the children.
Despite this, the young women are worried they could be moved somewhere worse, or equally bad, but away from their families and friends.
Some were registered homeless through an arbitrary process, and a few have had offers for alternative accommodation in places as far away as Gloucester and Birmingham. Many have been told to look for alternative accommodation through payments from the council, but have been given virtually no help in looking in an extremely hostile housing market for private tenants, let alone tenants paying through the council.
One of the key methods in which the council and the landlords seem to be working is to attempt to “divide and rule” the mums, avoiding sending letters that could be seen by lawyers, instead knocking on doors or calling impromptu meetings. As a result the campaign is calling for open meetings where everyone is present to counteract these tactics.
East Thames has 750,000 properties. They blame Newham Council for cutting the funding, yet clearly do not bother to even maintain the properties that the council is paying rent for. The Labour council, led by Newham Mayor Robin Wales, is to blame for cutting funding to a vital service, in what campaigners say is a social cleansing experiment, leaving working-class young mums high and dry.
Around the corner from Focus E15 is the Carpenters Estate, a social housing area that in recent years working-class people have been systematically evicted from. It is high-quality housing stock that is being left to rack and ruin through a lack of maintenance and no one living there. When University College London tried to buy some land off the estate, local tenants organised to stop them and to save their community, gaining support from many UCL students.
The Focus E15 Mums are militant, brave, and inspirational women. At the moment they are doing a lot with very few resources.
Their demand is: “social housing, not social cleansing!” They want suitable, long-term accommodation in London, in social housing, not the private-rented sector, as well as any meetings to be held with all affected mothers present.
The campaign runs street stalls on Saturdays, from 12 midday until 2pm outside Wilkinson’s, near Stratford station.