Thursday 19 December 2013

People At Austerity's Sharp End Deserve A Smarter Approach From Their Council

It’s not the most festive graphic you’ll ever see on a Christmas card. The picture of a pound coin fizzing away in a glass is not a pleasant yuletide metaphor. It's worse for those struggling with the consequences of the bedroom tax, the council's inflation-busting rent hikes or other personal cost-of-living traumas because the image darkly sums up the cash nightmare they find themselves in. So who could have sent this Christmas card horror message to roughly fourteen thousand Hammersmith and Fulham residents?...
It was a relief to see that Cllr. Andrew Johnson (Con), H&F Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, had not donned a full Santa Claus get-up when he appeared on the BBC to explain his actions yesterday. Maybe he had decided that his latest threatening missive should be delivered straight-up, without a seasonal theme? Cllr. Johnson soberly told the BBC that his Christmas card had carried a "deliberately hard-hitting" message, reassuringly adding, "It would give me no pleasure to evict people in the New Year because they're behind on their rent".
I have sympathy with Cllr. Johnson's desire to tackle the staggering 46% rent arrears he is responsible for. It is also good to note that 54% of tenants pay their rent on time. But it is hard to believe printing and posting that Christmas card to all council tenants, irrespective of whether the recipient had ever been in rent arrears or not, was the cleverest plan he and his team could come up with - especially in these tough economic times.

This Christmas there are record numbers of local residents relying on local food banks to feed their families. There are record numbers of local homeless people, with many more threatened with homelessness. We need a better, smarter, more compassionate approach. This is not the first Christmas the currently Conservative-run local council has fallen short of that measure but I really hope it will be the last.

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