By Kelly Grehan
Yesterday it was quietly announced that the cost of the renovations to the Elizabeth Tower had doubled to £61 million. Having recently written to my own MP about the lack of public sector pay rises, and having received a reply saying ‘we have to live within our means’ I was somewhat surprised to hear the magic money tree was once again available.
You will remember back in August when our Prime Minister, not known for her sentimentality, expressed her upset at news that the bell commonly known as Big Ben, was to cease chiming for the period of work, saying ‘it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.’
She urged John Bercow, the Speaker, to find a way to keep the bell ringing – although what she felt he could do remains to be seen.
In a country where 250,000 people are homeless, where the number of people waiting more than 6 month for an operation has trebled in the past four years and where Sure Start and care services are being cut that buildings are a priority.
Of course, The Elizabeth Tower is not the only public building about to be gifted public funds for a renovation. Last year it was announced that Buckingham Palace is to undergo a 10-year refurbishment to the tune of £369m. Work on The Houses of Parliament is estimated to cost around £7 billion. Now I understand Parliament is a Grade I-listed building and a Unesco world heritage site, but I suggest the fact it is in need of extensive restoration is due to it no longer being fit for purpose to fulfil its role. Maybe we should accept it is time to move Parliament elsewhere. While we are at it we can build student style hall of residence for MPs to stay in next door so they will no longer require second homes in London.
Now people will argue that these buildings are important, are part of our heritage, of historic importance etc. But you know what else is important? People! I cannot help thinking we have got our priorities wrong somewhere and the buildings taxpayers should be spending money on are those intended to house people.
The signs homes are of no importance are everywhere.
Housing , or lack thereof is ruining countless lives. Rough sleeping has risen for the last 6 years in a row. Latest official figures show an estimated 4,134 people were forced to sleep outside in 2016, up 16% on the previous year.
The number of families in temporary accommodation has risen by 61% since the tories came into power in 2010. Local authorities accepted 14,600 households as statutorily homeless in the first three months of 2017, with a total of 77,240 families in temporary housing. 6,500 families now live in B&Bs, which are used by local authorities when they have no other options, of these more than 3,000 have dependent or expected children.
The number of people on waiting lists for council housing in England alone stands at 1.2 million. This is despite rules making many people ineligible to apply. Very few of them will ever receive housing from the local authority.
In January 2016 Labour sought to introduce an amendment to the Housing Bill which would ensure rented homes had to be fit for human inhabitation. Now it beggars belief that anyone could be allowed to make money renting a property unfit for humans to reside in and not be breaking any laws, but they can. The tories voted this amendment down. According to the latest English housing survey 30% of homes fail to meet the government’s decent homes standard.
We know the awful tragedy which befell those living in Grenfell Tower occurred after residents warnings that the building was unsafe went unheeded by those in authority. It seems the £10 million refurbishment of the building went mostly on the cladding (about £8 million) rather than attempts to make the housing more inhabitable inside the homes.
Then there are the millions of people who now make up Generation Rent, who, often despite earning above the average wage have no hope of affording a deposit to buy a property so are at the mercy of a largely unregulated and extortionate rental market.
Every single person living without a permanent, safe or stable roof over their head represents a life not being enjoyed to its full potential and in my opinion indicates the failures of our society. We are always being told that austerity prevents us from addressing these problems, but when it come to fixing palaces and clocks the money is readily available.
Isn’t it time we started putting people and homes above state buildings?
For more articles like this please visit our Facebook page: