4 November 2009

The human cost of Southwark's housing repairs failure

For some, it's difficult to quantify the human cost of a £700 million black hole in Southwark's budget for bringing council homes up to a decent standard. It sounds like a big number, but does it have much of an impact on real people's lives? Isn't this just a game of political claim and counter claim?

For those unfortunate enought to be living in one of Southwark's 18,000 sub-standard homes, the impact is only too real. For those individuals and families it can mean a home which is cold, damp and without even the most basic of facilities. Southwark's Labour Councillors have recently published "No Way To Live", a document which attempts to put some pressure on the Liberal Administration which refuses to tackle this crisis through cross party co-operation. Take a look at just one of the examples given in the document:

"In February 2008, a woman living with her three young children in Peckham reported to the council that her toilet ceiling leaked with grey water dripping through. The extractor fan in the toilet was also broken, which led to a serious build-up of damp and mould

The woman was concerned about the potential health risk for her children. By mid-July, five months after the initial complaint, six appointments to fix it had been made and missed by the council’s contractors. The woman had been forced to take time off work without pay to be available for some of the appointments.

In August 2008 the council’s contractors decorated the bathroom but didn’t fix the extractor fan or theleak and so the damp and the mould returned. By the following May the leak had still not been fixed and was getting worse by the day. More appointments were made and missed until in June this year the council’s contractors discovered the source of the leak was a cracked ‘soil pipe’, which carries dirty water away from the flats above.

When the decorators returned to finally fix the problem in July this year, 17 months after it was first reported, they discovered what looked like asbestos and all work had to be stopped until tests had been done"

This sobering document shows the real human cost of administrative failure in Southwark. Last month the Lib Dem/Tory Coalition agreed their new housing strategy. In doing so they completely failed to set out a coherent strategy for bringing these homes up to scratch and even hid the fact that there was a huge funding gap.

Southwark's Labour councillors first called on the administration to set up a cross-party body to deal with this issue in January 2008. They refused then and they have been refusing ever since. Bringing Southwark’s homes up to standard is a huge challenge, we wouldn’t want to suggest otherwise, but we have to work together to come up with a solution. Stories such as the one given above clearly show that the council’s decision to put its head in the sand and to try to hide from this problem is causing misery for far too many. People living in sub-standard housing in Peckham Rye ward and across the borough have a right to expect better from their landlord.

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