Homelessness increasing as banks theaten repossession – even if you’re paying the mortgage!

The News Line reports that the recession is driving up homelessness:

Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, yesterday warned of a potential surge in homelessness in 2009 as it opened the doors of Crisis Christmas to hundreds of homeless people.

Following official figures showing record unemployment levels, a YouGov survey on behalf of Crisis has revealed that 41% of adults in Britain know somebody who has lost their job due to the economic downturn.

Unemployment is hitting home with almost one in ten (9%) of people with a mortgage or rent repayment already struggling to pay the rent or mortgage.

In addition, a third of those surveyed (32.4%) believed they would lose their home within three months of losing their main form of income – leading to fears of a surge in homelessness in the New Year.

The survey also reveals that the poorest are the most vulnerable to the impact of the economic downturn, with more than three times as many people with lower incomes struggling to pay the rent and mortgage compared to more affluent groups in Britain.

Poorer people are also more concerned about losing their jobs and homes.

The findings were announced on the day that Crisis is opening nine temporary centres across London to hundreds of people who are already homeless and vulnerably housed.

The centres provide vital companionship, hot meals and shelter as well as services including housing, job advice, health checks, training and further education opportunities.

Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: ‘These figures are a stark warning for 2009.

‘Today we open the doors of Crisis Christmas to hundreds of homeless people in London – some of the most vulnerable and deprived people in our society.

‘The economic downturn is hitting the poorest the hardest.

‘Many are struggling to keep their homes.

‘The situation is only made worse by pressure on jobs, with unemployment levels set to reach two million by the end of the year.

‘Our fear is that as the recession bites in the New Year we are going to see more people in the same situation as those relying on our Christmas centres today, whilst those already at the bottom of the pile are going to be further away from the help and support they need to put their lives back together.’

Even if you are in employment and can afford to pay the mortgage, you could still be repossessed, as The Times reports:

Homeowners who have not missed a single mortgage payment could still be threatened with repossession by lenders who use an emergency clause to demand that the entire loan is repaid at short notice.

Peter and Marian Addyman, who live in St Leonards, East Sussex, received a letter this month from NatWest – part of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is majority-owned by the Government – insisting that they repay a £226,000 mortgage within 30 days or face repossession.

The couple, who have never failed to make a mortgage repayment, bought their new-build five-bedroom property for £250,000 in 2004. When their initial mortgage deal expired at the beginning of the year, they took out an interest-only tracker loan at 0.04 per cent above the Bank of England base rate.

Their local MP, Michael Foster, who has twice written to the bank to request an explanation, said of the mortgage: “The bank are obviously not making any money out of it but they agreed it.”

The Council of Mortgage Lenders said that the clause allowing lenders to demand that a mortgage be repaid at short notice existed in the small print of almost every mortgage in Britain, although it was meant to cover only exceptional circumstances. This month a judge supported the right of lenders to repossess properties at will under a law dating back to 1925.

Since the government owns a majority of RBS, ministers should get involved to ensure this doesn’t set a precedent for the banks. It must be tempting for banks to recapitalise via repossession, thus avoiding total nationalisation and concerted regulation.

Back to the News Line for what to do about the homelessness crisis:

In the next year a million people will lose their jobs, and hundreds of thousands of them will be unable to make their mortgage or rent payments. They will end up on the streets.

What is required is an emergency plan to house the homeless.

Under the Labour government, Labour Councils are actually demolishing council estates and selling the land to developers for speculative building aimed at the very rich.

It has reached the stage where almost the entire housing stock has been sold off, and where council tenants are being threatened with eviction by councils in Camberwell and other places, because they will not leave their council homes.

The sales of council estates, or their demolition by councils must be halted at once.

Likewise, all empty properties must be requisitioned and taken over to house the homeless.

As well there must be a programme of public works to build a million new council homes, both to house the homeless and to provide hundreds of thousands of young workers with jobs and the opportunity to learn trades and master skills at trade union rates of pay.

This is the way forward to begin to solve the housing crisis.

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Gordon’s new year resolution should be to bring all the troops home

The war in Afghanistan isn’t going well. Not for the forces battling there and certainly not for the civilian population. The people of Afghanistan need bread, not bombs. If the plans of the US government to increase the numbers of troops fighting go ahead, casualties on both sides will increase – meanwhile reconstruction work will be further sidelined and aid agencies will be unable to operate inside the country.

This must be the last Christmas that our armed forces spend in the Middle East. They are owed an apology by those who sent them, and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan deserve to see a war crimes trial take place as soon as possible.

From the Morning Star:

Medics reveal massive cost of Afghan war
(Tuesday 23 December 2008)
by PAUL HASTE

ANTI-WAR campaigners urged the Prime Minister on Tuesday to make a new year’s resolution to bring home in 2009 all British troops involved in the “colonial” Afghanistan war.

The call came as British army medics revealed the mounting cost of the war, now in its eighth year, on young soldiers sent to prop up an occupation that is increasingly beset with problems.

Never-ending massacres of civilians by Western warplanes, rising casualties among the US-led military forces and insurgent attacks that reach deep into neighbouring Pakistan to destroy vital weapons supply lines confirm the increasingly intractable nature of the war.

Working at a British military base in eastern Afghanistan, Royal Army Nursing Core medic Lee Collins admitted that “we’ve got a constant flow of casualties on a daily basis here.”

Mr Collins explained that he works 12-hour shifts, while his “day off” has to be spent on call in case of emergencies.

Navy Commando squadron medical assistant Kate Parkman added that she expected Christmas Day to be “a normal working day,” describing her work as a Quick Response Force medic loading wounded soldiers into helicopters.

“A soldier had stepped on a mine. He lost his left leg and some of his fingers and he suffered severe facial wounds, but, by the time he had left us, we had controlled his pain,” Ms Parkman related.

“You get all this training on dolls with make-up, but it’s different here.”

Some 135 British troops have been killed so far during the occupation of Afghanistan. Almost 1,000 other Western soldiers have also died, but the number of Afghan civilians that have lost their lives is literally uncountable.

US military commanders refuse to count the casualties that their air strikes and “counterinsurgency” tactics cause among the Afghan people, but independent researchers estimate that the occupation has caused almost 28,000 deaths.

This toll, plus the British medics’ experience in dealing with their comrades’ injuries, prompted Stop the War Coalition spokesman David Wilson to call for an end to “this bloody colonial war.

“We have finally admitted its time to leave Iraq, but Gordon Brown should go one step further and make it his new year’s resolution to leave Afghanistan,” he declared.

“There will be no end in sight for this intractable and dangerously unstable occupation unless all the troops are brought home in 2009.

Miserly moneybags – how to get the super-rich to be more charitable?

From the FT:

The Treasury is looking at a scheme to persuade Britain’s wealthy to donate an extra £5bn a year to help relieve world poverty, at no cost to the exchequer.

Although the richest 20 per cent give most to good causes in absolute terms, they donate on average 0.8 per cent of their income to charity, compared with the 3 per cent donated by the poorest fifth.

The scheme was devised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Sir James Mirrlees and drawn up with Renu Mehta, founder of the Fortune Forum networking organisation for the super-rich.

Dubbed the MM (Mehta/Mirrlees) proposal, the scheme advocates a 50 per cent tax relief on donations towards the UN’s millennium development goals, which would effectively match pound for pound what wealthy donors give.

The cost of the tax relief would be met from the government’s overseas aid budget, effectively doubling the amount diverted to encourage donations and helping the UK meet its goal of contributing 0.7 per cent of national income to development.

Sir James, who is chairing a review of the UK tax system for the Institute for Fiscal Studies, believes the current incentives for charitable giving, with a maximum of 40 per cent tax relief through gift aid, are poorly understood.

A 50 per cent tax relief would prove much more attractive, as it did with a scheme to raise money for universities in Hong Kong where the Nobel laureate is now based. If adopted in all G8 nations, it could raise more than $78bn, he believes.

Ms Mehta said her aim was to raise the level of charitable giving in the UK, currently 0.9 per cent of gross domestic product, to US levels of 1.9 per cent.

Donors would be able to specify to which development sector their money was allocated – clean water or disease prevention, for example. Money raised would be kept separate from the government’s aid programme to reassure donors it was spent efficiently and not wasted on excessive administration.

The scheme is under consideration by the Treasury at a time when the financial crisis is expected to lead to a sharp drop in charitable legacies on which many good causes rely.

“The MM proposal sets out to boost voluntary donations for these issues whilst simultaneously freeing general government revenues to concentrate on addressing issues of high domestic priority,” Sir James said. [Emphasis added]

Okay, sounds good but…

Wouldn’t it be better just to increase taxes paid by the super-rich and thus increase the aid budget?

Why is it that so many go without the basic necessities of life – food, housing, clean water, healthcare, education, and so on. Because the global economy is geared towards increasing the wealth of the super-rich, not meeting the needs of working people around the world.

Charity, as Oscar Wilde said, creates a multitude of sins. If we are to “make poverty history” (remember that one, from 2005?) then we must get tough with the big business elite, not pander to their pathetic attempts at self-reform.