I'mNotAWriterBut…

I am a 51 year old working mum of five – not all at home thank goodness. Im a member of the Women for Independence National Executive. This Blog is growing and changing as my hopes and aspirations change. I actually DO expect to change the world but I accept that might not even make sense sometimes. I hope you enjoy the read.

Archive for the tag “#communities #”

If not us, Who? 

There is a naivety about me that I find really annoying. I have to work really hard to overcome it and ensure that I stay in the real world rather than the one that’s in my head.

See – the world in my head is a nicer place. People care about each other deal with each other in a fair way. Public servants particularly councillors and MSPs and MPs, civil servants, local authority employees, all work hard to ensure that they do the best for the people they are employed (with public money) to serve. I know many who do exactly this, our MP Drew Hendry speaks up for those most affected by Universal Credit, Women for Indy sisters focus on reducing inequality, We have some fabulous new councillors who are indeed there for the “we” not the “me”.  I am however, regularly faced with reminders that many more are not like that. And yet in my naivety, I am always shocked when I see this and cross with myself for not being more realistic and less stupid.

Over the last year I have seen people who on the face of it share my political goals, put their own self interest before the good of the community, the cause, and the parties they represent. I have seen first hand, spiteful, selfish behaviour from people who should know better. I have seen self promotion win over team working several times and I have seen examples of bullying and cheating which have left me furious and open mouthed at the absolute bloody cheek of people and completely aghast that they think this is an ok way to behave.

I have, of course also seen committed and caring people supporting each other and working together for a better community. I am fortunate to work for an organisation which does that every day. I am part of a wonderful group of activists with the desire to create something better at the heart of what they do. There are, of course, arguments and heated discussions just like any other group of people trying to make a difference to something when they really only have their own voices.  We don’t always all LIKE each other but we share an understanding that what we are doing is not about “me” but about “we” and this means we work together to try to affect change – regardless of our own situation. We help if we can and we want the best for our communities, and for each and every man, woman and child within it. I like to think that most people want this and it is this naivity which means that I am always surprised when confronted with behaviour like I described previously.

The fire in the Grenfell Tower has shocked me as it has many others. It has horrified us all. If, as the residents of the area are saying, these Tower Blocks are not to the standard that people paying for their homes would accept, why the hell not? Now, I can understand that people paying millions of pounds for a fancy flat expect a higher standard – but surely that is in room size, decor, finish.  Surely it’s full length windows and a fancy balcony; it’s whirlpool baths and sound insulation for the hardwood floors; it’s top of the range kitchens and being fully wifi’d up the yin yang; it’s fancy garages with automated doors and a concierge to doff his cap and call you sir or madam whilst smiling, accepting your Harrods order for you and keeping the “atrium” clean so that they can call you a cab when you need one.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is entirely acceptable for someone paying hundreds of thousands of pounds for a house to want nice things, more space, top of the range facilities and beautiful fixtures and fittings and space age security.

When it comes to fire safety, surely there isn’t a compromise worth making? When you come down to the bones of a building it is either as safe as it can be or it is not? If the posh block down the road is safer with sprinklers, then the council block is also safer with sprinklers. If the penthouse flats have hoses on each floor then so should the council flats. If each flat in the million pound development has fire alarms outside each front door or inside each apartment, then the council block must have the same.

Cars are a good example of this. I drive crappy cars. I have always driven crappy cars and whilst I accept that the very nice Mercedes Benz is likely to have much fancier braking system than my 10 year old Skoda, I still expect my Skoda to have brakes that work and do the job they are supposed to do. No one would think it ok to leave out the brakes in a cheap new car or let an old knackered car pass it’s MOT if the brakes don’t work so why is it ok to do that with housing? If we allow poor safety systems to exist in social housing we are clearly saying that the lives of people who rent these properties are not worth as much as those who buy their properties, that safety and therefore, life itself has a price which we as a society are not prepared to pay for those people who need to rent their homes.

This is utterly shocking. But is it actually surprising? When you remember what has happened over the last few years it’s perhaps not so surprising at all. People have been prodded and poked to make sure we remember who our “enemies” are. Miles and miles of newspaper has been printed with divisive, racist, classist shite which has repeatedly told us all that it is the poor, the refugees, migrants, immigrants, the alcoholic, the drug addicted, the single parent, the homeless person, the sick and the disabled who are the people our society needs to be frightened of. They are the people we need to keep under the cosh because they are dangerous and they are dragging our country down.

We have been told by successive governments that supporting “these people” is a waste of money, that the welfare state is bloated and that what “these people” need is more stick and less carrot. We are told that the gold standard of being a good citizen is owning your own home and that anything short of this is failure. We are encouraged to see those that don’t own their homes as somehow lesser and,  having allowed themselves to become a burden on the rest of us, they are therefore to be sneered at, looked down on and dismissed as not important.

Given this attitude we can see how a decision could be made that it was acceptable to put cheaper cladding on a council high rise rather than the more expensive fire retardant stuff. We can see how a decision could be made not to install sprinklers,  because this block, these people, were not worth it. We can see how the local council could decide there was no point in organising support on the ground.  After all – everything we see, hear and read – the Government, our Daily Papers, programmes like Benefits street – tell us that these people are less worthy. So what does it matter if we cut a bit here, trim a bit there, look the other way,  they are not important.

We reap what we sow. A Government that cares nothing for those who have nothing and most for those who have everything. We voted them back in only a fortnight ago. Newspapers that see the cost of everything and the value in nothing. They scream their hatred and vileness from their headlines seeing people and their grief as commodities to increase their profit margins and nothing more than that. We still buy them. We still support their existence and we lap up their gossip and hatred. We have news reports that have only bias to offer – the build up to the general election was the most unbalanced across both Scotland and the rest of the UK that I have seen, and yet we still pay our licence fees, our sky subscription. We watch, we snigger and we don’t turn off. We reap what we sow.

I have seen many people say that the people that died in the tower block died because they were poor. And they are right but it’s not just that – they died because our society has allowed money –  profit, to be the priority above all else. Whether there is a case for corporate manslaughter is not for me to say. But every single one of us carries some blame. We are all responsible for allowing society to get to where it is. Even those of us who have tried to change it. We haven’t spoken loudly enough, we haven’t worked hard enough, we have been – I have been – too naive to really hold people, especially the politicians to account.

Those voices that “tut tut” and say we should not politicise this miss the point entirely. It is because we have avoided politicising issues like this, because we have allowed the political class to turn us away from class politics, that our society continues in this manner. This is political and the only way to respond is to politicise it. If we continue to allow politicians, corporations, individuals to put the “me” before the “we” then we fail people like those living in Grenfell Tower. If we allow the powerful to damn us, to silence us for “politicising” this terrible event then we allow them to take away the voices of people living in places like Grenfell Tower, the people who David Lammy described as having ” no power, locus or agency”.

It is ONLY by politicising this that we change things. It is only us who can demand change, us who can challenge those in power to be better. We need to put the blame for society’s ills, not on the poor the disposed or the vulnerable, but on those who seek to profit from making them worthless and those of us who let that happen.

Homes and Phones

housing

The BBC reported this week that “Homes and Phones are the most important issues which need to be addressed in the Highlands for young people wanting to stay here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-33801732

Our young people indeed seem to want to stay here and we need to do as much as we can to enable that to happen through our infrastructure, through education and opportunities for further learning at all levels, through apprenticeships and through attracting business to our constituency and through housing.

But these issues aren’t simply issues for the young – for the under 30s. They are issues for the whole of our constituency. I have spoken to so many people over the years living here and traveling the length and breadth of the Highlands for whom housing particularly, is not simply a question to be answered on a survey but an issue which affects their lives, their business and their health, both physical and mental health. A safe, warm home where you feel secure is so important. Not having that causes a significant amount of stress. It can lead to depression and anxiety. Poor quality housing can make existing health conditions worse, damp can contribute to breathing difficulties and poor insulation can contribute to the fuel poverty many people in our constituency experience. The cost of fuel and energy can be higher here than in many other places, many people rely on solid fuel for their heating and this can makes it difficult to keep your home warm if you are existing on a pension or on benefits or even working and on a low income.

Housing is one of my biggest concerns. How do we make sure that we have enough affordable housing in an area where there are so many holiday lets and second homes? Where prices are so high that it’s impossible for people on ordinary wages to buy a home of their own. But it’s not simply one and two bedroomed houses for young families. I spoke to an elderly couple recently who would love to downsize but in their community there are few suitable houses for them to live in. When you look around the constituency for houses to rent, they are few and far between and quite pricey too. If you check out the Facebook page Skye/Lochalsh properties to Rent there are posts and posts of people looking for a home before you find a property advertised. Some of these posts seem quite desperate and it’s heartbreaking.

I want to make sure that we work within our communities to meet housing need. That we understand it and that we are innovative in using the legislation to make sure that we meet the needs of young and older people  and make good quality housing available whether that is affordable houses to buy, social housing to rent or private rentals.

Shelter Scotland have a private tenant forum that so far they have limited to the central belt but they have plans to take it to rural areas.  I am keen to make sure that they come to our constituency. My family lives in a privately rented house which I was really lucky to get and to be able to afford but there are so many issues around private rents. Lack of a secure tenancy is one. It’s the most terrifying thing to find that the place you call home is going to be sold. I was living in Wick when that happened to me. My marriage had ended and the flat I had escaped to with just my clothes and the  boys had been put up for sale.  I was on the waiting list for the council and on the homeless list but nothing was happening and even though I was working full-time, buying was not an option. I was tipped off by a friend that a house in the village where my children were at school was being handed back so I phoned the council and was told that it would take two weeks to make a decision about the house. I crossed the days off and then phoned them. I can still remember the poor man on the end of the phone saying to me ” I’m sorry Susan – we had to give it to someone else”. I was utterly devastated and felt completely powerless and I never want anyone else to feel like that.

So housing will be a priority for me. I want to see no empty homes in our communities. I want families to be housed and to be able to stay in their communities and keep their children in our local schools. We work now with organisations like the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust which does a fantastic job in supporting the provision of housing to meet an assortment of needs but we need to do more. We need to use the powers in the Community Empowerment Bill and other legislation to make sure that empty properties are upgraded and let or sold at affordable prices, and we need to build on community involvement in deciding what sort of housing our community needs in advance of planning so that objections are overcome before a lengthy planning battle. You will never please all the people all the time but I often  think that housing development is sometimes decided for a community rather than with it.

I would also like to see a bigger charge on second homes in places that have acute housing shortages, when those homes sometimes remain empty for months on end. One house I knew was owned by a Canadian family who came for a month every two years. That does nothing for our villages and communities. Holiday lets are at least bringing people to stay, to eat at local cafes, shop for local produce but second homes – empty for so long contribute little to our economies. I know people love them and often they gave been “grannie’s house” but we have to put our communities and its needs first. Money raised through an extra charge could be used to benefit the local economy and ensure that the place that people love so much remains viable. More charges may not be popular with everyone but we can’t grow vibrant, healthy, economically sound communities when people only visit once a year or less.

My story didn’t end with my going into bed and breakfast with my  boys, having to give up my job and having to leave the area to find somewhere to rent. I was lucky but many people aren’t so lucky. “Working tirelessly” is a phrase you have perhaps read many times this last week or so but I hope you forgive me for using it again. I will work tirelessly to ensure that people never have to feel the way I felt or face the fears that I had to face.  You, your families and your lives will be the focus of the work that I do and being a strong voice for our constituency is the way to do that – I will be that strong voice.

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