20 Nov 2019

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – what we think

2020-01-13T12:57:48+00:0020th November 2019|

This year, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is taking place on 25 November.

The last decade of austerity has brought crisis for those feeling domestic violence. Women’s refuges have lost £7 million in funding, cuts by both Labour and Tory councils. Thirty women’s refuges have closed, and the welfare system no longer offers a proper safety net to women trying to leave a violent partner.

Around one in ten women trying to leave a violent relationship will end up sleeping rough before finding accommodation, and about 46% of women sofa-surf while waiting for a place in a refuge.

Due to the lack of support and housing for women leaving a violent relationship just fewer than one in ten women will end up returning to a violent partner because of having nowhere else to go.

Women in violent relationships lose an average of 137 hours work and pay a year, and 10% of women in violent relationships will lose their jobs as a result.

In addition, low pay, precarious and inadequate hours and attacks on benefits undermine the ability of women to be financially independent, a vital issue for women looking to leave violent and abusive relationships.

86% of cuts to the welfare system have come out of women’s pockets. Cuts to social and childcare have pushed these responsibilities back onto women and their families.

The hated Universal Credit has pushed many into debt and hardship. Combining benefit payments into one per household can give total financial control to abusive partners.

Domestic violence services 

  • No more council cuts
  • Restore domestic violence service funding
  • Corbyn should guarantee that an incoming Labour government would replenish any reserves Labour councils use to avoid cuts to domestic violence services and refuges now
  • Secure funding for all domestic violence refuges and support services, including specialised services where needed
  • Build enough council homes with genuinely affordable rents to solve the housing crisis. Everyone has the right to a decent home
  • Cap private sector rents
  • For specialist-trained staff and high-quality domestic violence awareness training.
  • For fully funded, safe and confidential health services to support women experiencing violence and abuse

Legal rights 

  • Reverse cuts to legal aid
  • Access to specialist-trained and high-quality domestic violence solicitors so that no woman is priced out of legal representation
  • For specialist-training at all levels of the judiciary and police, with democratic community and working-class oversight, as part of a programme to democratise the justice system through democratic election of judges and police committees

Rights at work and economic independence

  • Special leave for women experiencing violence and abuse and safe-guarding from violent partners at work
  • End zero-hour and precarious employment practices. Job security and flexibility on workers’ terms
  • Decent wages and benefits which start immediately a woman leaves a violent partner
  • Scrap Universal Credit
  • For affordable and accessible, publicly funded quality child and social care, run in the interests of services users, workers and the community – not for profit
21 Oct 2019

Defending the Elephant against profit-driven development!

2020-01-15T14:32:36+00:0021st October 2019|

On Tuesday 22nd October at 9am there will be a solidarity demonstration outside the High Court to coincide with the start of the two-day hearing of Public Interest Law Centre’s judicial review of the proposed development of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre.

For the inaugural PILC blog, we asked senior solicitor Paul Heron about the case and its wider significance.

Can you tell us a bit about the case and what’s at stake for the local community?

In essence this case is about ensuring that the new Elephant and Castle development provides a maximum amount of genuinely affordable housing for the local community. Our challenge centres on the agreement between Southwark and the developer, Delancey, around the number of social housing units to be provided through the project.

Whilst social housing for working-class, migrant and ethnic-minority communities is the central issue, it is not the only thing at stake. Local traders are dissatisfied with the way the development scheme has been handled by Southwark. Some will not get spots in the new development while others will see their rents rise. We hope a positive outcome in this case will encourage Southwark to think again about their ‘regeneration’ agenda and its impact on the local community.

What are the key legal issues that the judge is going to be deciding upon during the hearing?

We are challenging whether the development scheme as proposed by Delancey is in line with Southwark’s planning policy. Delancey have claimed the most they can deliver in terms of affordable housing is 116 social housing units—out of nearly 1000 apartments that will be built. But they made this offer before claiming to have secured a GLA grant of £11.25 million! The local community want the GLA grant to be used to increase the provision of social rented units—instead of bolstering Delancey’s profit margin.

We think Southwark have undersold themselves with this development, possibly as a result of not understanding what they could get.

We’re also concerned that there may actually be insufficient money to complete the scheme and that even the paltry commitment of 116 social housing units will not be met. Southwark have given Delancey land and planning permission on the condition they provide a specified number of units. But there’s the prospect of Delancey turning round and saying to Southwark ‘we will give you money instead’. The sum offered in such a scenario is likely to be inadequate to the task and the units may not be built.

Defending housing as lived space against profit-driven development means mobilising communities. How have you worked with campaign groups to bring this case to court?

The groups we’ve worked with are Up the Elephant, 35% Campaign, Southwark Defend Council Housing and Latin Elephant. We’ve also reached out to traders.

These campaigners are massively involved in our case and they’ve been crucial to the JR being brought. One or two have a real interest in planning law and are veterans of the Aylesbury and Heygate Estate campaigns. Our case has benefitted from both their expertise and their links with the local community.

The campaigners have been involved at every stage. We’ve met with them to discuss what victory might looks like and how to press home the advantage from a win in court. We’ve also worked with them to plan for the possibility of defeat.

The judicial review had been brought on a crowdfunding basis. Because it’s an environmental case we have been able to engage Aarhus Convention rules to cap our client’s costs. The campaign has done a brilliant job in raising the £5000 needed to protect the client.

On October 22nd a coach full of campaigners will be coming up from the Elephant. They’ll be outside the High Court to remind the judge of the extent of local opposition to the way this development has been carried out.

The effect of displacement due to ‘urban renegeration’ in cities around the world has been compared to the devastation caused by war and natural disasters.

[1]  What do you think are the broader implications of this case for anti-gentrification campaigners? Are we in an era where the best we can hope for is to limit the damage caused by profit-driven development?

There’s an extent to which we are talking about damage limitation. Opposing these kinds of projects in London is generally a rearguard action of one sort of another, especially in boroughs like Southwark, Newham and Haringey where the Labour party establishment has traditionally been right wing and ardently pro-‘regeneration’.

Our strategy has been to use the threat—and reality—of legal action to wring concessions out of councils with respect to local residents and traders.  The message needs to be ‘we’re watching you—go back and make a better decision’.

We believe that a strong fight—and ideally victory—in cases like these can provide a springboard for future campaigns and re-galvanise community action against the commodification of lived space. In the context of broader developments in Southwark and elsewhere, that would be a pretty substantial result.

[1] David Madden & Peter Marcuse, In Defense of Housing, Verso: London and New York, 2016, p.3