Already a country with soaring numbers of private renters, we’ve become one of renters struggling to make ends meet. Following the Coalition’s cuts to local housing allowance, private landlords are jettisoning the housing benefit sector to exploit the huge demand among those who will pay more.
In my city, Oxford, the Labour-run city council is adjusting to a 47% Coalition funding cut while trying to stitch together a security new for people hit hardest by cuts to housing benefit and other support. £500,000 has been set aside to help renters on the bring from being forced from their home.
Alongside supporting the most vulnerable, the City Council is tackling climate change. That’s why we agreed last month to ban direct investment in businesses profiting from dirty energy. Already acting as an ethical investor, the Council formalised the current situations with the ban and reiterated how high on its list of priorities tackling climate change must be.
In a move that illustrates just how poorly suited Greens are to government, Oxford Greens ignored the progressive nature of the ban to reach for the knife. Attacking Labour for basing the investment policy on direct, not direct and indirect criteria, Oxford Greens looked past the difficulty of tracking indirect investments in financial markets taking microseconds to move money and complete most transactions.
Bound by statutory duty to protect Council finances, the independent council officer charged with monitoring investment is not as blind to economy reality. Making clear that the Council could only meet the indirect investment criteria by withdrawing from the banking sector at a cost of £360,000 every year, this expert officer refused to sign off on the indirect investment criteria.
This raises three questions. If Greens ran Oxford City Council, would they override expert advice and accept this loss when the council faces stringent cuts from the Coalition? Since Green-run Council could not offset this loss, which programmes would they cut in order to balance their budget? And how will Greens widen support for environmental protection with people they are cutting council support to, people they have the highest duty to serve and protect.
For Labour councillors, this loss was clearly incompatible with the effort to stop rough sleeping and homelessness, protect the vulnerable and help those at risk of losing their homes – in one swoop it would almost wipe out the £500,000 vulnerable tenants fund.
It would also seriously impact on our plans to refurbish and environmentally improve tower blocks, extending their lives for thirty years, and improve council homes, reducing tenants’ energy bills.
The approach of the Green Party isn’t good enough at any time, but especially not when we are yet to fully realise the effects of climate change and confront stark choices on protecting the vulnerable and hard-hit in a difficult budgetary climate. People need strong principles allied to practical action – the issues are too important and the impact on all of our lives, much too great.
Tom Hayes is a Labour Councillor on Oxford City Council