Solidarity Magazine » Council housing Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cuts will have devastating impact on council housing Fri, 05 Nov 2010 16:39:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) will have a devastating impact on council tenants.

Combined with cuts to Housing Benefit and the attack on secure tenancies, they break the Prime Minister’s pre election promise. They are not ‘fair’; this is an assault on tenants’ rights that will drive up rent arrears, evictions, poverty and homelessness.

The CSR announcement spread confusion by referring to ‘social housing’ without detail of which changes would apply to council housing or housing associations (Registered Social Landlords – RSLs). CLG officials have confirmed to DCH that both Council and RSL landlords will be given freedom to create some new time-limited tenancies instead of the current council ‘secure’ (and RSL ‘assured’) tenancy.

But only RSLs will be allowed to designate some of their homes for ‘intermediate’ rents up to 80 per cent of market rents, with time limited tenancies. This will finance borrowing to build more homes at same higher rents.

Cuts in other spending mean these are the only new homes for rent planned – and they will be too expensive for most people on the waiting list, unless they can claim Housing Benefit. Tenants would be stuck in a poverty trap and liable to debt and insecurity.

Capital investment in council housing will be halved or worse. Cuts mean no improvements by 2015 to over half the council homes not at a decent standard. The Treasury is to take all housing capital receipts, and increase the cost of borrowing for Councils.

Reform of the Housing Revenue Account is to go ahead, but no figures have been released. CLG say they will issue more details by Christmas. The big question is whether they propose councils take on higher levels of debt; and whether proposals will be financially viable.

In a recent press release you can find a list of Action Points DCH wants councils, unions and MPs to support. These are backed by Ken Livingstone, and by councils and councillors including Leader of Islington Council (Catherine West). Demand your council gives a commitment not to replace secure tenancies, and sign up to these Action Points. Lobby councillors and MPs, Organise a public meeting locally and involve benefit campaigners and private tenants. We have to build a broad movement against the cuts to HB, attacks on our tenancies, and for investment in council housing.

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Build Britain out of recession – Unite calls for action to kick-start social housing building programme Tue, 16 Jun 2009 10:53:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

An action plan to kick-start the social housing building programme for the 4.5million people on waiting lists was launched by Unite, the largest union in the country, today (Wednesday, 17 June).

Unite argues in its blueprint, Meeting housing need: Building Britain out of recession, that such a massive council house building programme would meet social need and be an engine for economic revival generally, by creating thousands of jobs in the construction industry and its suppliers.

Unite’s five-point programme is being launched today (Wednesday, 17 June) at a London conference being addressed by the new Minister for Housing and Planning, John Healey.

Unite Deputy General Secretary, Jack Dromey said: ‘Unite welcomes the progress the government has made, including in the recent budget.  There is still much more to do however.’

As the recession bites and home repossessions mount, the demand for social housing is expected to rise from the already 4.5 million people on local authority social housing waiting lists – 1 in 12 people in the country. A shortage of housing also fuels tensions in hard-pressed communities, exploited by the brain-dead boot boys in suits of the BNP.’

A large-scale social housing programme, including council built and rented property, is urgently needed to meet social need. The government must devote more resources to a new deal for housing, building Britain out of recession.’

Unite is calling for:

  • A massive programme of ‘new build, high quality, environmentally sustainable social housing, including council homes which would create jobs, meet housing need, and redress the inequality of social housing in rural areas.

  • A comprehensive construction apprenticeship scheme for the 16-24-year olds whose job prospects have diminished during the recession.

  • Investment in a ‘retro-fit’ programme for existing homes to improve energy efficiency i.e. the seven million homes that require solid wall insulation. It is estimated that such action could generate a further 25,000 jobs and would greatly contribute to the government’s environmental targets.

  • The government to use its large stake in the banking sector to do more to prevent repossessions and strengthen the regulatory framework.

  • Greater support for housing associations to ensure they receive sufficient funding to provide housing and support for tenants; and that staff numbers and employment conditions are maintained and enhanced, as outlined by Unite’s Recession Charter for the Not for Profit Sector launched in April.

Gail Cartmail, Unite Assistant General Secretary for the Public Sector said: ‘We believe that if these measures in Building Britain out of recession were implemented in a coordinated manner the waiting lists for decent housing would be reduced, much needed jobs would be created, and the positive impact of a dynamic house building programme would percolate through to other sectors of the economy.’

]]> 0 Green paper falls short on council housing Tue, 24 Jul 2007 10:24:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Housing Green Paper published today falls a long way short of meeting the expectations of supporters of council housing and the five tests agreed at the Defend Council Housing conference on July 12 (see DCH policy statement). In the face of pressure from a formidable alliance of council tenants, trade unions, councillors and MPs government is still trying to wriggle to avoid conceding the ‘Fourth Option’ of direct investment in decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing.

The government’s core strategy for providing new homes relies on the private sector (including Registered Social Landlords). The private sector has failed up to now to provide the homes we need and there is no indication they will do any better in the future.

Alan Walter, Defend Council Housing chair, said after listening to Yvette Cooper speaking to the Green Paper in Parliament:

“The fact is that direct investment in decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing is the cheapest and quickest way to address housing need today. The private sector alternatives cost more – eating up a higher than ever level of households income, are less secure and are totally unaccountable. That’s why so many people value a council tenancy over the alternatives”

“Despite all the hype about home ownership demand for council housing is high. Instead of goading local authorities into public private partnerships the government should listen to the people and enable local authorities to improve existing and build new council homes themselves.”

“We need investment to provide first class council housing – not councils providing public land to subsidise home ownership to satisfy government’s dogmatic obsessions.”

“Improve existing and build new first class council homes and then local authorities would be able open up their allocation policies once again turning council estates back into the mixed communities they used to be”

Pressures from supporters of council housing have got Ministers to address some of the key issues we have raised. The Green Paper discusses reforms to council Housing Revenue Accounts allowing councils to retain all the income from tenants’ rents and capital receipts and formally talks about allowing councils to build new council homes. But, at first reading, this seems to be largely limited to pilot schemes and councils setting up a ‘local authority company’ which are unacceptable restrictions.

The Green Paper does show that Ministers no longer believe they can hold the dogmatic line they have been defending up to now. Supporters of council housing will take advantage of the discussion around the Green Paper to convince Ministers that demonstrable support for investment in council housing and real choice for council tenants means that government has to provide the ‘Fourth Option’ of direct investment in council housing “as a matter of urgency”.

Gordon Brown, in his statement to Parliament on July 11, referred back to the last two major house building programmes in the ‘inter war years’ and after the 1950s. On both occasions there was a cross party consensus that providing homes for the people couldn’t be left to the private sector. All our experience suggests that the same logic should apply today.

Years of disinvestment in council housing has left many estates in urgent need of improvements and the shortage of council housing has led to local authorities restricting access to council homes to only those in most desperate need. Alongside problems directly associated with cheap design and building methods on some estates constructed in the 60s and 70s has created a range of financial and social issues.

But carrying out improvements and expanding the number of council homes available would allow councils to once again offer tenancies to the wide range of people on council housing waiting lists creating the ‘mixed communities’ government says it wants without requiring people to take on the financial burden of a mortgage beyond their means.

It is positive that government has recognised its responsibility to provide a lasting solution to the housing crisis. But the Green Paper mistakenly places the major responsibility on the private sector (including Registered Social Landlords). They have failed to provide up to now the homes that millions of people need – there is no reason to believe that they will do it now. They are sitting on land banks, surpluses (derived from public subsidies in the case of Registered Social Landlords) and in some cases planning permission but still don’t deliver!

The housing that the private sector does provide is more expensive (taking up an ever increasing proportion of household income) and less secure that council housing and they are also totally unaccountable. Through a process of mergers and takeovers the Registered Social Landlord sector is now dominated by multi million pound companies operating across dozens of local authority boundaries. Some are already lobbying for the right to float on the stock market.

Together this makes the argument for investment in ‘decent, affordable, secure and accountable’ council housing overwhelming.

Local authorities are ideally placed to improve and build new council housing themselves to provide decent, affordable, secure and accountable homes. They should not be required to gift or sell off on the cheep valuable public land to subsidise developments that will be dominated by private housing.

1.6 million households on council housing waiting lists demonstrates strong demand for first class public housing and many local authorities want to get on with the job of improving existing and building new council homes.

Nearly 3 million existing council tenants along with 1.63 million households on council housing waiting lists want the ‘Fourth Option’ of direct investment to improve existing, build new and maintain all council housing as first class housing.

Our campaign is backed up by the TUC, most trade unions and significant numbers of MPs and councillors from all parties.

The alliance of tenants, trade unions, councillors and MPs will be stepping up our campaign over the summer to ‘persuade’ government to implement the ‘Fourth Option’. The issue is expected to be a key debate at the TUC with most unions now affiliated to the campaign. The last three Labour Party conferences have backed the ‘Fourth Option’ (see Composite 10, 2006 Labour Party conference) and it is likely to be back on the agenda at Gordon Brown’s first conference as Prime Minister.Further information

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The campaign for the 'fourth option' and the right to build council housing Fri, 24 Feb 2006 13:08:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> SOLIDARITY News Bulletin February 24th 2006

After the rally and parliamentary lobby in support of the ‘fourth option’ (direct investment in Council Housing) attended by 1,300 people, the Labour Party has announced a working group within the National Policy Forum to address the motion passed ‘almost unanimously’ at the Labour conference. Jack Dromey of the TGWU is on the new working group.
However, Ministers want to drag out the discussion until the Treasury Comprehensive Spending Review in 2007. The Defend Council Housing Campaign says that “‘Fourth Option’ supporters are pleased the government is now moving but we’re not prepared to wait that long!”

Speaking at the Labour spring conference DCHC fringe meeting, Jack Dromey said that the working party will look at two things – “greater freedom for councils to improve their housing and for councils to have a role in new build”.

“My view is that the door is open, but it won’t be easy. We can only win by a combination of the power of our arguments and the power of campaigning. We must continue to engage nationally and to campaign for NO votes until we see tenants having a real choice and councils having real freedoms.”

Writing in the Guardian, Helene Mulholland reported that:

“The government has caved in to Labour party demands and agreed to explore ways of increasing investment in council housing without forcing local authorities to relinquish control of their stock.”

‘Caved in’ is, however, too categorical. This could prove to be a time wasting manoeuvre. Moreover, there is an ideological obstacle to the government giving way. The committee is headed by Sir Jeremy Beecham. According to him the party is exploring ways for Councils to invest directly, but keeping it off the “public expenditure books”.

One of the options apparently could be a ‘community trust’ model, whereby the stock would be collectively “owned” by tenants while remaining in council hands. “It is an idea to be explored,” he said. If this is some semi-privatisation then it is not direct investment.
The obstacle here is the ‘prudence’ of the Chancellor and his dogma in relation to public spending. He is indulging in crooked book keeping. For instance, whilst Network Rail had to be closed down as a private company listed on the stock market, Brown and Blair refused to re-nationalise the railways because the debt currently held by Network Rail as a company limited by guarantee, and run on a commercial basis, would transfer over to the public purse. However, in reality the company is supported by public money and the government will have to pick up the tab if it went belly-up.

Whilst the campaign for the ‘fourth option’ has largely been based on allowing Councils to bring their stock up to grade without privatising them, it’s high time the emphasis of the campaign shifted to the clear demand that the government end the financial penalties against Councils should they build new Council stock.

The campaign has tactically called the bluff of the government by saying that if tenants are to have a real choice, then it should allow a “level playing field”. However, given the growing housing crisis the question of building new stock is urgent.

In a recent press release the GMB released figures showing that since 2002 the number of households on council waiting lists had jumped by 450,000 to 1,545,509. The statement of GMB Acting Secretary Paul Kenny is welcome.

“GMB has long argued that the only way to reduce the number of household waiting for social housing is to allow local councils to build council housing for rent. GMB also wants to see an end to the policy of moving up social housing rents up to the level of private sector rents.
It is a complete fallacy to expect private house builders to meet the demand for low cost housing. Workers in low paid sectors of the economy need affordable homes in their local areas. The Labour Government must reverse the Tory government’s policy of ending the building of council houses. This demand is increasingly urgent.”

To this should be added an end to the ‘right to buy’ policy which has helped to create the current housing crisis.

For more on the parliamentary lobby go to:

Visit the Defend Council Housing web site at:

You can download a single page printable version of this News Bulletin for circulation, from:

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“Home owning democracy”: What’s in a phrase? Thu, 16 Feb 2006 21:39:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A delegation from Swindon trades unions participated in the Parliamentary lobby on February 8th, in support of direct investment in Council Housing. One of the MP’s, Anne Snelgrove told us we live in a “home owning democracy”. What’s in a phrase?

South Swindon’s new Blairite MP Anne Snelgrove told a trade union delegation, participating in the Parliamentary lobby on February 8th, that we live in a “home owning democracy”. She was explaining why she was opposed to Councils building new Council housing. “Home owning democracy”; the phrase rang a bell. Didn’t Thatcher use it? Yes, in her assault on Council Housing she boasted of building a ‘home owning democracy’. This was why she introduced the ‘right to buy’ through which Council housing was given away to tenants with a massive discount. It was a conscious policy designed to destroy Council housing estates as bastions of electoral support for Labour. How could people with ‘capital’ vote Labour?
That a Blairite MP like Snelgrove can utter the phrase without the least embarrassment reflects the degree to which New Labour is rooted in the Thatcher legacy. Historically, democracy was something which working people had to fight for in the teeth of resistance from the British rulers. Even with the passing of the ‘Great Reform’ Act of 1832 (1) only around one in five males had the vote, women none at all. The franchise conceded was based on the value of the property you owned or lived in. Universal suffrage strictly speaking was not conceded until 1928, and even then, the phenomenon of double voting was not done away with until after the Second World War. So home ownership was an important part of the pseudo-democracy which Britain’s rulers conceded piecemeal in order to hang onto their wealth and power.

No doubt Snelgrove does not mean by “home owning democracy” that those who do not own a home should not have the vote. Rather, it reflects the Thatcherite prejudices about ‘standing on your own two feet’, ‘welfare dependency’ etc, which Blair and his clones swallowed whole. We are all ‘Thatcherites’ now declared Peter Mandelson.

New Labour is the “Party of aspiration” we are told. One New Labour councillor in Swindon some years back spoke with disdain about the fact that there were some families who lived on the Parks council estate for three generations! Can you imagine somebody preferring to live in a Council house rather than owning their own home? Obviously they lacked ambition and ‘aspiration’.

But the labour movement historically had collective aspirations. It wanted to improve the lot of the working class as a whole. New Labour has been created by people for whom personal advancement is their driving aspiration. Obviously anybody who lives in council accommodation cannot possibly be a “success” or they would be able to afford to buy their own home.

One of the tenets of New Labour under Blair was that opposing the right to buy had been a big political mistake, from an electoral point of view. But the results of ‘right to buy’ were disastrous. In conjunction with what was effectively a ban on new Council House building (financially penalising Councils for building new stock), it created a massive shortage of Council Housing (2) and helped to drive up prices in the private housing market. The shortage forced people who might have been on a Council House waiting list, to buy their own house (often beyond their means).

Many people bought their home because it was an offer which was too good to be true. The mortgage was often lower than the rent. However, what some did not think about was the cost of maintenance. On the estate which I live on you can see decaying housing which people snapped up but which they did not have the means to modernise, next to Council Housing which has had double glazing and central heating fitted.

After the initial enthusiasm of purchase there was a high occurrence of repossession as new owners found themselves in financial difficulties, especially in the period of high unemployment.

Snelgrove might have no problem uttering the mantra of Thatcher. However, it is worth pausing to consider the consequences of her policy (for the younger generations she is only a figure out of the history books), many elements of which have been left intact by New Labour. The commentary of Ian Gilmour, an opponent of hers within the Tory Party, throws an interesting light on her policy.

The ‘right to buy’ was taken up, during Thatcher’s reign by 1.5 million families. Although in favour of selling Council homes to tenants, Gilmour complained that the government was “more concerned with diminishing the role of local authorities than with the provision of affordable homes”.

“In consequence, so far from doing much to relieve the housing shortage, which it had inherited, the government by its policies, in some places drastically exacerbated it.”

Nicholas Ridley, the Environment Secretary from 1986-9 was “determined to weaken the almost incestuous relationship between some Councils and their tenants”. A 1988 Housing Act encouraged the transfer of tenanted council estates to other landlords through ‘Housing Action Trusts’. The government rigged the voting system by counting those who did not vote as voting in favour of transfer! As Gilmour comments, despite the rigged system, the great majority of tenants decided to ‘continue to live in incest’. At the time many Labour Councils and Councillors helped to lead the campaign against what was known as “pick a landlord”.

When Anne Snelgrove says that Housing Action Trusts would be better building housing she forgets this Thatcherite attempt to destroy Council Housing.

Gilmour continues:

“Homelessness is far from new, but the sale of Council houses, backed by financial incentives (Thatcher’s favourite Council, Wandsworth, offered free holidays to tenants who bought their homes), required a high rate of council house building…or some alternative provision if it was not to lead to increased homelessness. Instead, local authorities were forbidden to spend more than a quarter of the revenue generated from council house sales on new homes and renovations. In so far as the government recognised the resulting problem of homelessness, it left it to be solved by the market. Thus the placing of homeless families in temporary accommodation by local authorities owed less to bad housing management, as the Thatcherites claimed, than to the financial restrictions that they themselves imposed onto the amount of money that could be spent on repairs to make empty properties inhabitable.”

Because local authorities were prevented by the government from providing new homes, they had (in the words of the chair of the then Conservative controlled London Borough Association) to “spend a fortune” on temporary accommodation for the homeless. “This waste of resources”, he said “completely frustrates our objective of achieving value for money and only adds to the appalling amount of human misery involved.”

Ironically, for all the talk of “welfare dependency” what the Thatcher government did was to cut welfare to the poor and increase it to the rich. In 1979 subsidies to owner occupiers and council tenants were roughly equal. By the end of the 1980s the subsidy to council tenants had fallen to around £500 million, while the public handout to owner occupiers in the form of mortgage tax relief had climbed to £5.5 billion.

As a result of the policies of the Thatcher government, in the words of Gilmour, the council house became “more and more the preserve of the very poor”. Before the ‘right to buy’ Council estates comprised a wide cross section of working class people. One of the consequences of the social catastrophe for which the Thatcher government was responsible, was the growth of mass unemployment. Thatcher’s housing policy created conditions where the best stock was bought by those who could afford it. Whilst some people refused to buy out of principled opposition to the policy, probably the majority of those who could afford to buy, did so, thinking as individuals and ignoring the social consequences of their self-interest.

Progressively, Council housing comprised the poorest sections of the community. The absence of new building meant that very few people had a chance of getting accommodation under the points system by which priority was decided. Single parents became a large proportion of those in Council accommodation. The fact that only the most impoverished sections of the community tend to live in Council accommodation is reflected in the statistics. Up to two thirds of tenants receive benefit of one sort or another. Today many people who might have put their names on the list do not bother because the wait is so long.

It is ironic that a ‘one nation’ Tory like Gilmour could see the consequences of Thatcher’s policy, but in contrast the ideological creators of New Labour, in the words of Mandelson wanted to “move forward from where Margaret Thatcher left off”, leaving in place much of her policy.

Like all Blairites, Snelgrove appears to be prejudiced against social provision which was part and parcel of post-Second World War social democracy. She is opposed to Councils being given the right to build new stock. She believes in the ‘purchaser/provider’ split. She is convinced that private business is ‘more efficient’. Much better that the private sector provide housing, in her view.

Of course, Councils don’t have the resources to build Council Housing themselves. The one I live on was built by John Laing. But Council housing was considered necessary in order to tackle the problem of much of the population living in overcrowded and poor conditions. The history of private landlords in Britain is well known. “Take the money and do as little as possible to maintain the state of accommodation,” was the principle on which many of them operated. Council accommodation greatly improved the quality of life for millions of working class people.

The Blair government’s policy on housing was rooted in Thatcher’s programme. They set out to remove Council Housing from the scene. They set themselves the target of transferring 200,000 houses a year. For Gordon Brown, getting rid of Council housing was a function of managing ‘his’ national balance sheet. It would make the book look better, removing historical housing debt from public accounts.

However, council tenants have a different point of view. Despite all the blackmail and all the tricks, many of them have resisted the transfer of their housing. It is not because they are in love with their councils. Indeed dealing with bureaucracy is one of the downsides of being a tenant. They have opposed privatisation because being a council tenant gives them an affordable home and security of tenure. And stories of life before the big building programmes are passed down from generation to generation. The Racnmanite landlord was a common figure only 40 years ago (3) .

After the delegation from Swindon had met our two MPs, we walked over to the Defend Council Housing rally in Westminster Hall. Gerald Kaufmann, the former Labour Minister, was speaking on the platform. The contrast with New Labour MPs could not have been more graphic. Kaufmann was on the right of the old Labour Party, a member of the last pre-Blair Labour government. Yet here he was not only demanding that Councils have the right to direct investment in their existing stock, but spoke of the need to build new council housing. He reminded us that Tory and Labour governments used to compete about how many Council Houses they had built.

He confessed that when last in the government he had introduced legislation that had given Housing Associations the right to build public housing in conjunction with councils. But it was only conceived as a small niche. Never, he said, did he imagine that Housing Associations would end up as the sole provider of public housing.

Housing Associations are considered providers of ‘social housing’. But, said Kauffman, a lot of his constituency work involved dealing with problems which tenants had with Housing Associations, which are unaccountable organisations. The only ‘public housing’ now built is the result of collaboration between Housing Associations and Local authorities, often accommodation for elderly people. But the amount being built is miniscule.

Anne Snelgrove did express the view that there is a need for more ‘affordable housing’. But the reality is that the housing market will not deliver it. The government is prepared to offer mortgage relief to private owners. It has been prepared to write off historical housing debt for councils whose tenants vote to transfer to another owner. It offers funds for the lunacy of people buying half a mortgage, giving them the privilege of paying mortgage and rent at the same time!

Yet it still refuses to give Councils the right to build new Council Housing. It appears to be politically and ideologically opposed to such a thing. When Gordon Brown recently spoke about his belief in “21st century individualism” he more or less said that people will have to buy their own homes. Clearly he does not believe Councils should build any.

However, the housing crisis will not be addressed by the market or by government help for people to buy. Personal debt is at historically unprecedented levels. The crisis can only realistically be addressed by a new programme of Council House building. The government’s housing policy is in a state of disarray. Their attempt to eradicate Council Housing has been defeated by the resistance of tenants and trades unions. The campaign for the right of Councils to start building Council housing needs to be stepped up.

(1) The Prime Minister Grey explained: “The principle of my reform is to prevent the necessity of revolution…there is no one more dedicated against annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and the (secret) ballot than I am.”
(2) Ironically by relying on ‘market forces’ the concentration of wealth and economic activity has created a situation where in areas like Swindon there has been a massive increase in the Council House waiting list, whilst in other parts of the country, which have suffered an exodus of jobs and population, Council accommodation lies empty, with insufficient ‘demand’ for it.
(3) Rachman was a notorious slum landlord in London.

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Defend Council Housing campaign news Sat, 20 Aug 2005 14:49:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 30% of local authorities failed to meet the government July 31 deadline for getting their options appraisals approved.

The new 8 page DCH newspaper argues the government policy of privatising council housing is hitting big opposition. Bulk order copies to distribute to tenants, councillors and trade unions in your area (£18 per 100 / £100 per 1000). The arguments are relevant to all those in areas facing transfer, PFI or ALMO and in authorities which have voted for ‘stock retention’ – both need government to concede the ‘fourth option’. DCH has been told of 77 authorities that have gone for stock retention. Many of those formally proposing transfer or ALMO expect stiff resistance. DCH has already been approached by tenants, councillors, trade unions and MPs from a large number of areas asking for help with organising a local campaign.Check what your local council is proposing – there’s a stock options spreadsheet on the DCH website (email updates). Help us co-ordinate individuals and organisations in each area that want to campaign – send us contact details for tenants, councillors, trade unions and political parties in your area opposed to privatisation.We still have some copies of the House of Commons Council Housing group’s 40 page full report. Copies £10 (free to individual tenants) with reductions negotiated for bulk orders.

DCH will be holding fringe meetings at both the TUC and Labour Party Conferences in Brighton. If you are attending either conference please get in touch to help distribute material.

Further information at and

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