Jean Lambert MEP: London’s communities will lose £500m thanks to Brexit

An EU flag over Westminster. Image: Getty.

A quick glimpse at this month’s headlines paints a grim picture of the UK’s social standards. Income inequality is at its widest since the mid-1980s, one in five people live in poverty, child homelessness is at a 10-year high, and food bank use is an alarming 20 times higher than it was in 2010.

The Prime Minister has assured us that leaving the European Union will create a “stronger, fairer and more prosperous future for us all”. However, there’s one issue she’s so far conveniently failed to mention. Leaving the EU will cut the UK off from an assortment of funding pots that are earmarked to reduce social and economic inequality.

As a Member of the European Parliament for London, my primary focus is on how Brexit will affect the capital. London is the UK’s richest city, but it is also the most unequal. Inner London actually qualifies for a particular category of EU funding precisely because it has such high youth unemployment.

That means Londoners will be hit particularly hard if they are denied access to this EU funding. My new report “Losing it over Brexit”, released last week, finds that London is set to lose more than £500m towards supporting its communities each year. That’s more than £5bn over the course of a decade.

This money currently comes to London through a number of pan-European funds – some as grants, some as loans, and requiring an element of match funding in order to qualify.

Among the largest are the European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF) which invest roughly £98.1m (€106.9m) each year into job creation and creating a sustainable, healthy environment in London. The Horizon 2020 fund contributes a huge £301.2m (€328.3m) annually into driving economic development and creating jobs in the city. Meanwhile, Erasmus Plus invests £7.2m (€7.8m) yearly into modernising London’s education, training and youth work, as well as providing opportunities to work and study across Europe.

At first glance, these funding streams may appear somewhat broad and intangible. However, the money trickles down into projects that make a real difference to Londoners lives. For example, Love London Working is delivering basic skills training to 21,000 unemployed people with the aim of helping them into work. Paddington Development Trust is promoting urban regeneration for the public benefit in areas of social and economic deprivation. Inspiring Women is working to encourage women in London to establish and grow their own businesses. Meanwhile, RISE is supporting refugees and asylum seekers as they seek to integrate into new communities in 10 London boroughs.

The programmes will remain open until 2020, and the Chancellor has committed to honouring any EU funding agreements that were signed before the Autumn Statement 2016. After these finish, he says, the UK will continue to fund projects if they provide “good value for money” and are in line with undefined “domestic strategic priorities”. The Chancellor has shown an interest in continuing to participate in the renowned Horizon 2020 programme, if the UK is given the opportunity to ‘buy in’. However – as we well know – at this stage, everything is to play for.

The government has also promised to launch a Shared Prosperity Fund in order to “use the structural money that comes back to the UK as a result of Brexit” to reduce inequalities and “deliver sustainable, inclusive growth”. However – 18 months after the EU referendum – we’re still none the wiser as to how this might work in practice.

I’d also like to point out that if we do indeed save much (if any) money from leaving the EU, there will be a gargantuan number of new systems and procedures to set up and oversee. Under immense financial pressure, can we really trust this government to put any newly-available funds back into these grassroots social projects? After all, it has spent the past eight years inflicting savage cuts on local authorities, in the full knowledge it was deeply damaging thousands of community initiatives.

This is nothing short of gross neglect by the UK government. Many of the organisations surveyed for my new report voiced anxiety about being cut off from their financial lifeline. As ever, the wealthiest in society are unlikely to notice when this money disappears. It’s the poorest and most vulnerable who will suffer when trusted projects and support networks are forced to shut their doors.

That’s why I’m calling on the government and the London mayor to ensure that London’s communities don’t lose out on funding as a result of Brexit. There is an urgent need to map the EU’s existing funding programmes, and build a robust new model around the most effective elements.

Meanwhile, any new funds made available by the government should be decentralised to City Hall which can ensure it reaches the Londoners who need it the most.

There’s a great deal at stake here. As high-level Brexit negotiations rumble on, it’s crucial that ministers don’t lose sight of the massive and successful funding pots at stake. We need concrete guarantees that London’s people and communities will not be harmed by their reckless, blinkered approach to Brexit.

Jean Lambert is Green MEP for London.


In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.