Homeless pensioner storms Brent Council’s budget meeting asking ‘where are my belongings?’
PUBLISHED: 16:46 26 February 2019
A homeless pensioner stormed the end of Brent’s full council meeting after councillors had spent nearly two hours condemning austerity.
Mary-Regina Ifeajuna headed straight for the strategic director of community wellbeing Phil Porter before shouting about her “degradation” as council members filed out the room on Monday night.
Kensal Green’s Cllr Jumbo Chan stayed behind to try and help her, supported by his colleague Cllr Claudia Hector and Brondesbury Park’s Kieron Gill.
The 61-year-old, who has complex mental health needs as a result of sleeping rough, has been homeless since the council evicted her from her flat in Rainsborough Close, Stonebridge, in October 2017. Brent says it has made her “multiple offers” of help since that have been refused.
She told this paper after the meeting that it was for rent arrears associated with her housing benefit,
She claims she has been denied access to her belongings, which include her tenancy agreements and “her life”, and asked Mr Porter where they had been put.
She said: “They threw me out when I was ill. What did they expect me to do? I did not die. I am still standing.”
Ms Ifeajuna previously stormed a meeting in September where she had gained access to Brent’s chief exec Carolyn Downs, who sits at the front of the conference hall with the borough’s mayor and deputy mayor.
Councillors had just pushed through £20m of cuts to services and other budget measures, receiving no objections.
These include reducing children’s centres from 17 to eight and replacing them with “family hubs”, ending litter picking and removing litter bins in “Zone 5” residential streets.
Council tax is also rising by 5.77 per cent – within the limit allowed by the government without triggering a local referendum.
Since 2010 Brent Council has made £164,000,000 “savings” as a result of government funding cuts.
Cllr Muhammed Butt, council leader, said: “I’m not convinced things can only get better. Indeed, as bad as they are they can and very possibly will get much, much worse.”
Then some 28 councillors spoke condemning the cuts they were forced to make to “balance the books” admitting they were “cruel” and “despicable”.
The three Conservative Kenton councillors, the council’s only opposition, failed for the first time to put forward an alternative budget.
Cllr Reg Colwill said the council should concentrate on collecting unpaid council tax, which he estimated to be about £4million, saying it should “offset some of its problems”.
And fellow Conservative, Cllr Suresh Kansagra, blamed former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown for problems being faced today. He said employment was up and fewer people were out of work than in 2010.
“When you look at the national picture,” he said, “that picture isn’t that bad.”
But Cllr Eleanor Southwood, lead member for housing, accused the Tories of “living in a parallel universe that does not exist”.
She said Universal Credit, former chancellor George Osborne’s flagship benefit reform to combine all of a claimant’s entitlements into a single monthly payment, was “a shambles and must be stopped”.
She added: “We are bringing together services and community help [and] working with our voluntary sector colleagues who take help to where people need it, to where people live. We will fight for more funding to support people in our borough who find themselves sleeping rough.”
Following a vote on the budget, Cllr Butt announced a 2 per cent increase to councillors’ allowances. He said it was “in line with inflation and the costs councillors have to deal with. It will help them support residents at their time of need.”
Downstairs in the main reception, Cllr Chan rang homeless services to try and find Ms Ifeajuna a bed for the night. He gave her his contact details on a card and asked her to present it to reception staff in the morning.
He asked security to let her stay in the centre until a call came through telling her where to go.
She told the Kilburn Times that the charity Age Concern had given her a travel card and she often slept on buses.
She said: “I signed my tenancy in 1985. They asked for documents. I can’t make headway without documents. Phil Porter knows where my belongings are.”
Cllr Southwood said on Tuesday: “We have made multiple offers of help and support relating to housing needs, financial stability, and mental health. We do recognise how difficult a situation this is for Ms Ifeajuna, and will of course continue in our efforts, but [...] we cannot force any resident to engage with us or accept our help.”