'I needed housing' Labour's Apsana Begum tells Poplar & Limehouse election hustings after 'queue jump' claim
PUBLISHED: 12:28 05 December 2019 | UPDATED: 07:49 11 December 2019
Labour's candidate came under fire from voters at last night's General Election hustings for Poplar and Limehouse over claims that she "jumped Tower Hamlets waiting list" to get a council flat.
Apsana Begum, a single 29-year-old and former assistant to Lutfur Rahman — the mayor who was banned from office by the High Court for corruption and malpractice — was face to face with an angry voter demanding to know why she was given a flat after just six months.
The voter told her: "It's extraordinary difficult in this area to get a council flat.
"I see that you're an able woman, obviously intelligent and articulate, and you're applying for a job (as MP) that has an £80,000 salary and we're expected to vote you into that.
"I would like you to tell us why you got a council flat and how it came about."
Two complaints have been made to the town hall over her allocation as a single woman with no children for a flat in a complex run by a social housing association to which the council nominates tenants.
She first applied for accommodation in 2011 while living with her family in overcrowded conditions, the media has reported, then moved in with her husband in 2014, but split up a year later.
"The allegations in the newspapers are not true," Ms Begum told the hustings held at St Luke's Millwall Church on the Isle of Dogs.
"These are allegations and rumours, personal attacks that have been circulated by other candidates and parties."
She was heckled, when Richard Horwood from the Isle of Dogs Neigbourhood Forum who chaired the meeting had to intervene to let her continue.
"I needed housing," Apsana explained. "I was in particular circumstances and have requested press outlets that have asked me (about this) to respect the privacy of the context in which I was housed."
She insisted: "I have done nothing wrong. I've not been informed of any investigation."
Veteran Poplar community campaigner Terry McGrenara then stood up facing the packed audience of 108 constituents hinting that Apsana would not be entitled to council housing as a young single woman with no children.
He told the meeting: "I received a letter from the council today by coincidence stating that they are cutting all people under 30, single people, from the housing list.
"So anyone under 30 who doesn't have kids will not be housed by the council."
He added: "They will allocate you a property if you're homeless, but not in Tower Hamlets. You will be housed elsewhere and after three years would lose your 'local' connection."
He also challenged whether the candidates had ever attended a council meeting. Four put up their hands, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and independent anti-corruption, but not Brexit or Tory.
Lib Dems' Andrew Cregan was actually a councillor until 2018 who chaired the ruling Labour group until he defected the year before over the party's pro-Brexit stand at the time.
Ms Begum had, indeed, attended council meetings including the budget vote earlier this year when she presented a petition lobbying against cuts to ethnic language classes, the hustings was told.
She had railed against the Labour-run council starting £8 weekly charges for lessons which she protested most families couldn't afford, the East London Advertiser reported at the time.
Apsana, who grew up in a Syletti-speaking household on the Isle of Dogs and attended Bangla classes before she was 10, was on Lutfur Rahman's list of 20 assistants, political consultants and advisors in 2012, with a £28,500 salary.
General Election list of candidates for Poplar and Limehouse on December 12 (alphabetical order of surname):
Apsana Begum (Lab)
Andrew Cregan (Lib Dem)
Catherine Cui (Brexit)
Andy Erlam (anti corruption)
Neil Jameson (Green)
Sheun Oke (Con).