Bleeding more cash out of homeless people

We go back to Marlin Apartments in Stratford, where homeless families live 4 and 5 to a single room – around which they are pursued by militias of rats, mice, bedbugs, cockroaches, tiny flies and other pests that I didn’t care to view closely at the time. There are pictures and stories here if you can stand it.

Being eaten by bedbugs was plenty to be getting on with, but now, there is more. It turns out that the above vermin aren’t the only ones in pursuit of Marlin residents. Energy and water companies are after them, too – for money that the residents neither owe, nor can pay. No surprises there, of course. You don’t get much time off from your life as prey when you are poor. Your whole day is lousy with bloodsuckers, muggers and vultures who can’t wait to chew you out. You get down to bone, but your tormentors will still charge in to gnaw it.

Which is not to say that they don’t form a type of queue. In any list of voracious wankers, water and energy companies invariably make their way to the top. In a stampede for your twitching carcass, they will bullock past the rest in the race for your soft parts. Which they’ll get.

So it is at Marlin Apartments. Recently, while thumbing through mail that the rats had yet to fully consume, residents found water and energy demands for several hundred pounds. In some cases, these demands were for more than £500:

Image of water costs bill showing a demand for £531.82

At the same time, Marlin residents received letters from Newham council which said that they had to set up their own accounts with energy companies, and pay the usual exorbitant power bills directly to those companies.

image from letter about changed conditions for charging for energy bills at Marlin Apartments

As I understand it (I don’t entirely), up until September, bills were included in residents’ rent – one bill for the lot, residents say. I suppose that makes sense given that Marlin Apartments were once serviced apartments for city-visitor management types, who probably paid an all-inclusive bill for a stay.

Now that the apartments are used as temporary accommodation for homeless people, things have changed – to bring Marlin residents in line with “arrangements that are made with all residents of temporary accommodation,” according to the above letter from the council. I say, “as I understand it,” because the council has not responded to my requests for clarification on the new and old charging “systems.” Also, the text in the council’s letter is about as clear as catflop. I tried hard, but there are sentences that are taking a while to stick:

“As a result of the rising energy costs, it has been agreed with Marlin apartments that the cost of water heating via the gas supply to the building will be made by them directly to you.”

I think that means, “as energy costs go up, homeless tenants will be hit for the lot.”

So, that’s great for residents. As we all found out last year – and a long time before in many cases – knowing that your heating bills will increase in winter, and as dangerous damp and mould set in, is not especially hilarious.

National and local government like to argue that billing homeless people like the rest of us (ie, violently) is character-building and the path out of dependence. This argument tends to circumnavigate the fact that problems with meeting bills are generally less about a lack of character than about a lack of money, but we must grow where we can, I guess.

I suppose that there is a bit of bright side, in that worrying about impossible energy bills could be a refreshing change from worrying about being eaten alive by bedbugs. Then again, maybe being slowly gassed by anti-bedbug pesticides is a better way to go. As I say, you look for positives where you can. Every aspect of council homelessness provision is so terminally stuffed that I now tend to rate problems by degree and length of torture. When looking for answers to problems, you really do find yourself asking questions like – is sitting in a damp room and choking on mould particles over several winters better or worse for body and soul than being munched on by bedbugs and mice? What should you deal with first?

People living in temp housing get both, of course, Such are the times. If you are homeless in 2023, housing success is not about finding somewhere comfortable, or safe, or clean, or even habitable. It’s about finding a place that you and your kids might survive.

Anyway. I imagine that some people who read this won’t give a toss, logic being that we’re all stuck paying huge water and energy bills, so why should homeless people miss out. Also, heaps of people get random batshit demands for hundreds of extra pounds from energy and water companies, so, I can see some people thinking – welcome to the club. I got a random demand for £2,000 from Southern Electric once. Amusingly, they ended up paying me £600 after I started blogging about it.

My point, though: when the squeeze is put on homeless people, you see again that there are no limits. End-stage capitalism hunts for money where there is none. It would be kinder, and certainly prettier, to throw homeless people to actual sharks.

Temporary housing? – not for the cockroaches

We return this morning to Marlin Apartments, the Newham temporary housing hellhole where homeless families with very young children are “placed” (deposited?) for years at a time.

As I wrote last week, the building is overrun with bedbugs, cockroaches, mice and rats and their many offspring, and other crawlers, biters and slimers that absolutely nobody I know would want chewing through the family’s food and feet.

I gave the bedbugs a writeup last week, and posted pictures of some of the injuries that the bedbugs and other vermin are inflicting on very young children – children who have, in some cases, lived in these terrible flats for several years. If you think that those kids are going to grow up in good shape, or grow up at all, it might be time to think again.

This morning, I’m posting pictures of some of the many cockroaches and maggots that roam and writhe through and around Marlin Apartments. It goes without saying that something major needs to be done about all of this.

One idea would be to fill a skip with several Marlin Apartments cockroach swarms, road trip them up to North Yorkshire, and dump the lot into Rishi Sunak’s lunch and bed.

The cockroaches in the pictures won’t be going, but there are plenty more where they came from (the pics are from the flat of a family who have a toddler and 4-month old baby):

Here are bugs crawling round the baby’s crib. Mum threw the crib out, because the baby was being bitten. The family can’t afford a new crib, so now, the family sleeps on the floor.

Bedbugs on crib - Marlin Apartments

And video of maggots out the front of the building – the residents say that the communal bins overflow. There are too many people living in too small a space, with too few services.


And I haven’t even got to the serious overcrowding problems in Marlin yet, or the new problems with energy bills that residents face. They used to pay their bills as part of their rent, but now must set up individual accounts. A number of people showed me letters which demanded several hundred pounds for outstanding bills which absolutely nobody can understand.

I’m getting to that.

To finish – this picture is of one of the single rooms that families live in. I have a vague memory of someone on twitter saying that these ex-serviced apartments couldn’t be single rooms, but at least 3 of the ones I saw were, so there you go. In these single rooms, there was a bug-infested double bed (or 2 single beds pushed together), a bug-infested couch and a cot all in one space with a small kitchen at the top end.

Picture of a single-room Marlin Apartment.

Picture of a single-room Marlin Apartment. I”m holding the camera. There is space behind me for a couch and that’s it.

No doubt these apartments were all very nice when they were properly serviced and rented to single businesspeople who were enjoying week-long London jollies, but things have taken something of a slide since the council arranged to rent them from Marlin for homeless families. The “serviced” bit sort of disappeared from the “serviced apartments” idea.

I’ve asked Newham council for comment on this, but they’ve stopped answering. Probably nothing to say that’ll make any of this all right. Would like to see every member of Sunak’s cabinet living and working in this building, though. Lock them in the place for a year, then torch it.

When your Uber or delivery driver’s kids are being eaten alive by vermin

This was a fun one to start the weekend on:

On Saturday, I took the picture below. It shows a six-year-old girl who lives in temporary accommodation in Marlin Apartments in Stratford. Newham council uses rooms in the building as temporary housing for homeless families and my word – what a shocker.

The building is infested with bedbugs, rodents, cockroaches, weird, tiny flies and god knows what else. The girl in the picture and her family have lived in a single room in Marlin for 3 years. For that whole time, the bedbugs, doubtless fleas and other crawlies have been chewing away at this little kid. They’ve been all over her body – not “just” arms, face and feet. From the looks of things, they plan to keep going until they finish.

The girl has scratched and scratched, and is covered in scars and marks. Her mother showed me boxes of creams, prescription eczema treatments, soothing ointments, emollients that she couldn’t really afford and all of the rest.

“They don’t work,” Mum told me. She was pretty clear why – fumigation or no, the bugs kept coming back. Needless to say, the scratching wasn’t helping the girl recover.

In the interests of putting distance between the bugs and their snack, Mum had taken to sleeping on the hard floor with the little girl and her younger sibling. The family had stopped using the sofa bed in the room, because the bugs live in it.

I didn’t have a chance talk to Dad, because he was out delivering takeout around the city to those who felt they must have it right then. A number of people who “live” in Marlin are Uber drivers, or people who deliver food around the city on motorbikes – those lucky punters who get up every day to live again the gig economy dream.

The family gets some universal credit, because Dad isn’t paid enough to live on. He certainly can’t pay a London rent. That’s why the family is grinding it out on the floor in Marlin, losing an endurance test with insects.

His young daughter, meanwhile, appears to be paying for the city’s cheap eats with her skin. I can only conclude that we’ve reached a point where society considers that sort of thing the acceptable price of being able to get McDonald’s delivered to your door at all hours.

In which case – talk about taking one for the team.









She isn’t the only one in Marlin with bites, of course. Here’s a little girl with a faceful of welts – people say it is common to find these on kids in the morning:

Which is not to imply for a moment that the rodents are missing out. Here’s a picture of a mouse bite on a toddler’s leg. On Friday, the mouse climbed over the little boy and bit.









He’s just a little kid.

I have a lot to write about the Marlin apartments situation. There is the gross overcrowding, the people sleeping on hard floors with only a thin duvet between them and the surface, and the maggots crawling in the entranceway.

There is also the fact that uber-dolt Rishi Sunak is partying it up in Disneyland while people in low-paid and insecure jobs sleep 3 and 4 to a lousy (literally) bed, or on smaller and smaller parts of the floor when the bugs get ahead in the land grab.


There are a lot of questions to be asked re: who is responsible for this and who is going to fix it. I asked Newham council for a view today, but alas, did not get a response to that question. There’s probably also a question here for the rest of us re: whether feeding kids to vermin is acceptable collateral in the greater ongoing human quest for cheap taxis to parties and round-the-clock fried-eats deliveries. Let me know if it’s time to abandon hope.

Your Newham Get Me Out Of Here Bushbash Challenge – rising to a slug infestation

Well – this is revolting.

I’ve been sent the slug gallery below by a resident of a flat in Newham.

R and their family (including a toddler and a very young baby) were homeless. They were living in the Newham Brimstone House emergency homelessness hostel. After a while, Newham council placed the family in the flat in the pictures below.

That was the good news. The bad news is that the family isn’t the only crowd there. Slugs have also made the flat their home, sliming their way across floors, walls, the baby’s room and cot, and over kitchen utensils, sponges and containers when they want a novelty ride. Seems as though even slugs are sick of the rain and parked-up jetstreams and are moving their operation inside. There are gaps in walls and holes to the outside, which the slugs clearly see as some sort of invitation to intimate dialogue.

The family reported the problem to the council and landlord months ago. Pest control has apparently been around, but clearly may as well not have been. The council did send the family some links on slug combat, but a bit of a surf isn’t really the same as being rehoused to somewhere habitable, and you start any fight against slugs a long way behind if they have multiple routes inside. You can napalm them with actual crap, or whatever you like, but they don’t care. They just find another door.

Here they all still are. Isn’t grinding poverty and homelessness fun.

Perhaps someone will respond to these photos:






Why you can’t rely on getting a sympathetic DWP work coach

A few thoughts on now-legendary government plans to have jobcentre work coaches decide whether people are fit to work and how hard:

There are many problems with this hogwash, but the one we’ll talk about today is the pot luck element (already a problem). Sick and disabled people in such a system will have to rely on fair treatment from work coaches (already very much hit and miss). Put simply, people will have to hope that they get a work coach who isn’t a punitive twat.

Which isn’t always a sure thing. Some frontline officers are decent. Others, alas, really are out to lunch.

I’ve been thinking about this, because I recently had a long conversation with a frontline DWP officer who, just a few minutes in, struck me as totally gone.

This person was a universal credit case manager who, funnily enough, was on a Stockport PCS picket line, striking for better pay. I was interviewing strikers and talked with this case manager at length. Actually – this person talked to me at length. I mostly stood there wondering why I’d been born.

This caseworker couldn’t have channelled Mel Stride better if they’d actually been Mel Stride. The caseworker said it all: benefit claimants were lazy, their mental health problems were bogus, that anyone could be a millionaire if they tried (wasn’t sure about this, given that the strikers were out for a few measly percent) and – slight tangent – that social media turned people into turkeys (have to say I agreed with that one).


The red flags went up early on, but the one I’ll start with waved vigorously at me – when the caseworker said that benefit claimants should model themselves on Elon Musk.

“[When] Elon Musk started out people were saying, “electric cars, mate – that’s not going to take off.” He’s now outstripping Toyota, because he showed up. That’s all we ask claimants to do.”

Oh goody, I thought. Bet this plays well. As a caseworker, our comrade here had the power to start (or not start) benefit claims, to stop payments, to read about people’s health and their personal circumstances, and to make decisions about their incomes on the basis of that.

Knowing this and hearing the Musk thing, your hopes for a fair world tank. When you spend hours with claimants who have literacy problems, health problems, age problems and work-related injuries, etc, the last person you want to hear from is another frontline clown who believes that getting work – and getting Musk-rich for that matter – is entirely a matter of the right stuff and backbone. No matter if your backbone is crumbling, or full of arthritis, or whatever it is. No matter if you apply for job after job, but can’t buy an interview because of your age. Our caseworker didn’t really touch on the many and often complicated reasons why people don’t work, apart from suggesting that too many of them arse around on facebook.

“Anything is possible,” the caseworker said. “They talk about the American dream. The dream is all around you.”

Continue reading

Jeremy Hunt: curing old age and disability one cadaver at a time

To the real world then! – and the “time to boot lazy old and/or disabled benefit claimants into work” concepts launched at claimants yesterday by legendary civic thinker Jeremy Hunt.

Can’t wait for this. A “voluntary” (don’t laugh) back to work scheme for any disabled people who weren’t bumped off during austerity’s first pass, an over-50s apprenticeship thing to keep not-rich older people grinding in harness so that they drop dead before pension age, and the now-famous plan to force claimants to jobcentres repeatedly for back-to-work meetings with overstretched job coaches who already don’t have time to see clients for more than ten minutes. What’s not to love?

The subtext, of course, is that the only reason people don’t work, or don’t work until their hair bleeds, is because they’re lazy. Disability, old age, mental health issues, sickness – in Hunt’s mind, that stuff is all just panto.

Except that it is not. It really is not.

The “lazy claimants” innuendo is actually the laziest part of Hunt’s gobfest. I can say that for a fact, because as luck would have it, I’ve recently been speaking at length with benefit claimants at a job club in the Stockport suburb of Brinnington (I’m interviewing people for a new book I’m writing).

Intriguingly, this job club has not served up the legions of idlers that Hunt would have you believe are lying around in places like Brinnie and enjoying your taxes via the medium of weed. Actually, the main activity that most people I’ve met are involved in is trying to exist at the rough end of a world run by gobshites and sociopaths such as Jeremy Hunt.

The people I’ve spoken with so far have been older and/or ill (one with a heart condition, but recently employed as a cleaner, and one guy in his 60s who’d been working at McDonald’s), or facing age bias from employers after 40+ years of work and then redundancy, or, in one case, trying to avoid being murdered by Putin. I spoke last week to a 26-year-old Ukranian woman called Nataliia who showed me a picture of a pile of rubble where part of her hometown once stood. She was working as a translator for Stockport council and looking for a permanent job in her field of expertise.

On older people though: You find a lot of older people at these jobs clubs, for the simple reason that the pension age keeps disappearing over the horizon and some people manage to cling to life as it moves.

For example – I spoke at length last Friday with M, who is 64. M had worked for nearly 50 years – the last 34 of them in for the same employer in retail in a curtain manufacturer’s showroom. But then, “my boss decided to retire and went into voluntary liquidation. There was 9 of us [working there]. In January this year, we were unemployed.”

At 64, M was still a way off pension age. This is a garbage situation in itself. Anyone who is even partly civilised knows that when you get to 60, you should be able to retire if you want to, or if you need to. You shouldn’t be forced to scrabble around for painful ways to drag yourself over a ever-fading finish line. “I’m struggling in lots of ways, because I don’t have a lot of computer skills,” said M. She’d signed on for new-style jobseekers’ allowance, because when she was made redundant, she expected to find another retail job pretty fast.

Except that she hadn’t. There were 2 problems here: age bias and health. “I’ve applied for lots of retail jobs [even] before I became unemployed,” M said. “I do think they look at your age. There have been times when I’ve had to send my passport off to prove who I am – and then I don’t get any contact.” Continue reading

Why universal credit caseworkers strike

I recently went to one of the Stockport universal credit caseworker strike pickets. Not a bad morning, all told – picked up a few learnings re: the reasons why people still find the universal credit system a washout.

Certainly, a lot of things fell into place when 2 striking caseworkers told me that at any one time, caseworkers at the Stockport centre have 400+ universal credit cases each. Actually, they have about 1400 each, but estimated that generally, about 35% of them are live.

“WHAT?” I yelled, unsuitably. “You can’t keep on top of that.”

Obviously, the strikers knew that they couldn’t keep on top of that. That was why they were on strike. Too many cases, too few staff and every day on the job spent trying, and often failing, to keep on top of the sorts of numbers that you’d need half a morning just to count up to.

“We work too hard for too little money…they [the DWP] are not replacing any staff when people leave, retire, or when they move on.”

Sounded about right. It’ll be news to nobody who has been following nursing and paramedic strikes, and endless other walkouts, that this government does not invest in public sector workers, or their wages, or their health, for that matter. Think the cabinet is a bit short of members who know what it is like to work past the point of exhaustion.

The striking caseworkers described the average day to me. They fire up their PCs and open their case manager dashboards. They go through new claims – new applications for universal credit that have to be checked and started. They deal with the cases about payment problems – a big part of the day, I imagine, given the number of people I meet at jobcentres, or talk with on whatsapp who say they’ve been paid the wrong amount, or can’t pay their bills after the DWP has hoiked money out for debt repayments and so on. Then, there are the blocked cases – the applications, or investigations, that are on hold while missing paperwork, or medical notes, or responses from other authorities, or whatever it is, are sorted out.

“Then, if we’ve got time, we can get to our journal messages,” one of the strikers said.

“Invariably, we don’t get to the journal messages,” the other striker said.

Continue reading

Taking bets on when this council block will collapse

We return today to Brassett Point, the waterlogged Newham council block where the pipework down one whole side of the building is so wrecked that daily life for residents is an actual shower of shit.

Wet ceilings, leaking sewerage and water pipes, and buckets and towels all over – see residents’ vids below. Doesn’t look good. I admit I’m no engineer, but I don’t think you have to be. Can’t bode well when your building turns into a sieve.

Bucket collecting water in Brassett Point

Bucket collecting water in Brassett Point


You also start to wonder if the council has given up when you tell them that pipes over your loo are bust – and their suggestion is that you pee in a bucket.

Readers of this site will remember a recent story about the council giving a Brassett Point resident a portaloo to use when the leaks raining down on her toilet became tricky to swerve while perched.

The resident wasn’t thrilled with this arrangement. I think we can all agree that having to sit on a bucket next to your friends in your lounge is socially kind of blunt.

Really – MPs and the council need to get onto this in a big way before the whole sodden building collapses with everyone in it, etc.

The council fixes one leak here, only for another couple of leaks to spring over here. Can’t see this lasting for long.

Water coming through the ceiling

Water coming through the ceiling

More on this soon, but for now – and I do mean now – let’s get moving on this before whatever is still holding the building up finally dissolves.








And the portaloo, just as a reminder of scenes late last year at Brassett Point. I took this picture when I visited:

Portaloo in Newham council flat

Portaloo in Newham council flat


And one more video. Why not:


Opportunity knocks! – if you have a home and front door, etc

Happy New Year! Kind of!

Let’s start with some good news:

There’s this young child in London who lives in a crappy homelessness hostel BUT who has real singing talent, which at the moment is being nurtured. Last year, this little girl got a place on a music programme for children where she gets singing lessons, support and chances to perform.

This could take her great places – perhaps out of poverty and into a future with just a bit more hope, and maybe a housing option where she and mum don’t have to share a bed, or skirt ponds of wee in the hostel lift, or listen to endless shit from the council re: not being overcrowded and sucking it up by sticking an extra bed in the kitchen, etc. That’s the dream, anyway. It’s a warming dream in its way, at least from a middle-class angle – a Billy Elliot for the temporary accommodation age.

So, that’s the good news. The less good news is like many young children in poverty, this one will have to outperform a council that has perfected a modern art of its own – ie turning hope into landfill. And who knows? She may succeed! – though she’ll be coming from a long way behind and she’ll need a pretty big finish.

I say this, because late last week, their council sent J, the girl’s mother, a letter to say that J and her daughter will be chucked out of the hostel in the 2nd week of February. Happy New Year to you.

This letter struck J the two usual blows. It told J that she will be made homeless, because the council is ending its duty to help her. Then, it threw the sucker punch (you could almost hear the council winding an arm up for it), which is that social services had been instructed to turn its attentions to the little girl. They’re great, these letters – exactly the sort of thing you need through the hostel door when you’re already homeless, near breakdown and have nowhere to go in the middle of a terminal housing crisis.

The council did throw in a Sorry About This, Pal, line at the end of the letter: “We appreciate this decision is not the one you would have wished for and apologise if it has caused you any distress,” but I’m not totally sure this has squared things. J has still taken her letter badly. She thinks it means that social services will take her child away, because the child is facing street homelessness. She is also wondering if her fast-failing mental health will improve that much when she’s living in a doorway and desperately bidding for council places on a shaky wifi in some unstaffed library warmbank.

Government and councils seem to think this sort of scenario is character-building, although it could be time that they tried it. Given that J has never had secure housing in her adult life, her fear that she may be homeless forever is not wild imagining. It may also be why I’ve heard more crying than singing in J’s recent phone calls with me.

Continue reading