Put THIS on a banknote: young mothers without money abandoned by the chattering classes

This is a story about the struggle that young mothers without money have for the basics in an era where they and their children are stereotyped, written off as scroungers and not considered deserving – across the political spectrum. The women in this story are fighting for decent places to live.

The young woman in this video is Jasmin Stone. She is 19 and the mother of 17-month-old Safia.

Jasmin is also (this will sound patronising, but here it is anyway) an impressive organiser and a determined one. She needs to be and so she is. Neither she nor her daughter have a secure place to live. Jasmin and a number of other young mothers in Stratford are fighting for decent local housing for themselves and their babies. They’re doing it in the face of supreme indifference from the political class. They say that local councillors have been unhelpful and even dismissive. Their feeling is that Newham council wants them out of the borough.

Media coverage of this sort of issue has been intermittent at best. It has certainly been intermittent in comparison with coverage of other “women’s” campaigns this year. I think here of the extraordinary coverage given to middle-class feminism’s campaign to have a face printed on banknotes that will surely soon be obsolete anyway. The coverage that campaign got ahead of some of the monumental problems women that are dealing with in austerity amazed me. Sure – cover that campaign and the threats campaigners received, but what about the horrors that women who aren’t on twitter, or who aren’t on twitter all the time, are dealing with? Why aren’t their wars being fought with that kind of backing? Where’s the outrage for them? I realise that criticising the banknote campaign and coverage is about as socially acceptable as piddling in the altar wine – but really. I long for the day when the likes of the young women on the Stratford mothers’ campaign are gifted that sort of blanket coverage. I guess it is harder to win political and media love when you’re young, a mother, on benefits for now, needing a bit of help to get things on track and politically useful to nobody. If you’re a mother and want a warm place to live, be a horse with a foal and move in with Nadhim Zahawi.


The Stratford women have a problem. They have a real problem. Young, on benefits, wanting work and classed as homeless, they’re fighting eviction from the hostel they live in. They’re also fighting to convince Newham council that they and their children deserve housing in the borough – not hundreds of miles away. As I understand it (I’ve asked Newham council for a statement on this, but four days later, I’m sick of waiting) Newham council has said that a lack of local social housing means they may be moved out of the borough to places like Hastings – absolute miles and an expensive train journey away from friends and family childcare support in Newham (most of the women I’ve been speaking to for these stories were born and raised in the area).

Let’s start at the beginning. At the moment, Jasmin and her fellow campaigners live in Newham’s Focus E15 foyer – a hostel which has about 16 flats for young parents. There are about 210 flats in the whole complex and a variety of people living in them. They’re not just young parents. The women say that they were only supposed to be living in Focus E15 for around six to eight months, but that some have been there for several years. Life in the hostel doesn’t sound particularly easy. I know that we live in an era where anyone who isn’t rich and connected is supposed to be grateful for any home and/or state help at all – and the fact is that these women do express gratitude for the accommodation – but it is still a place they have mixed feelings about.

One of their number describes as “like a prison.” As I understand it (I asked East Thames Housing Association for a statement on this as well, but four days later, I’m sick of waiting) Focus E15 is a “foyer” – a variation on a social experiment-type idea where people get a place to live if they attend mandatory lifeskills programmes (whatever they are).

But – “it’s horrible,” Jasmin says. She’s lived in the hostel for about 18 months. Before that, she was homeless and sofa-surfing when and where she could. She was given a place in Focus E15 about a month before her daughter was born. Her daughter is nearly 18 months old now. She worries about staying there as her child grows. “It’s not fit for a mother and a baby. Its really small and there’s no space for them to move around. There’s damp and repairs don’t get done. There’s other people there that haven’t got children. There’s 24-hour security. You can only have people visiting you after 12pm in the day and they have to leave by 10pm.”

“You’ve got numerous problems,” says Rachel, 20. Rachel has a three-month-old son. “You get limited hot water. I have to wash my dishes up in cold water, because if I wash up in hot water, then I won’t get a bath even with a baby.” All the women I speak to say that dampness is a problem. “There’s mould,” Rachel says. “[My son] had the flu and he’s had a chesty cough, so it’s not good.” (I asked the East Thames Housing Association, which manages FocusE15, if I could go in and have a look around as I wanted to see things for myself and expand this crucial part of things out, but the HA said No because “the staff and residents were under a lot of pressure.” That was the only question I asked that they were able to respond to immediately).

So. Those are some of the perceptions people have of the place . Small. Damp. Cramped. Rigid. Still, Focus E15 has become a home of sorts for these young mothers. That’s why, earlier this year, they were horrified to receive eviction notices. Earlier this year,(again as I understand it – see earlier notes) Newham council made a decision to cut about £41,000 from Supporting People funding for the women’s flats. Apparently, East Thames HA said that the funding cut meant that they couldn’t afford to pay for support services for the women anymore. That being the case, the women would have to leave.

The notice could not have come at a worse time for some. “When I first got the phone call, I was eight months pregnant,” Rachel says. “I just got a phone call saying – can you come to a meeting to discuss you moving on?”

But here’s the problem. Where would they go? Where is a very young mother with an eviction notice and no money likely to end? As I talk to the women, I find that the answer from the council seemed to be “private rental if you can find it and/or miles away from Newham.” Miles Away From Newham seemed to be key here. In Patrick Butler’s story here, Newham council seems to claim that a shortage of social housing the borough (I’ll be looking into whose fault that is over the next little while) means that the mothers may be housed as far away as Birmingham, Manchester or Hastings (a trend that doesn’t thrill Hastings worthies, as you can read here). Patrick’s story also indicates that Newham council recently changed its housing allocation policy to give servicepeople and “working” families housing priority – ahead of single mothers (an issue one mother of one on of the Focus E15 women raised with me as well). That tells you plenty about the place that young mothers now occupy in political minds – and of the political view of motherhood as “non work” and of children as fripperies. As for private rental – forget it. You’ll see Jasmin saying in the video that she spent several days ringing round a list of landlords and rental agents the council gave her – to no avail. She repeatedly came up against a No DSS line. And when she got one property, a working couple was able to undercut her, because they came in and paid the deposit.

“They don’t want people on benefit,” Rachel says. “Personally I don’t want to stay on benefits. I want to go out to work, but like it is a struggle because there are hardly any jobs, so we’re kind of in the middle. We want to go to work, but we can’t go to work. Childcare would be so expensive. With me, if I was still living locally, my childcare would be my parents, but if I’m hundreds of miles away, I’m basically stuck.” Rachel wants to be a teaching assistant. She just needs a place to live and some help to do it. She says that she did not plan to get pregnant. We’re returning to a time where women without money are punished utterly for that.

Adora Chilaisha, 19, wants to sort out housing for herself and her son first, and then start looking for a job, “because all of this housing and stuff is just difficult. People need to get a job, but they need a house and a base.”

“We had the meeting on the Monday gone,” Jasmin says, “and they basically said that they don’t know where the properties are. We’ve been to see the Mayor, Robin Wales, and he was really negative about everything. He said to us that he was cross with our campaign. He just didn’t seem to help and he said in reality there’s no housing.”


So. I’ll be writing more about this in the New Year – and A LOT more in general with women who are fighting cuts and misogyny with little support from the Haves. Suffice to say for now that I find the bias that young mothers and single mothers face disgraceful. Read some of the snide remarks about birth control and “such generous benefits for single mothers” under this story. We’ve all read about the pressures and invasive questions that single mothers must deal with to prove that they are entitled to benefits. Adora says that the DWP insists she is in a relationship with her baby’s father, although she isn’t.

This is all a bit “Fallen Women Have Made Their Beds And Must Lie On Them” for me. All the young women I talked to for this story want to work and get things going. Rachel, as we’ve seen, wants to work as a teaching assistant. Jasmin was studying for childminding qualifications when she got pregnant and she wants to set up a home-based childminding service.

It’s clear that Jasmin has great organisational skills. She set up the fightback campaign when the first eviction notices came through. Now the group has a facebook page, a petition and a weekly stall on the Stratford Broadway. I spent several hours at the stall last Saturday. The women had set up facepainting for kids and Christmas music. They took turns on the mic and approached shoppers with their petition. They engaged a lot of people as they explained their housing problems and got a lot of people to sign their petition. There was something useful and important going on there. It was certainly a lot more useful and important than Zahawi fleecing the taxpayer to warm a stable for his horses. Letting that guy off the hook while other people can’t find decent homes for their children and are living in damp places is criminal in my book. So is Oliver Letwin charging the taxpayer for his tennis court repairs. So is George Osborne’s charging the taxpayer for a horse’s paddock. Those people are the out-of-control scroungers. Pity there’s no politicial opposition to them.

One last observation – it’s not the fact that women should be good enough to appear on a banknote that is the issue here. It’s the fact that appearing on a banknote is ALL that we’re good enough for. We’re obviously not good enough for decent housing, public services, decent places for our kids and equal pay.

Et cetera.

See you in the New Year.

12 thoughts on “Put THIS on a banknote: young mothers without money abandoned by the chattering classes

  1. Pingback: Further demonisation of people on benefits… | Harpymarx

    • For everyone else’s information – comments aren’t closed on this site. They’re moderated. This is so I will be in a position to weed the sexist crap out if and when I get sick of being called a cunt.

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