Open Democracy article by me on the group of homelesss young Stratford mothers who have been battling for places to live. These women and their children have been living in Focus E15, a dirty temporary hostel – for years in some cases. They dare to demand something better and they’ve managed to push Newham council to an extent. Theirs has been an extrarodinary fight – and one that is relevant to all of us who must rent. Housing is a crisis issue for most people, unless they’re rich. Yet a campaign to get a face on a banknote is considered monumentally more important than this grassroots campaign by the political class. I’m guessing it’s considered monumentally more important by people who don’t have to worry about finding a place to live.
“Nobody wanted to make an argument for the rights of young single mothers in the anti-welfare era. Media coverage of the women’s problems was intermittent at best. It was certainly intermittent in comparison with reporting of other recent “women’s” campaigns. I think here, as I usually do, of the extraordinary coverage and endless twitter broadcasting gifted to middle-class feminism’s campaign to have Jane Austen’s face printed on a banknote – banknotes that low-income women in Jasmin’s situation struggled mightily to get their hands on from one day to the next. The banknote campaign – and the opportunistic MPs who supported it, like Stella Creasy – was everywhere in the news last year. It never stopped. Women and children who were directly affected by austerity were nowhere. Standing out in the rain with the women at their stall on Saturdays, it was hard not to long for the day when the likes of the young Focus E15 women were thought worthy of blanket, banknote-type coverage for months and months on end. I suspect that day is a long way off. These women are not politically useful to anyone. Labour won’t back them. Labour won’t fight the welfare corner. It also guns for people who say it should. Just after I began to publish stories about the Focus E15 mothers on my blog, Newham council sent a snooty email to say that officers would no longer communicate with me, because I was reflecting the council’s position unfairly.”