When exactly did it start being okay to treat people with learning difficulties like trash?

I wonder.

Here’s a story about one person who is caught in a sort of three-way systems meltdown. God only knows how many times this sort of situation is being replicated across the country:

Yesterday, I visited Brent Council with Eddie* (name changed), an unemployed 51-year-old Kilburn man who has learning and literacy difficulties. I’ve been accompanying Eddie to his various council and jobcentre meetings for months now. The whole thing has been a right eye-opener, for me at least. It has certainly opened my eyes to the various systemic meltdowns that austerity has left us with, and the people who are on the rough end of the whole shambles.

This guy definitely is at that rough end. Last time I wrote about Eddie, I explained how he’d been shouted at by a jobcentre adviser at his latest appointment. The adviser had signed him up for a work choice course without telling him what it was about, or how to organise his travel to it (it’s on the Caledonian Road somewhere) and then took exception when he started to complain. We’d both sat there as the adviser listed his sins (loudly) as the jobcentre saw them. No concession was made to his learning or literacy difficulties during that unpleasant exchange. The only reason that I’d cut that adviser any slack at all was that she’d been reasonable in the past and looked purely exhausted on the day of the yelling-match. Maybe she’d just been bawled out by some sanctions-happy manager who didn’t think she was hitting targets. I generally wonder where the PCS is at these moments. It’s pretty clear to me that some jobcentre workers are too stressed-out to cope a lot of the time (this adviser told me several months ago that back in the day, she saw about five JSA claimants a day. These days, she sees about 15). There certainly are some sadists working at jobcentres, but there are also people who try to be reasonable. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to be reasonable when you’re working in an utterly unreasonable, punitive, sanctions-driven workplace. Anyway – more on that particular situation soon. We’re picking it up with the jobcentre later this week.

Yesterday, we were at the Brent council offices. We were there because Eddie has another problem – he’s about to be evicted from the crummy studio flat that he’s been living in for a couple of years. He had a meeting with the council to try and get registered as homeless. Eddie isn’t too worried about leaving the studio flat as such and you wouldn’t blame him for that if you saw the place. “Studio” is too romantic a word for it. “Hovel” would be closer to the mark. You can see that in the video here (I took this in about June last year, so the place has deteriorated even further since then):

This single room Eddie lives in is cramped and so damp and airless that it stinks a lot of the time (he hangs his clothes to dry in it). Rodents and cockroaches dart backwards and forwards under the cupboards. I’ve seen a few of those on the go. Neither the fridge, nor the oven provided by Eddie’s charlatan landlord works. Eddie had to buy a second fridge to refrigerate his diabetes medication. That fridge sits in the middle of the room and there isn’t really space for it. The flat is too small. You could swing a cat in it if you wanted, but you’d hit a wall pretty fast. At the council yesterday, Eddie showed a doctor’s letter which confirmed that Eddie’s health was likely to be affected by his living conditions. But there he is all the same. I suppose that Eddie’s landlord has taken the view that you can rent out any old crap to people with learning difficulties and get away with it. The truth is that you can do better than get away with it. You can actually profit from it. You can profit very nicely from it. Eddie’s landlord has been collecting something in the region of £1100 a month in rent for this grotty place. Now, though, he has decided that he wants Eddie out.

So there we were at the council. I wasn’t wild about the way things went there, either. Sure, the homelessness officers did things by the book. They offered the services that the council now offers. The person we saw told Eddie that he might be placed out of London if the council agreed that it had a duty to house him (Eddie is so desperate to get out of his flat that he is now open to the idea of leaving London. He used to want to stay, but now says he doesn’t care. This change in outlook ought to be noted. People lower their expectations as their living conditions deteriorate). If he was still homeless on the day of his eviction, he’d probably be put into a B&B. If he found a place to rent by himself, the council might help with a deposit and/or some rent in advance. It seemed to me that the chances of finding anything better or bigger locally than the flat he was being evicted from while on housing benefit were unlikely. He’s been shown other tiny places in the past. He was frightened of those. He didn’t want to be returned to the sort of cramped situation he’s in now.

So. That’s the part that irritates me most – the fact that whole swathes of housing are now closed off to people. The officer said that alongside his homelessness application, Eddie should continue to search for a property himself and to ask his support worker to help him (Eddie was recently found a support worker by the local unemployed workers’ group. He’d gone a while without one before that).

I wondered exactly how Eddie was going to search for a property and which letting agents he could start with, so I asked the officer if the council had lists of landlords or agents who accepted local housing allowance tenants. The officer said No, We Don’t. “Times have changed so much that many agents have moved away from it. They didn’t want to be on our list any more.”

That didn’t give us much of a starting point. I asked again what Eddie could do to get going. I got a similar reply – ie, that agents won’t look at housing benefit tenants. “There’s no point approaching the high street estate agents, because the majority of their clients do not consider DSS,” the officer said. “There’s a few agents that do, but they’re telling us they are having a lot of trouble sourcing the properties in Brent and London.”

In the end, the officer told Eddie that his best bet was to ask friends, or check local papers, or look for To Rent cards in shop windows. As I say, that’s the part that jars. We have a two-tier system here  – a metaphorical Poor Doors scenario where people with no money are no longer allowed over certain thresholds. They can’t go into the majority of letting agents. That’s where five years of coalition government has landed us – five years of coalition government and unbelievably weak opposition, that is.

I’d also make the point that decent and plentiful council housing would go a long way towards solving these situations. The guy in this story finds change extremely difficult and he resists it. He can come across as difficult because of that – but there isn’t a lot of sympathy left for people in his situation. Resources are too stretched. Workers are too stressed. If Eddie was settled in a decent council place locally for the long term, he wouldn’t have to worry. He keeps saying that the whole situation is going to kill him. Maybe that’s the idea.

14 thoughts on “When exactly did it start being okay to treat people with learning difficulties like trash?

  1. It is a mystery how much social attitudes have changed in such a short space of time.
    Forced workfare for the seriously ill and disabled is now considered perfectly normal, indeed something to be encouraged. As is making them look for work, no matter how hopeless or impractical this is. All of it enforced by a sanction system where hunger and destitution are deliberately used to enforce compliance against even the most vulnerable in society.
    Somehow the Coalition have overturned traditional British ideas of compassion and common-sense, and replaced it with their ruthless ideology.
    And the worst thing of all is the general consensus and the lack of political opposition.
    Back in the 1990’s we had hundreds of thousands of people out on the street demonstrating against the Poll Tax. People who would rather go to prison than pay £200, so angry were they at this perceived social injustice.
    But now there is just the sound of silence.

      • Unfortunately it isn’t discrimination as it encompasses all HB clients and being poor isn’t a protected characteristic.
        It could be argued that it is a policy that disproportionately affects disabled people as they are more likely to need HB, but that would only really work if action was taken against a body that came under the remit of the Public Sector Equality Duty.
        I hope Eddie finds suitable housing very soon and that you manage to get the job centre to treat him with proper respect. I’m Glad he has people to support him so well, a great many people with learning disabilities don’t have someone to ensure that they get listened to.

  2. Today I tried to help someone with learning difficulties,and health problems claim ESA was on hold 50 minutes before someone answered, I explained who i was and what I was doing, when the person started to struggle I tried to help, the “adviser” said she had to, when I stated that I did inform him I’d be helping at the beginning the DWP “adviser” hung up!

  3. Pingback: When exactly did it start being okay to treat people with learning difficulties like trash? | Kate Belgrave | Britain Isn't Eating

  4. See also: My Disability Studies Blackboard: Benefit sanctions are a ‘hard read’ for Britain’s learning disabled http://mydisabilitystudiesblackboard.blogspot.ca/2015/03/benefit-sanctions-are-jeopardizing.html

    Full disclosure: Since January 2012, I have been reporting voluntarily to the UN’s human rights office, in Geneva, on the welfare crisis for Britain’s sick and disabled. [Fellow Canadian Leilani Farha (@leilanifarha) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing; see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/LeilaniFarha.aspx. You can tweet her on UK housing issues or e-mail her at the UN’s human rights office: srhousing@ohchr.org; she does follow my Twitter account.]

    (Montreal, Canada)

  5. Brent Central has more poor voters than any others.

    If all the poor, in or out of work, poor pensioners, poor disabled, all came out and voted then all this cruelty would end.

    Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)
    that is the old Labour who invented the welfare state in the first place
    TUSC candidate
    John Boyle

    Brent Central Claimant Count 14,650
    Brent Central in 2010 – LIB DEM MP MAJORITY 1,345

    TUSC is the 6th biggest party running in the general election, but is getting nil coverage in media, forums, blogs.

    Just the same as all other anti austerity cuts and benefit reform parties in England.

    Scotland has the SNP and Wales, Plaid Cymru.

    Cornwall, has Mebyon Kernow, but the Cornish are not even informed they have their own party.

    Please share my website, with links / logos / party names / how poor have all the power they need to utterly change UK parliament in 2015:


    • I seem to have seen an awful lot of negative stories about Brent council recently. I understand that there are issues with what councils have to do and what they are allowed to do now but it seems unreasonable that there isn’t more support given to someone in this position. surely it is a case for a reasonable adjustment in the form of giving extra signposting or help in finding a let.
      There is a huge need for disability awareness training in most local authorities.

  6. Pingback: The real scroungers: landlords hoovering housing benefit for disgusting places like this | Kate Belgrave

  7. It’s the same story for me Iam 25 going on 26 in May & Iam unemployed & I have asperger syndrome the jobcentre people make me feel bullied too so much so every night I cry myself to sleep they also do the same with me be vague & set me up with things I don’t understand & don’t explain things to me in a way I understand & now I have to go in to the jobcentre today as they are threatening to stop my jobseekers allowance coz they can’t find proof of 2 things I applied to, a jewelry retail job & applying to build a bears automated online application form. Both the jewelry job & build a bear are automated forms where u fill in your details & add your CV with the click of a button & that’s it, there’s no way of getting proof of me applying depending on build a bear I can get my confirmation of applying instantly or a few days later while things like the jewelry job never get back to me at all. With employers my location seems to be an issue with them regardless that I can easily have my parents give me a lift since I have no car & there’s little or no public transport. I’ve been trying to get help from the autistic society in Glasgow but that ended up being a waste of time as the person in charge of my group was always calling in sick & we kept being sent home, also employability Stirling promised an advisor to help me find a job maybe even get me volunteer work or work experience after promising it would be soon & that they’d keep in touch this was back in November last year still no word I’ve even e-mailed & called & have been told the person meant to be helping me is either sick or on Holiday & that they’d find out what’s going on & they’d get back to me still no contact. Iam now getting help from triage & now the chance of a week video game design course too will hopefully open more doors for me, but yeah jobcentre are bullies they try every excuse possible to stop your money they don’t care about us at all, all they care about is meeting their targets to please the big mean boss upstairs so they get paid -.-

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