These recent photos show the mould and mess in a one-room Haringey flat that is occupied by a man his mid-50s (I’m withholding his real name in this story).
This man has learning difficulties. He also has diabetes, which he struggles to manage, and is in poor health. These photos were sent to me recently. I visited this flat a number of times a while back and have known this guy for several years. His living conditions are usually atrocious.
He is about to be evicted from this flat, because it is in such an appalling state. He received a court notice last Thursday. He brought the notice in to show members of the Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group at their Thursday afternoon meeting (he also had other photos of the mould in the flat, which he showed us).
This man lived with his mother until she died over a decade ago. While his mother was alive, he always had work as a general and kitchen assistant in hotels and kitchens.
This man was made redundant from his last job about nine years ago. He signed on for jobseekers’ allowance and has been put through the DWP’s usual Work Choice/Work Programme mill, with no results whatsoever. He has not found work again. His health has deteriorated to the point where he needs to apply for Employment and Support Allowance. Members of the Kilburn group are helping him with his forms.
Since his mother died, housing has been a major challenge for this man.
There are two main problems for people in this sort of situation.
The first is accommodation itself – finding places in the private sector which people can afford to rent when they rely primarily on housing benefit.
That means living in places such as this one. This flat is tiny. The kitchen, bed and so-called living space are crammed into one very small room. There are a great many poisonous fights with neighbours, because everyone in the building (there are several flats at this address) is jammed into a tiny space. Walls and flooboards are thin. Keeping the peace is challenging. Keeping these tiny rooms clean, organised and aired is difficult even if you don’t require support of some description.
Which brings us to the second problem – support, or the lack of it. The guy in this flat is one of a number of people I’ve met in recent times who exist in a no-man’s land when it comes to state or council support (council care support being in terminal meltdown across the board, of course). The man is not always thought to meet criteria for council support services. Over the years, he’s had a bit of this and a bit of that. None of it adds up to much. He had some floating support in Brent a few years back. Haringey said he didn’t qualify for their service, but recognised that he had some support needs. They signposted him to other outlets.
Unfortunately, this is where things fall apart. This man seems to founder when it comes to organising support entirely off his own bat at outlets to which he is signposted. Instead, he mostly just gets angry. Very angry. He consistently struggles to make his way to places and meetings outside his usual circuit. Sometimes he does it and turns up to an advice centre. Sometimes over the years, he’s found an MP to tell his story to. At other times, he disappears and turns up to nothing. He misses pre-arranged meetings and appointments. There are good days and bad days. There are good moods and furious moods. Things fluctuate all over the place. They seemed to fluctuate less when this man’s mother was alive and acting as the anchor.
An email sent to me from the Brent floating service last year:
“Haringey Social Services have concluded that “ is not eligible for their service as he does not have the required needs. They have made the recommendation that he attends The Junction, a the drop-in service based in Haringey, where he can receive support surrounding housing and employment.”
I rang and emailed Haringey council on Monday last week for comment about that decision. I sent the pictures you see on this page. I also wanted to know in a general sense if the council was likely to find people in this situation intentionally homeless should they present as homeless after an eviction. Councils have accepted a duty to house this man in the past. I’ve been to those meetings.
I’m still waiting for a response from the council.
There’s no doubt that this guy’s situation is complicated. The problem is that he keeps ending up in the same situation – living in a tiny, cramped, filthy, mouldy flat and getting sicker. And then getting evicted. That’s the point. This goes on and on. He keeps ending up mired in filth and mould.
Of course – some might say that is his choice. I wonder. In austerity, degradation is the only game in town. All that is really on offer is an endless round of bitter fights about council duties, DWP duties, people’s support needs, and independence and competence. None of these fights ever reaches a conclusion that people can use to make things better.
There is some good news for this man. He has the support of excellent volunteers at the Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group and, more recently, legal help. Plenty of people have neither of those things, which I know for a fact. I get to know people over the course of several years and find that many get stuck in their situations. They struggle to pay bills as rent and council tax demands grow, but incomes don’t. They struggle to keep a flat up to standard and so on.
Nothing changes, except the geography. People just move from one borough to the next. One thing is always very clear and consistent, though. People need more resources, not fewer. I’m not convinced that the state’s Less Is More view of people who live like this is working out.