Look at the state of this flat. Here is independence vs neglect in austerity

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).

Some history:

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.

10 thoughts on “Look at the state of this flat. Here is independence vs neglect in austerity

  1. I think the penultimate paragraph in this story says it all really. Only when people are completely in control of their lives will there finally be a solution to society’s problems. Only when people are in control of things like housing and social welfare at a local level will things change for the better.

    I’m not arguing for state control here, either at a local level, or at the level of the state. Issues such as housing and social welfare are far too important to be left to the depredations of parasitic politicians.

    Maybe that should be a bit of a long-term aim, but in the meantime, where are the critical voices coming from the likes of Labour? Why aren’t Labour going for the Tory’s jugular over their Social Darwinist polices? Whilst you say that individual MPs have championed this man’s cause from time to time, that is hardly something sustainable, and will only ever be a kind of sticking plaster.

    • The Labour shambles is doing my head in.

      It’s interesting – your comment here made me realise something. The thought of raising this issue and indeed any others atm with Labour MPs had literally not occurred to me. It used to occur to me, but it doesn’t any more. I’ve obviously subconsciously decided that there isn’t any point.

      • I understand what you’re saying! Though I have currently an issue that I’ve taken to three Welsh Assembly members, and only the Labour member has had the courtesy to reply, (the other two were Plaid Cymru, who I usually nominally support. I don’t bother with Tories at all, and am with Nye Bevan about them).

        However, I realise that it was quite pointless, as the issue over which I approached them, a 10.52% housing association rent increase, had already been approved by the Labour Welsh Assembly Government who regulate rent increases for social housing.

  2. It’s like something out of Les Miserables, this man slowly declining in these awful conditions.
    Many more people will be living like this when Universal Credit is finally universal.
    But what can be done without any real political opposition ?
    With every year that passes all these benefit cuts and the so-called ‘reforms’ are becoming more and more a permanent established system.

  3. Hi, Kate

    Your observation, “Nothing changes, except the geography. People just move from one borough to the next,” reminds me of an extract from a talk I attended a few years ago that was organised by Social Work Action Network London.

    The speaker observed that in the case known as ‘Victoria’ Climbié’ the backdrop of moving from borough to borough led to the victim being perceived as ‘of transient value’.

    Regarding the general point about ‘eligiblity for services’, I believe it quite likely that that results from the way that ‘learning disability status’ is based on ‘norms based’ ‘intelligences’ scores that stipulate what is to be expected of the lowest percentile of population. That would rule out a vast swathe of the population who would comparatively thrive if they were regarded as worthy of investing public funds in.

    I am reminded of what the Social Worker from a Manpower Services Commission-run ‘Employment Rehabilition Centre’ told my parents in 1978: “Yes, Alan’s got an academic brain, but it would not be worth him getting help to qualify for additional academic qualifications. He’s just too slow! He’ll have to learn to lower his sights.” Meanwhile the on-site ‘Occupational Psychologist’ earned her nickname as ‘The Psychopath’ through having, “You will be terminated” as her catch-phrase.

  4. Many people I know, lots of couples, live in rooms like this, except that no kitchen, often no bathroom of their own. They pay rents for this exceeding £700 / month, they work 48 hours a week on minimum wage, no benefits and they are at the mercy of rogue landlords when it comes to mould and disrepair. They can’t go to the council, because they know that the HMO is illegal, if the council finds out they all get evicted and with no hope to be rehoused. So, they just put up with it and wait for their luck to break out. Often for years.

  5. Most of us on benefit or low pay/no pay find ourselves living in grotty, unsanitary conditions – which makes us ill, and so the downward cycle continues …

  6. Could I first say that the isn’t man is living in a one bed flat, its a bedsit the bottom of the food chain in terms of renting. If it were in a one bedroom flat . His bedroom would be in one room and other room for the kitchen, ditto for sitting room and bathroom. Sadly I’m not surprised that he is being treated so badly if, your vulnerable your an easy target for Boroughs to play parcel the parcel. Whilst ignoring the hellish, health threatening conditions accommodation in the private sector get away with.
    The landlord should be prosecuted, or embarrassed online. In the meantime he would be better off with Haringey. I’ve found that Brent’s social care is poor and they can be quite slow at getting things in order.

  7. Amazing degree of damp and fungus.
    Which looks like funky patterned wallpaper at first -but not when the photos are clicked and enlarged.
    Half the problem is it is really just a room made into a self contained flat- ie has its own shower, cooking etc .
    Placing toilets. sinks. etc where they were never intended is asking for damp.
    Because it’s a ‘flat’ the landlords fills their pocket with £250 a week ….
    They are the real scroungers – but go by the moniker ‘property developer’

  8. If anyone doubts that our society is extremely negligent
    then this will surely make them think again.
    I thought living on the former Chalk hill estate in the 1980s and 90s was bad
    but not even both flats I lived in on that estate was as in the state as this flat.
    Christ almighty
    what kind of country are we living in?

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