Homeless mothers: we feel the ever-present threat of social services and losing our kids. That’s how they keep people quiet

Readers of this site will know that I’ve recently been interviewing Marsha, a homeless 30-year-old Newham woman who lives with her six-year-old daughter in a single room in a Newham homelessness hostel.

The two have been stuck in this temporary accommodation for over a year.

Marsha and her daughter in their one-room temporary homelessness hostel accommodation

In the last article, Marsha talked about a concern that many homeless mothers raise. Mothers worry that council social services will try to remove their children because they are homeless. Doesn’t matter what the council can, or can’t, actually do. The threat hangs in the air and that is enough. I’ve written about this before.

In that recent article, Marsha said that Newham social services said they could take her daughter and place the child in care while Marsha “sorted herself out”:

“Social services is telling me – “oh, we can provide a home for your daughter, but not for you.”

“So I am scared.”

There’s been more since then.

On Tuesday morning, Marsha sent an email to her housing officer (Marsha copied me in). She asked for an update on her housing situation and whether she and her child could be moved to a better place than the awful hostel that they’re stuck in.

Marsha is in the dreadful limbo that so many women in poverty are.

She’s facing eviction from the homelessness hostel she’s in.

She’s studying at a local college to try and improve her chances of work and better-paid work.

She doesn’t want to have to move to a flat miles away in Tilbury (which is where the council wants her to go), because Marsha relies on her mother for mental health support and childcare while she studies. If Marsha loses that support, she’ll sink.

Marsha has no-one else to help with childcare while she studies. The jobcentre certainly won’t. Her adviser already threatened to sanction her Universal Credit for spending some of her time studying rather than all of her time looking for work.

So, Marsha sent that email to the council asking about her application for better housing. There’d been earlier emails, too, as well as the stories posted here.

Enter social services.

The next thing Marsha knew was that social services was all over her – and asking questions about her daughter’s health and wellbeing.

Marsha said she felt extremely threatened by this. A woman asks a council questions about her housing application – and suddenly, social services is on the phone demanding meetings and firing off all sorts of questions about the woman and her child’s welfare.

You have to wonder.

Marsha says that first, she was contacted by someone from the local multi-agency safeguarding hub – one of the hubs set up to track children who could be “vulnerable”:

“I literally had to explain myself and my housing situation all over again. He [the MASH officer] was really like getting a bit personal… asking me questions about my doctor, my daughter, my wellbeing, [the] school that she [my daughter] attends, her attendance… just a lot of personal stuff…”

So, there was that.

Then on Thursday last week, Marsha got a call from Newham children’s services, demanding that she attend an appointment with them that very afternoon:

“Another lady called from the social services…she said to me that she’s been given instructions from her manager to call me to arrange a meeting with herself.

I said, “what is it in regards to, because I just spoke to somebody else in the department within the social services and they are saying something different to me…”

“[She said] that she has to do an assessment with me and my daughter to do with my housing issues, and I have to come and see her and I should bring my daughter…

“I said to her – “I’m in college until 4.15pm. Then, I have to pick up my daughter.”

“She was like, “this is important and you have to come and see me. You kind of just have to find time, basically.”

“So I said to her, “okay, well, I’ll grab my daughter from school early and I’ll come and see you.”

“I was really uncomfortable…”

At the meeting, the social worker questioned Marsha and her daughter about Marsha and the child’s wellbeing:

“It is… the stuff they were asking me, Kate, had nothing to do with my housing situation. They were asking my daughter if she sleeps well, how does she play, who helps her with her homework… It’s not relevant.

“It’s almost like I’m being investigated… do you know what I mean… everyone knows that my issues is strictly around housing. I feel so uncomfortable.”

“I feel like the council is just trying to use tactics to force me into a situation…I feel like I’m being punished. I’m trying to get my voice heard and I’m speaking to people and I’m raising issues. I feel like it’s a tactical to make me go away – like they are thinking, “let’s get social services to call around.”

Marsha said the social worker told her that Marsha and her daughter would soon be evicted from their temporary accommodation. Marsha and her young daughter are facing street homelessness.

That was the first Marsha had heard about her impending eviction.

She said that the social worker was shocked to hear that the council’s housing team hadn’t told Marsha that eviction was nearing.

The bed Marsha shares with her daughter


You see my point.

I talk to too many homeless mothers now who say they feel ever-threatened by social services.

They don’t know if councils can take their kids, but Can or Can’t is beside the point. The point is that the spectre of social services is raised at the drop of a hat. An implied threat is plenty good enough to shut homeless people up.

People worry about challenging a council offer of housing, or complaining about the dreadful state of temporary housing, or drawing attention to themselves by asking a council any questions about housing at all. I wonder how many homeless people are disenfranchised – bullied into silence – in this way.

Said Marsha:

“It’s the normal thing that I’ve been experiencing with council, with social services – bullying, threatening, saying that you have to do this now and you don’t have an option…she [the social worker] sat down yesterday and she said, “as you know there is no affordable housing, affordable properties [in Newham]… it’s just been like 18 months of ongoing like turmoil with them.”


I have more on this which I will publish this week.

The Newham council press office has blacklisted me and so won’t give a comment, but too bad for them. I’ll be emailing the mayor and the head of housing with this article and asking the council what the hell it is doing.

This is sick.

20 thoughts on “Homeless mothers: we feel the ever-present threat of social services and losing our kids. That’s how they keep people quiet

  1. My Social Care Social Worker has the attitude of well move then you will not have to pay bedroom tax; when you ask will she help it becomes ‘oh that’s housing but we can’t pay you when you have housing debt’.
    In fact housing debt is irrelevant to social care needs.
    Across the board it seems Social workers are there to intimidate the most vulnerable!
    And Yes it is very sick

    • pretty silly thing to say. Why would we do such a difficult job and face backlash such as this if we weren’t in it to try and help the vulnerable?

      • That’s what you people do. Instead of working with parents to safe guide children and promote their welfare you scare a hell out of the mum

  2. I keep on wondering where the disconnect exists between Corbyn’s ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ sloganeering and Labour run local authorities that basically operate the Tories Pogrom Against the Poor with enthusiasm. I’m sure that if challenged those local authorities would claim that they have ‘no choice’ but to comply, but how far is this the case? Surely with a little imagination… Oh, wait!

    This kind of stuff should be front page news, and the fact that it is Labour local authorities that are complicit in implementing Tory policies should be emphasised to send a message to Corbyn and Co that they’ll have to do much better if they want our vote.

    Widespread ignorance of what social services can, and cannot do is all part and parcel of a system that uses fear to control. Sadly, none of what you write about Kate comes as any surprise to me, having had to deal with representatives of social services who seem more concerned with covering their own arses than ensuring the well being of people. The very fact that they threaten to remove children as a way of controlling parents is disgusting, and I’m wondering if it could be in some way a breach of someone’s human rights under the right to a family life?

    Really, Labour controlled local authorities acting in this manner should hang their heads in shame.

  3. Pingback: #Homeless mothers: we feel the ever-present threat of social services and losing our kids. That’s how they keep people quiet | Kate Belgrave | Declaration Of Opinion

  4. Even now, with the departure of the Magnificent Seven, Corbyn just shrugs and goes down to his allotment. Unbelievable. You would get more sense out of Captain Birdseye. ( And at least he’s got something sensible to say about fish ).

    • It’s hard not to feel that Jez’s heart isn’t in it. The party is splintering all right. Corbynistas are furiously arguing that it ain’t his fault. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s theirs. The hard left doesn’t do broad churches. They do purges and tiny elections to meaningless union seats etc. They are obsessed with taking power, as opposed to taking people along with them. Personally feel that Chuka’s lot and the hard left factions of the party deserve each other.

      • I kinda think that too. I don’t actually believe that it’s really because of Brexit or alleged anti-Semitism, just a bunch of disgruntled Blairites taking their ball home. Good riddance to ’em, especially Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie, well all of them really. I would still vote for a Corbyn – McDonnell government.

        • I’d be tempted to vote for a Corbyn – Mc Donnell government too, as they are sensibly centre-left which is what the UK really needs right at the moment. However, I live in Wales where we’ve had 100 years of Labour in power, including 20 years of devolved government, and Wales is now not only the poorest of the UK nations, it’s also one of the poorest regions in Europe. This makes me hesitant.

          I’d go as far to say that it really needs to be taken further to the left, but as Kate says, it should be about taking people with the process. 40 years of neoliberal economic policies has affected the way people think, and it will take a while to convince them that the sky won’t fall in if people are paid decently and that the very rich won’t all pack up and leave over being taxed a bit more, (needs to be land tax, as land can’t be put in bank accounts in the Cayman Islands) However, I’m none too sure that any political party in the UK really wants to do democracy properly.

          Though I suspect there is a lot more to it than the rather simplistic stuff we’re seeing, I always thought that Umunna would have been better off in the Tory party. I’m also not sure about what all this ‘anti-semitic’ stuff is about. If it is genuinely anti-semitic, fair enough, but it it’s anti-Zionism being deliberately conflated with anti-semitism then this needs to he exposed. However, I think there is a valid point over Brexit, as I do think that Corbyn’s approach has not only lead to a haemorrhaging of membership amongst young people, but is jepoardising there being a Labour government after the next general election. However, I do think that the Labour Party is probably better off without these people. It would have just been a little better had they waited a while.

          • One of the many big problems in my view is the timing. And ok – there’s never going to be a good time for a party to splinter, given that by definition, they’ll splinter when things are shambolic – but this is something else. People won’t be interested in the minutiae either. They’ll just look at the Labour party and think – “what a fucking shambles.” I personally am looking at the Labour party and thinking – “what a fucking shambles.” The Tories are a fucking shambles as well, but Labour needs to look a lot more cohesive than it does to take them down. Corbyn should be providing that leadership and organisation, and he can’t. To be fair, I suppose, I don’t know if there’s anyone around at the moment who could, but you know – bottom line is that if you can’t unify your party, you probably can’t unify the country. Or anything.

            My other bottom line is that out here in the real world, absolutely nothing changes. My phone & email have been going all morning with people who can’t find housing and are being treated like shit by their councils. The foodbank queues continue to grow and Universal Credit grows into an ever-more-monstrous pile. All this political faffing on twitter and facebook, and it doesn’t change life on the ground at all. AT ALL. It really might as well be happening in another universe.

  5. Labour are finished if this carries on. A self-defeating circle of poor leadership, anti-semitism, and just being so lacklustre bloody awful.

  6. Westminster seems like a million miles away. Maybe Schumacher was right, dismantle central government and establish local sustainable economies, like Ghandi’s village self-rule.

  7. Pingback: Do councils actually try to drive homeless mothers to breakdown so they can remove their kids? | Kate Belgrave

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