Single mothers are placed in terrible housing by councils. Then social services muscles in when the family falls apart because of the terrible housing

Here’s more about the ways that authorities keep homeless single mothers and their kids in chaos and under the thumb.

I’ve posted a transcript from a longer interview with Marsha, 30, at the end of this article.

Marsha is a homeless Newham woman who lives with her little daughter in one room in a Newham homelessness hostel.

The two share a bed in this room. They’ve lived in the hostel for more than two years. I’ve written several stories about Marsha’s situation.

Marsha and her daughter in the one room in their hostel

In the transcript below, Marsha talks at length about the invasive attention that she has drawn from council social services and her daughter’s school as a homeless single mother.

Social services and her daughter’s school have been on Marsha’s case for a while. They order Marsha to bring her daughter to same-day meetings with social workers, or ring to say she must get to her daughter’s school right away.

There’s not always been time for Marsha to arrange for someone to accompany her to these meetings. That’s a big concern. Marsha has been questioned in detail by authorities about her mental and emotional health, and her daughter’s mental and emotional health. She’s been put on the spot by people she does not know in a system that she can’t trust – often without witnesses, or representation. Women I speak with raise this issue all the time.

The thing is – Marsha IS worried about her daughter’s mental and emotional health, and her own. Bad living conditions and relentless questioning from social services and schools inevitably affect a family’s frame of mind.

Marsha has severe depression and anxiety. She often says that she is concerned her small daughter is being negatively affected by their cramped living space and the social services meddling that the little girl has witnessed. You’d be dreaming if you thought that a child would not be affected by those things.

In the transcript below, Marsha says:

“All of a sudden, [my daughter] is seeing me in a very distressed state, because of everything that I’m going through. These people around here – she is exposed to conversations [which she shouldn’t be]…”

The problem is that Marsha must justify her family’s responses to their living conditions to organisations that hold all the cards.

Marsha is in a situation that a lot of homeless single mothers talk about. She’s been placed in poor housing by public authorities [her council]. Then, she’s been made to answer to public authorities as her family’s health has disintegrated because of the poor housing that the family has been placed in and the lack of decent alternatives. There’s no way to win. Marsha has no power in this scene.

Marsha says she understands that authorities have safeguarding roles – but that doesn’t mean that they’re above cornering women. Most single mothers in poor housing I talk with worry constantly about councils taking their children. That means they’re always on the back foot. There can be no balance in conversations that they have with authorities because of it.

Says Marsha in the transcript:

“…it was totally out of order how the council referred me to social services without even telling me [and insisted that Marsha brought her daughter to a social services meeting]. I even said, “I don’t even know why [my daughter] is there [at the meeting].” [The social worker] said, “No, we just want to see if there is any concerns.”


“….I still complied, because I’m thinking the last thing that I want to do is jeopardise myself. So, if [the social worker is] saying that she wants to see me and my daughter, of course I am going to see her [the social worker] … [but] I would never had let [my daughter] sit through these conversations [if I’d known how they would affect her]. If I could have called my mother and say, “could you hold [my daughter] for two hours while I have a conversation with this lady [social worker]…”

Women should not be forced to retreat and retreat like this.



In the longer interview transcript below, Marsha talks about a call she received from her daughter’s school earlier this year.

The school rang and said Marsha had to get to the school right away.

Marsha hurried to the school: “My heart starts…racing now. I am like, “what’s going on? What’s wrong with [my daughter]?” I mean – [it’s] my worst fear.”

It seemed that there were several problems. Marsha’s daughter had told the school that she was upset about the way a social worker had spoken to her mother at a meeting that Marsha and her daughter had to attend.

The girl also told the school that she made her own breakfast and looked after herself at times. The school took that to mean the child had to fend for herself.

Marsha said that her little girl was never left to make food for herself. Her daughter liked to try and make her own breakfast – with Marsha’s supervision – and to tell people that she could do it. Little kids often like to take the lead in tasks like making breakfast as they become more independent.

Still, Marsha had to explain herself to the school. She had to explain her daughter’s comments about making breakfast. She had to wear her daughter’s distress about their housing conditions and meetings with social workers. She had to address her daughter’s comments about being alone.

Marsha often says that she tries to protect her daughter from her own distress about their housing problems and the social services meetings that she and her child are dragged to. That’s very hard to do when you live in one room with a child:

“I dropped her off to school as normal… I thought everything was okay…[then] the school rang me saying they need to speak to me about something. I said, “okay.”

“[I asked], “what is it in regards to?” They said, “you’ll have to come in.”

“My heart starts…racing now. I am like, “what’s going on? What’s wrong with [my daughter]?” I mean – [it’s] my worst fear. So – I’m going up to the school. I was met by the lady who is called Ms_ [name removed]. I have never been in contact with her before. She says she is the welfare officer…

“She said to me [that she had] some concerns regarding [my daughter].

“I said, “what kind of concerns?”

“She said to me that [my daughter] was in class this morning and she was really upset. She said to her teacher that there was a lady in her house from social services yesterday and the lady was quite mean and she thinks the lady is out to get her mum. So, she was really upset.

“The teacher carried on talking to [my daughter] until she opened up to her teacher. [My daughter] was saying she makes her own breakfast in the morning… that I left her at home to go to college and leave her on her own. At that point, I broke down…

“I was always able to take it on the chin, because I am an adult. I’ve always [been] used to being knocked about, so I am physically… I am used to pain now, but when I saw that it [the social services meetings] was having a negative impact on [my daughter] – honestly, I lost control. I broke down. I was in [the] school. I was very teary. I was crying – [saying] that was totally not true.

“[My daughter] is a very bright child. So many parents have told me how bright she is… she is very advanced for her age… She’s always eager to open conversations and talk and you can ask her anything…

“So – I said with [my daughter] saying that she makes her own breakfast – she is saying that she helps make her own breakfast, because honestly, she is the kind of child that I can’t do anything for…

“I will be like putting on her clothes and she will be like, “no, no, Mummy. I can put on my clothes…I can put on my shoes. I’ll do it.”

“In regards to [the accusation of] me leaving [my daughter] on her own while I’m in college – I’m like, “come on.” [My daughter] is at school in the same hours I’m in college. While I’m in college, [my daughter] is in school. I even go to the extra length to drop [my daughter] off at breakfast club and have her put in after school club.

“I said, “it’s totally ridiculous.” I live in a prison [the homelessness hostel] where there’s [security] guards everywhere. There’s stair marshals that are aware of us. We’ve been living in this block now for coming on three years. I can’t even come onto the stairs without security asking me where is [my daughter]…

“In my heart I was like, “I really need to see my child.” This [meeting at the school] was like 11 o’clock in the morning. I was like, “I really need to see [my daughter]. Imagine how distressed she is at the moment…”

“I went to pick her up in the evening….I said to them, “I am feeling very disappointed and let down,” because I’ve spoken to the school about my [housing] situation that I am experiencing. I’ve asked them for their support. I’ve felt like – even though I knew that they were acting in accordance [with social services legislation] because [my daughter] is 5 years old and if she is making claims, they have to listen to her. Because the last thing that you want to do is ignore a child that is in need…

“But I said to them, “could we put this into context?” [My daughter] has been attending the school for 3 years. She’s never late. Her attendance is 95%. I’ve always picked her up on time. If I can’t go, I will ask a friend of mine, or my mother, every single time… so safeguarding issues regarding [my daughter].

“[My daughter] is a little chatterbox. I have to be wary of what I say and I what I do around her, because she will go to school…I’m aware of that, because I’ve known my child for 5 years. I know what kind of child she is… if [my daughter] had any issues – wouldn’t it have been detected 3 years prior to this? All of a sudden, she’s seeing me in a very distressed state, because of everything that I’m going through. These people around here – she is exposed to conversations [which she shouldn’t be]…

“…it was totally out of order how the council referred me to social services without even telling me [and insisted that Marsha brought her daughter to a social services meeting]. I even said I don’t even know why [my daughter] is there. [The social worker] said, “No, we just want to see if there is any concerns.”

“I didn’t even understand what her role is [the social worker], but I still complied, because I’m thinking the last thing that I want to do is jeopardise myself. So, if [the social worker is] saying that she wants to see me and my daughter, of course I am going to see her …

“…[but] I would never had let [my daughter] sit through these conversations [if I’d known how they would affect her]. If I could have called my mother and say, “could you hold [my daughter] for two hours while I have a conversation with this lady [social worker]…?”

“I’ve spoken to so much professionals and they have said I am like supermum – [they] don’t know how [I] have managed to control [with] so much composure… I am like, “my daughter is my future ahead of everything else… because ultimately, I want to secure a good future for her.”

“When I think about weakness, I can’t let it creep in, because I think – how would that reflect on [my daughter]?

“[My daughter] she said that she wanted to impress them… she said that the lady was like, “Mummy, when I told them that I make my own breakfast, she was like – oh, I am really impressed with you!” So [my daughter] is [trying to] make them even more impressed…

“I said [to my daughter] – “what did you say?” She said, “I told them that I started the microwave and I started my own meal.”

“I said to the lady [the school welfare officer] – “[my daughter] doesn’t have anyone that is 5 years old around her. All her cousins are 14 and 15 and they stay at home on their own. She has that mentality – she wants to do things that they do like she is a teenager…

…”The lady, the welfare officer said, “because she’s made this claim, we have to refer you to MASSH [the multi-agency safeguarding and support hub).” I was like, “oh my god. This is my worst nightmare…” There is this stress for me, because of what they’ve put me through…this has actually opened a can of worms now. What is going on? Oh my god, I really can’t take it any more…

“I said to them, “I’m not going to be held responsible for my child saying something to an adult because she wants to impress them… If you’re trying to question her and ask her why she is upset… ask her why is she trying to impress you…” But anyway, we didn’t need to do that, because the social worker called me up and said, “Massh called me and said that they’re not going to take any further action, because they had spoken to the school and they just needed to put things into context…”

…”It’s just like… now the social worker is saying to me – “maybe you can be mindful of the things that you say around [your daughter] because she is a very smart young lady and she hears everything…”

“I’m like, “What?” She [the social worker] is even saying to me, “can you do extra activities with your daughter.” I said to her – the trouble is being on Universal Credit. I’ve been struggling on Universal Credit. By the end of the month, I’m absolutely broke because of having to spend out of pocket expenses to do everything to maintain myself and my daughter to live a normal life. I’m having to pay out of pocket expenses for breakfast club and after school club just to try to do something with my life [to attend college to become a nurse] to move forward – to try to get a better life for me and my daughter. Now, you’re telling me I need to do extra activities. I am. I try to do extra activities. I go to the library [with my daughter] – everything…”

“I’m like – “oh my god. They’ve twisted [my daughter’s] mind in such a way…she’s seen me very intimidated…sometimes I cry. I’m not going to lie. Sometimes I do cry in front of [my daughter]. If I go into the bathroom and cry, she’s going to open the door and say, “Mummy, why are you in the bathroom crying?” I can’t go into the kitchen and cry because there is no space…

“My phone is going to ring. People [from the school and the council] are going to question me. So – what am I going to do? Go outside? [if I go outside to take calls], the next thing is that [my daughter] is going to say, “mummy left me to go outside to speak.”

“I can’t win. “

48 thoughts on “Single mothers are placed in terrible housing by councils. Then social services muscles in when the family falls apart because of the terrible housing

  1. It’s also been revealed that there are hundreds of vulnerable children locked up in secure childrens’ homes and mental health institutions etc. totally off the radar of most statistics. What has caused them to become vulnerable in the first place is unclear, possibly allsorts of reasons or a combination of things, but the housing situation has got to be a part of the problem I would think, one more reason at least why families are broken up and kids placed into ‘care’.

  2. Pingback: Which women? | The Idge of Reason

  3. We are living in a vile uncaring world I feel so very sorry for Marsha and her daughter they should not be living in a hostel or shared accommodation universal credit makes it impossible for people to afford a decent home councils and housing associations as well as private landlords are being way overpaid to rent houses to refugees I’m sorry but our country and it’s people should be prioritised we have homelessness rising children starving it’s wrong there is no help available that encourages anyone to find work not everyone has family or savings to fallback on Marsha is attending college to build a better future for her daughter and herself for god sake surely she should be congratulated and helped instead of being hounded by social services etc they and the other bodies interfere in the wrong places and people instead of hounding Marsha and making her iller than she already is they should be investigating the people that are abusing their kids etc everything is twisted and back to front good luck Marsha I hope you get the help you deserve x

    • With respect though Marie I don’t think there’s a lot of Refugees taking up Social Housing. In my town there is a hostel for Refugees and the woman who runs it has to come to our foodbank every now & then to get them basic things like sanitary wear as they are in need. If you want to blame someone for the housing crisis it’s the present Tory government for cutting Council funding (and deliberately destroying our Social Security system), and it’s the Councils themselves for being inflexible , and also I would say previous governments over the years who haven’t built enough Council houses.

      • I’ve heard this said about the lack of social housing so many times. Yes, the rents are going up at a scary rate, but none are being allocated to refugees. Indeed, refugees have ‘no recourse to public funds’ which means they are excluded from both access to the benefits system and to social housing and have to make do with a measly £35 or so per week paid on a smartcard which they can only use in certain shops, (Tesco being one of them) and only for certain purchases. Once they obtain leave to remain, (increasingly difficult in xenophobic Britain, especially if they are brown or black) it’s a different matter, then they are eligible for benefits and social housing, but it comes with the same conditionality as UK citizens, and social housing is allocated on a needs basis.

        Of course Marsha and her daughter should be granted a decent, secure place to live, as this seems to be basically what they most need. Marsha is being set up to fail. It’s complete madness when Marsha is so obviously a deeply caring and wonderful parent – it shines through. The trouble is that we have a dysfunctional social services run by well intentioned but basically out of touch people who have developed a culture that stereotypes those they claim to act in the best interests of. You won’t find many people working as social workers from regular working class backgrounds as the internal culture is basically one that looks upon working class people as being in need of being controlled – as one of my friends described it, ‘soft policing’. It would be far better if social services departments up and down the land were run by people from the very communities they serve, for then there would be a fundamental understanding of what is needed.

        Sorry about the rant, but I get so annoyed at the complete incompetence of those whose job it’s supposed to be to sort out alleviate problems but end up making things ten times worse. I can understand Marsha’s anxieties, these nincompoops have immense power. I’m not saying that every social worker gets it wrong, but over the years the profession hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory and has too often ended up in promoting serious abuses of both children and parents. The number of cases of where local authority children’s services have been found seriously wanting, where social services are supposed to oversee, is scandalous.

      • I agree Trevor. The government WANT us to blame the country’s problems on immigrants/ refugees/ ppl with ginger hair or whatever so we don’t realise that really the fault is Government policy. While we’re blaming others were not holding them to account. And actually I’m sure some of the housing refugees get os actually WORSE Than even poor Marshall is in. In our skl I work in the safeguarding team had to fight the council to get an unbroken bed for a boy pupil sleep in in his temporary accommodation. .

  4. I don’t know what it is like to live in a ‘decent home’ in London because everywhere I lived in the past 40 plus years have been comparable to a torture chamber
    in which peace of mind is a mere dream and torment, frustration and depression is the norm.

    I currently share my flat with moths and the landlord is typically unconcerned.
    I spend my days battling with frustration and increased anxiety and insecurity
    and all of this happens in a part of Brent that was lauded as a ”regeneration”.
    Don’t worry,
    I’m not that naive,
    and so I know that it is really a repeat of the past and any changes are minor.
    I am accustomed to living in a borough that is 3rd rate on so many levels and housing is foremost in my experience.

    It’s no surprise that I now think of dying as something desirable but I’ll never go to my grave by my own way.

    • I kinda know how you feel there mate, without wishing to sound morbid or self pitying I think I’ll be glad when it’s all over, not that I’m about to jump off a bridge or anything but life is pretty crap. I had a better time in a past life that I can recall, in ancient Egypt in 1350BC, though I died very young, killed by a crocodile on the Nile at age 24.

      • Trev,
        Thanks for your feedback.
        I don’t think that life itself is bad,
        it’s just that Social housing in Brent North (in my experience) leaves so much to be desired.
        That coupled with my anxiety disorder, essential tremors, depression, and other things make it difficult for me to have peace of mind.
        I often feel frustrated by the way that Brent council operates and I notice that a cycle has been developing over a long period of time in which standards fall and poor
        quality homes are built which make the lives of the people renting them a constant misery.
        Little or nothing has been done to break that cycle in spite of the ‘talk’ from the local authority about ‘regeneration’
        and ‘high-quality homes.’
        I have come to realize that what Brent council say is ”high quality” is really cheap low-quality homes that are often blighted by dampness and mould and sooner or later the pests move in because they thrive in such conditions.

        When the householder(s) complain
        it tends to fall on deaf ears which more often than not lead
        to more frustration and a loss of trust and respect.
        Another common problem is noisy neighbors coupled with inadequately insulated flats and houses which drive people to despair.
        I’ve had that since 1989 when I moved into the now demolished ChalkHill estate.
        Living there was worst than my present flat because everything was neglected, run down, broken (you get the picture)
        and once again it led to me feeling depressed, frustrated, angry and desperate to move away.
        I thought that the ”regenerated” estate would be better
        but sadly my hopes were dashed and I found that this estate is no better than the one before.
        In short Trev,
        my advice to anyone that moves to Brent and expects to live in a ”high-quality home”
        forget it because you won’t anything other than what I have for the past 30 years.
        A hole like this is better than a bed in a shed
        but if Brent council condemns people for renting them and yet what they offer leaves much to be desired
        where is the basis for faith in Brent council let alone housing associations who are often just as negligent?

      • You should have buried some gold Trev. Somewhere it would never have been found, but you could find again in 5000 years time.

  5. Just watching the repeat (!) of Hislop’s documentary on Victorian attitudes to poverty and Benefits (Workers or Shirkers? BBC4) and am struck by the relevance of Terrence McKenna’s theory that history is repeating itself in an ever-tightening spiral. From the Victorian Reformers, the Workhouses and the Poor Law, to the 1930s Means Test, and the Tory Welfare reforms of today, notions of the deserving Vs. undeserving poor persist, and filthy rich do-gooders think they know what’s best for the poor and how poverty can best be solved , it’s obvious that nothing has changed and we are just going round and around in circles of inequality and blame, whilst the actual wealth is never redistributed. Could the introduction of an Unconditional Basic Income provide the final solution and be the thing that breaks the cycle? Not if the likes of Iain Duncan Smith have anything to do with it, that’s for sure!

  6. Amber Rudd is complaining ? I thought this was a sick joke when I first saw it.
    Jesus H. Christ, what planet are the Tories on ?
    They smash the social system system. People have died because of this.
    And now they are complaining. In what warped universe do people behave like this?

  7. Crime in this country is getting much worse, as anyone who is not living in a Ivory tower can see all too well on a daily basis. It’s not just the interior quality/suitability of housing but also the location that affects people. We all need to feel safe and secure in our environment. My own housing situation so far as the flat itself goes is just about bearably adequate, in a crummy sort of way, but the crime in this area is just nuts. Only yesterday I had to call the cops and they turned up big style with an armed response unit, because I returned home at around 4.00pm to find some guy rummaging through my bin, retrieving a huge knife that he must have hidden there earlier or in the night, a knife about a foot long in a leather sheaf, not a kitchen knife, more like a hunting or military type knife, which he then hid down the back of his shorts and walked off down the alley. Highly suspicious behaviour to say the least. And given the amount of stabbings and shootings that have been happening around here on a regular basis for a year or more, the Police were quick to respond. I am a bit scared of going out now.

    • And so it continues, with yet another incident again today about 100yds down the road from my house the street is cordoned off and armed Police in attendance. I’d like to move out of this hell hole but can’t because a.) I have no money, and b.) a change of address would trigger a transfer to Universal Credit , so for the time being I’m trapped here in what must be the worst neighbourhood in town.

      • And yet another major incident AGAIN today with armed cops and the street opposite my house cordoned off and neighbours told to stay inside. This is what happens when you make everyone poorer, make State Benefits inaccessible, and cut back on Police. Welcome to Tory Britain, not that the Tories even care, because they are not the ones who have to live on the front line in these shit hole areas.

  8. And another thing, why are the Tories always going on about working poverty as if it is something great ?
    Its the old formula at work. Working Class = Working Poverty
    As any millionaire Tory would say, ‘What’s wrong with that ?’

    • Yes. I always think that if they think it’s so great, they should try it. For a decade. Then we’ll see how great they think poverty and working poverty is.

  9. I know one thing, whoever gets to be Tory Prime Minister, it’s not going to make
    much difference to people on benefits.

  10. Having just given my landlady £30 for electricity and paid a tenner on my water bill I now have virtually no money left (about 30p in the bank and maybe 2 quid in loose change), and very little food. My main priority is a.) making it through my signing appointment tomorrow and b.) staying alive ’til Friday when I get my JSA. How can I even care about Brexit and the European Parliament elections?

  11. Me and my partner had 6 children(all ours no different partners), we had a bad altercation between which caused social services to get involved. However we split because of it and there was no restraint on me seeing the children the judge just advised going through family and friends. We did this and all was ok the children were not in harm’s way. Then social services started telling my partner she must not live in an area near me? Cut a long story short, they took us to court and claimed we had moved the children around too much and this was the main issue?? When together we had moved to due not having a large enough council place so we bought a house(trying to better our children’s lives).then in time we moved back(child care costs of 1200 a month so needed family support). When we split social services put pressure on my partner to move 300 miles away, and then said she had no support system? 300 miles away! I’m not surprised! She then moved back (in a different area to me) nearer to me and family so she had a support function and I could give her rest bite with the children. But this was too many moves??? Social worker had asked me to have the children on the day of them being taken so he could speak alone with my ex partner as it was hard to as our children were young and they could not talk in peace . Later that day I had a phone call to say I should not be with the children and if i didn’t bring them in right away the police would be called to find me? I took them in, explained I had never been told formally or informally, legally or illegally that I can’t see my children??????? But that was that? Go figure?

  12. What makes you think you’ve any right to live off the state in the first place. Where I work there is this 20 year old girl called Kate – she said to me almost all her female friends do that thing where you deliberately become a single mother because that means you won’t have to get a job and can go on benefits and also that means the local council will be legally forced to give you a flat to live in – if you don’t like your scummy council flat then get married in the normal way and be a proper family with a husband

    • Yeah right, a very believable story! However, if you actually knew anything about the system you’d know that what you’ve just described is a completely fabricated scenario that might have been based on a shred of evidence circa 1985. The reality now is that the teenage pregnancy rate is at an all time low, and that council’s are not at all obliged to provide flats – merely assist in finding a home of some sort, whether that be socially rented, (unlikely) or, increasingly, in the private rental sector, if somewhere can be found that meets the criteria, and, crucially, has a rent that is in the lower 30 percentile of local rents so that it qualifies for the Local Rent Allowance that will be paid by Universal Credit. The reality for most is that they end up dumped in some hole of a hostel and forgotten about, which, if you read Kate’s blog frequently you’d be far less in ignorance than you are.

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