Homelessness: the plague that voters are happy to live with

They say that you should keep to your routines in lockdown, so I’ve been getting at Newham council about standards in temporary housing for homeless people – and going nowhere much.

Habit aside, there has been a point to this often-pointless exercise: to ask what the council was doing to protect homeless families from coronavirus in crowded temporary housing such as the Brimstone House homelessness hostel in Stratford.

I recently wrote about Marsha D, a 30-year-old homeless woman who lives with her 6-year-old daughter in a single room in that hostel. The two share that small space and one bed in it – a living arrangement that is replicated across the hostel and across emergency and temporary housing everywhere. They have their own tiny bathroom and kitchen. It’d be hard to isolate in those. Theirs is the sort of cheek-by-jowl setup that would have any contagion licking its lips. Even in so-called normal times, people feel entombed in such places. When there’s a plague on and a stay-at-home lockdown in place, people in these hostels talk about being buried alive.

You should hardly pin hopes on a virus, but I have wondered if this one might spark new sympathy (or even some sympathy) for people who must live in these hellholes.

If covid doesn’t do it, god knows what will. For a very long time now, the problem has been to convince the wider world to give a damn about homelessness, or, even, to convince the wider world to give enough of a damn to change things – to really change things, that is. For all that homelessness is seen as a plague in its own right, it still feels like one that the world is happy to live alongside – certainly one that Tory-voting members of the world are happy to live alongside and even enjoy. You don’t have to be too plugged in to know that this is because that for generations now, many voters have felt that homelessness and poverty are beneath sympathy: the individual’s fault. End of.

Government knows that all too well. There can be no doubt that Boris Johnson and his cabinet of sociopaths have felt tremendously comfortable about losing interest in homeless people who must live sardined into tiny spaces as a killer virus rampages through cramped populations. A whole month has passed since government said it would publish new covid guidance for providers of homelessness hostels and day centres, so I think I’ll stop looking for it. They’ve either hidden it really well, or not bothered to write it.

As for government funding for councils during the outbreak crisis – do me a favour. The bits of money and advance payments that government has chucked at councils to sort out a morass of covid-era housing, homelessness and council tax problems barely amount to a fistful of change when you remember the billions that Tory-led governments have removed from councils in austerity (pdf) – a carnage of cost-cutting, mass redundancies (often of experienced staff) and anti-social-security policies which caused the homelessness problems for people in Marsha’s situation in the first place. As everyone on the scene knows, housing and support needs caused by welfare reform have skyrocketed as funding to meet those needs has disappeared.

The most you can say about this government’s last-minute covid-inspired overtures to councils is that they’re less shit than government’s most recent foul insult to covid-era careworkers – the one where Matt Hancock actually tried to sell the idea that the careworkers who government have left working for poverty wages in a swamp of covid and corpses, and with no PPE, would enjoy the day more with a badge. It was hard to imagine how government could top that for repulsive empty gestures, but there have been attempts. One must be last week’s thanks-for-housing-the-1000s-of-rough-sleepers-that-government-created letter to council homelessness managers from Dame Louise Casey, the government’s homelessness “spearhead” (whatever the f that is). What an absolute pile. I can only imagine how thrilled council staff were to see that in their inboxes. Oddly, Casey’s letter didn’t mention the billions wiped from council budgets since 2010, or the experienced staff lost in that blitz, or the LHA caps, benefit caps, out-of-control market rents and Universal Credit delays that have pushed people out of their homes and into the gutter and the hostels where many still sit, waiting for covid. If lockdown lifts, let’s see Casey deliver those letters to frontline staff in person.

As for Newham and councils in general: I could get very sick of the charades on that front, too. I can tell you how those charades go, though, so let’s do that.

The whole moribund process usually starts with me interviewing a homeless family who have been living in a one-room hostel, or some temporary-housing hellhole for month, or a year, or 2, or 3 years, or whatever it is. Next, I’ll email Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and Newham housing lead John Gray and ask what the council plans to do for that homeless family and how much longer the family should expect to languish in temporary housing squalor, etc. Next, there usually comes a lagtime, which Gray and I sometimes use to bitch at each other over email, or, on a couple of memorable pre-lockdown occasions, in person. At some point in this farce, I’ll usually throw in a question about the empty flats on Newham’s Carpenters estate. Carpenters estate residents were kicked out of their homes years ago to make room for a planned University College London campus which never materialised due to a host of planning and financial screwups. The fallout from that shambles goes on. Flats on the estate continue empty while people in Marsha’s situation grind on in Brimstone House. Continue reading

Sacrificing sick, disabled and elderly people for economic gain? This ain’t exactly new

For thrills, I’ve been reading violent arguments for and against ongoing lockdown. I should give social media a swerve on these things, but in lockdown’s longer hours, there is something to be said for focusing on a lockdown thread and trying to decide which side is more revolting.

I’m thinking dead heat at the moment. You have on the one side the righteous types who feel that anyone who breaks lockdown should be tasered out as a human canker and on the other, the (often younger) people who believe that a) their economic chances should trump any flu for geriatrics and b) that covid’s cull of the Boomer and Gen X demographics is one of its selling points (climate and pangolin rescue being the others. I am 51, so am more on board with the last two).

There is a disturbing aspect to this reading though. It’s the fact that so many people seem to think that the Time Before Covid was different – that this furious debate about a stark choice between a strong economy and abandoning thousands of inconvenient people to a grim death is, somehow, new.

You see the word “normal” bandied around a lot, and with a wistful note – as in it could be 6 months before we return to normal, or when will things return to normal? I can only assume that by “normal,” people – or whoever thinks or writes this stuff – mean a time when they didn’t know, or didn’t have to know, that there was already a body count on the economy vs altruism front (altruism having been outgunned for longer than I care to recall). To those who know the austerity scene, there’s nothing new on offer in these covid debates. The economy vs lockdown-to-save-lives dispute is just the latest chapter in a bloody years-old battle between those who champion a nation’s economic fortitude (read “the one percent’s right to rampant personal wealth creation”) at any cost and those who are horrified by that cost. The cost has generally been the deaths of thousands of sick, disabled and/or poor people who were and are cut loose from benefits, care and housing, because those people are considered a financial drag.

Sick or disabled people and anyone with an underlying health condition (I count poverty as such a condition) have been sacrificed for years for the purported economic good (see earlier note about the one percent and wealth creation). The coronavirus has simply brought a hot-news angle to situations where you hardly hoped there’d be one. For example: careworkers have been working for next-to-nothing in godawful conditions for years (weekend pay removed, no pay for travel time, sick leave slashed to the statutory minimum where the first 3 days off sick are unpaid, etc). I’ve written about this many times myself over the years and can confirm that absolutely nobody cared. However – things have improved for careworkers – on the visibility front, at least. The working conditions of careworkers are suddenly centre stage, because covid-19 is killing them and wiping out their clientele. Talk about scoring in extra time. Who says that fortunes can’t change? I don’t suppose that many of us imagined the day when reporters would stake out resthomes for retweets and the latest action, but here we are and there you go.

One more point before I return to the forums: whatever happens next, it’ll be people without economic power who’ll pay. We’ve learned this one over the years as well. Lift the lockdown and people who are at increased risk from covid will die. Plenty of people who don’t have the coronavirus will die as well, because the NHS and care systems will be stretched too thin to meet other needs. If lockdowns go on, though, it’ll be people who need to work to feed their families who will sink. Low paid people who have no savings will probably be knocked out altogether.

The real problem is that millions of people were living on the edge before the coronavirus turned up to push them over it. Sick, disabled and elderly people were dying. Millions of low-paid people couldn’t feed themselves and meet the rent. Lifting lockdowns, or keeping lockdowns doesn’t really take us anywhere new. There has to be a structure that gives everyone a chance. The pre-lockdown structure isn’t it.

Has government actually thought about help for people stuck in homelessness hostels and cramped emergency places?

Quick one:

I’ve been searching for updated government guidance on hostel and day centre provision during the coronavirus and can’t find it anywhere. On 25 March, Gov.uk said it would be updated soon. I’m not sure what date the government had in mind for Soon, but I’m thinking that we have yet to arrive at it.

Am also looking for any government guidance for councils and/or others who are housing homeless families in cramped (often single room) hostels and emergency or temporary housing – housing in which people can’t isolate from other family members, because they only have one room to live in. I don’t necessarily mean shared accommodation, although that’s relevant. I mean temporary or emergency accommodation where people have their own kitchen and bathroom, such as they are, but only have a single room to live in. Hostel accommodation is often as cramped as that – several people living in one room. Family members who need to isolate have nowhere to go in those places..

If you’ve seen updated guidance for people in these scenarios – or any guidance at all – along the above lines, you’re welcome to leave a comment, or to contact me here if that is better. I’m hoping that I’ve just missed those things and that they are not actually missing.

All you need to force the DWP to talk civilly to benefit claimants is a plague. Who knew?

I have to point this out:

Last week, the DWP issued a press release for Universal Credit claimants that made me wonder if I was dreaming, still high, or even dead.

Instead of the usual vile, threatening and judgmental dross, this statement went somewhere new. The tone of the release was vaguely respectful and the content – this lightning surely won’t strike twice – a shade better than useless. Talk about novelty value. Who thought we’d see the day?

In this release, it appeared that the DWP was attempting to reassure Universal Credit’s million-plus new covid-era claimants that the department was working to make its famously useless and nine-tenths moribund Universal Credit claims process easier to use. People would no longer have to phone-queue for hours on the ironically-named Helpline to speak to a Universal Credit adviser. The DWP even said that it was putting on more staff to help people get their claims going and their benefit money paid. I’d put my last fiver on this proving to be the usual bollocks in reality – but who knew the department even had the words? The DWP actually used the phrase “you can rest assured” in this dispatch. There was no way that head honcho minister/front-of-house sociopath Therese Coffey had previous acquaintance with these words. She must have had help finding them.

It was the tone of this statement that really got me. I’ve been attending jobcentre meetings and benefit assessments with people in need for nigh on 10 years. I can confirm that before last week, “Fuck Off, Scrounger” was the DWP’s one and only message for sick, disabled or unemployed people. You do get slight variations on that theme, such as Computer Says No (a Universal Credit greatest hit), or We’ve Lost Your Sick Note/Don’t Believe You Had One, or We Didn’t Get Your Message About Your Hospital Appointment, So We’re Sanctioning You For A Month, or (my personal favourite) Tough Shit – There’s The Foodbank.

It’s been quite a decade, really. Such a time we’ve had. I’ve seen jobcentres close benefit claims for people with learning difficulties because they missed a couple of meetings when they were seriously ill (here’s a video from that event if you can stand it). I watched government close the all-important Independent Living Fund that disabled people who required 24-7 care relied on to live. I sat with people in jobcentres as advisers searched for – and found, as they do – weird excuses not to pay out Universal Credit housing costs and to leave people without rent. How I could go on. I really could go on, and on. I’ve seen little else for years.

Like many (ie everyone) in the field, I could hardly imagine the seismic event that might put the brakes on the DWP’s contempt for its clientele. It seemed pointless to set time aside to try. Still – get this. We’ve arrived. All we needed to force the DWP to realise that it was feeding real people through the grinder was a planet-wide killer virus and thousands of people – probably millions – dead, or thrown out of work. I own to some surprise that even these disasters have given the DWP pause and I wouldn’t bank on that pause lasting, but we take what we can where it falls.

Nobody would deny people who’ve just lost their jobs either money or half-decent treatment by public sector bureaucracies. A member of my own family is now out of work. I’m just trying to say that a lot of us have already seen people die, or crash into poverty while being driven mad by a torturous and unnavigable benefits system. That all went down because of the DWP, not the coronavirus. I wonder if the DWP is working up a press release for them.

There’s no way homeless people can isolate in hostels. Families share rooms and beds

Let me take you inside a homelessness hostel so that you can see how exposed homeless people are to any virus:

In recent days, I’ve talked at length with Marsha, a homeless 30-year-old Newham woman who lives with her 6-year-old daughter in a Newham homelessness hostel called Brimstone House. I’ve written about Marsha’s living conditions and housing problems many times in the last year.

Marsha’s housing situation was a disaster long before coronavirus came into the picture. In the hostel, Marsha and her daughter live in one small room together. There’s no bedroom. There’s just one room. All their belongings are piled up in that one room. They share a bed. They can’t open their main window without a key, which they must request. The two have lived in this tiny space for nearly 3 years.

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

Needless to say, isolation is not a starter in this type of arrangement. People actually laugh when you mention it. However – spreading bacteria and viruses IS a starter, to say the very least. Marsha says that last week, her little girl – who has asthma – had a cold. There was no escaping that for Marsha (who also has asthma) – not least because she and her daughter sleep in one bed together on the same mattress:

“You know how kids are – they cough and they don’t put their hands over their mouth…a few times she coughed and I was like, “oh my god.” I just kind of got used to it… there’s no way of escaping it.”

Great, isn’t it? Doubtless there are Tories around who think that Marsha should just learn to hold her breath. My personal view is that high-ranking party members should trade places with Marsha. Boris Johnson should be forced to see out his coronavirus isolation in one of these rooms with Matt Hancock and a few other colleagues who haven’t got covid-19 yet – Thérèse Coffey comes to mind, as does Iain Duncan Smith, who should be made to stay for the entire length of a 6 month lockdown. It is high time that these people went shoulder to shoulder with reality. These hostel rooms drive people out of their minds, even without a killer virus in the mix. With a killer virus in the mix, everyone goes down.

The truth is that there’s no way to escape ANYONE in places like Brimstone House. Several hundred people can live in this building in the cramped rooms (the figures quoted are usually around 210 “units” (flats) with 2 or more people in each tiny flat). Germs don’t have to work to get around. Literally the only way to isolate is to stick your head in a bag. If one building occupant gets so much as a sniffle, everyone gets it – even in so-called good times.

Continue reading

Freedom vs health

There are homeless people living in the Morrisons carpark in Blackburn. Their camp is on the second floor of the parking lot. There are no tents in the camp: just duvets on the wet ground, clothes in bags and trolleys, and sleeping bags spread out on the duvets.

I wouldn’t choose it – but there are guys drinking near the camp who say that people do choose it. Ed, 30, says that. Ed says the people who live in the camp could choose a hostel or shelter – “there are services in the town that can put a roof over the head for one night” – but they don’t. That’s because hostels mean strict rules and restrictions. In the camp, people can do as they like. Doing as they like often means getting blasted on spice – as Ed speaks, two camp residents suddenly stand up and leave, saying “we’ve got to sort something out” as they go – but that’s their choice and people set store by their right to make it.

Steve, 55, lives at the camp (I talked to Steve earlier). He says he’s been at the camp on and off for a year. “Gets violent sometimes, but that’s all part of the territory, isn’t it?” Steve says that he was recently diagnosed with Alzeheimer’s. His time at the camp might end soon because of that. “I think sooner or later, they will want us to go into sheltered accommodation…can’t drink in there… I like a smoke.”

“People do what they want to do…you know what I mean?” Ed says. I do. I’ve seen it a lot in austerity: people at the end of various ropes who decide that freedom beats lockdown. People in this part of the picture have been making that choice for years.

Ed has himself chosen a hostel and its rules this time around. Ed and his girlfriend Pat, 23, and another friend, Rob, who is in his 20s, live at the Salvation Army hostel in the middle of Blackburn. Another friend, Mark, has his own flat. All 4 come to the Morrisons carpark regularly to drink. “I’m an alcoholic,” Ed says. Rob says that he’s an alcoholic, too.

There are rules at the hostel – no drinking, no drugs and no sex, by the sounds of things. “We’re not allowed in each other’s rooms, or anything like that,” Pat says. “If I got caught in his (Ed’s) room, we’d be in trouble.”

“Even if I go near her,” Ed says. He laughs. He says the hostel is “like a 55-bedroom holiday camp… basically, it’s like when you see prison – like you get wings [different wings in a building]. It’s camera-d up everywhere – staff room, staff walkabout places…[you have] a single room there, lock on the door. [You’re] very safe there…toilets shared and you’ve got a main canteen…” Ed says that the hostel isn’t bad. “It’s all right… they give you meals every day and all that…I’ve been in there [in the hostel] like 3 times. It’s because of mad shit I’ve done in my life…”

For Ed, the mad shit involved working like the clappers in pubs and bars, and drinking himself to oblivion. Bubble [mephedrone] was Ed’s other poison: “…when you take a line of that stuff – ah…” The plan now – it’s the plan for everyone in the hostel, rather than Ed’s plan personally – is to achieve sobriety and and independence. “You leave there [the hostel] – you’re meant to go into your own place… independent living.”

“Can you do that?” I ask Ed. “Can you afford it?”

“No,” Ed says cheerfully.

Ed has parked the idea of sobriety for the time being. Ed, Pat, Rob and Mark take me to the Sally Army hostel via an off-licence where they buy more cans. At the hostel, they point out the security cameras. We talk in the hostel entrance until a staff member comes out and asks people to take the beers elsewhere. People head to the cathedral grounds. It’s raining, but nobody cares. They’re free to do as they like.


Transcript of Blackburn interviews, January 2020 (names changed on request):

At the Morrisons carpark camp on the second floor, there are two guys sitting on wet bedding. They are very out of it. They’re looking at a phone. They stand up and leave suddenly: “we’ve got to sort something out.”

Ed, Pat, Rob and Mark are drinking next to the bedding. Rob comes up to me. “Do you want a Haribo?” he says. He has a packet.

Me: Are you living up here as well?

Rob: Nah. I don’t live here.

Ed: Are you a journalist? So how come you’re coming up here?

Me: Because I heard that you guys were living up here [in the Morrisons carpark]… and I write about housing and benefits.

Rob: Some people live on here.

Ed: Do you know what… we went away for 5 years, yeah, and we come back to find that people are actually living here…do you know what the funny thing is, though… people do what they want to do… there are services in the town that can put a roof over the head for one night, but they do… do you know what I mean. Continue reading

Labour lost. Stop the infighting. People can’t afford lefty petulance.

Am gracing you all with the tweets below, because I can’t stand the Labour intra-party bitching I’m seeing on twitter and facebook (could be a certain irony in going on twitter to attack people for being on twitter, but let’s do it).

Labour failed for a million reasons, supreme among which was and is a poisonous and self-indulgent factionalism that couldn’t be less interesting to 99.9% of the rest of us.

The main moral of the teachings below: get off fucking twitter and go and do something useful for the many people in poverty who really will need support when Boris Johnson gets going (those already making such contributions are of course excused from this instruction. Go well).

The harsh truth: outside of lefty and Labour circles, nobody gives a damn what goes on in those circles. I’ve been talking to people at jobcentres and foodbanks for over 10 years and literally nobody has ever said anything along the lines of, “how about that Owen Jones then,” or, “isn’t Margaret Hodge a witch,” or “yay, Novara media,” or “oh, Jeremy Corbyn,” or, “can I get involved in my local Labour branch,” or “how do I join Unite,” or anything remotely near those. People say things like, “I’m in arrears and they’re going to evict me,” and “I’m at court next week for council tax,” and, “I only got 2 days’ work this week and they didn’t text me this morning, so I’m fucked.”





So that’s twitter told. Simple stuff, I know, but surely no less sophisticated than a tweet in which some thinker calls Jonathan Freedland a prick, or Owen Jones a cock, or Watson a fanny, or Corbyn a bellend, or whatever.

How you can help

Going to add to this list – here are some activist groups that I work with and you can get involved in. Leave your politics and views (and goddamned phone) at home, and put people who need support at front and centre:

Kilburn unemployed workers’ group – user-led benefits support group which holds a weekly meeting and clinic for people who are struggling with what remains of the benefits “system.” Leaflets regularly at jobcentres.

Stockport United Against Austerity – same as above, in Stockport.

Charlotte’s weekly leafleting, advice and food parcels session at Ashton Under Lyne jobcentre.

Focus E15: weekly leafleting session outside Wilko on the Stratford Broadway. Hand out leaflets. Talk with the many people who have shocking housing problems. Offer to go to housing meetings at the council if people want that.

There will also be your local foodbank(s) – usually plural. If there are limits to the time you can spare, make donations.


PS – took the Get Over It out of the heading because misinterpretation. The rest of it – carry on. Am in the last couple of weeks of finishing my book, so normal service will resume in the New Year.

Apologies for being a Remainer – more stories from the jobcentre

Back to Stockport jobcentre for more leafleting with Stockport United Against Austerity:

I spoke with Stephen*, a man in his 50s who was signing on for Universal Credit some months after a job redundancy.

We talked about the coming election and Brexit. Stephen was shy: “normally, I’m not political.” Stephen was a Remainer. He seemed to feel he had to apologise for it – that his answer was the wrong one.

Stephen said he wanted England to stay in Europe, because his daughter and her children lived in France:

“…I’ve got different circumstances… I’ve got a daughter [who] is actually French and grandchildren who are French. She’s born and bred in France…I’ve got slightly different circumstances. My opinion revolves around my circumstances. If I didn’t have my family abroad, I might have another opinion…”

The day’s strong opinions were reserved, as they always are, for the wrecked public sector that people must rely on while Westminster frenzies over Brexit elections and drones the long route round its graveyard spiral.

There was Pam*, in her 60s, who’d made about 6 trips to the jobcentre and Fred Perry house, Stockport council’s nerve centre, to try and sort out her disabled son’s Universal Credit claim.

She said her son, who had learning difficulties, had moved into a flat several months back, but had only received about £300 in benefits, “with no housing benefit included.” Pam couldn’t use a computer, so couldn’t manage her son’s claim online:

“…I’ve been about flipping 6 times…it just started [her son’s Universal Credit claim] last week… he’s moved into a flat and he has learning difficulties, so that’s how he went onto Universal Credit… he works 16 hours…He only got £317 last week and no housing benefit included. I spoke to his work coach. He said you only get paid from when you apply – but my daughter went into Fred Perry house and they said I should come here [to the jobcentre].”

Pam also wanted to fill in an appointee form – to sign up as her son’s formal representative so that she could manage his benefit claim on his behalf. This had been no hayride. The application form that she’d filled had gone missing. Another copy had been sent electronically – not much use for someone who didn’t use a computer.

Pam was at the jobcentre, because an adviser had left a paper copy for her to collect:

“..they’ve left it for me. Everything is on the computer, but some people can’t read, or write. How can they use a computer? I’m not computer literate. They sent me an [appointee] form to fill in, so that I can speak for him. I did that. I signed it. They’ve said they can’t find it.”

Then – of course – there was the parking ticket Pam had found on her car windscreen when she’d parked in the lot next door to Stockport jobcentre. As per standard, the pay and display machine had been broken that day. Needless to say, Pam found herself paying for that:

“…the machine was out. I took a photograph of it and I went into [the jobcentre]. There was loads of people took a photograph of [the broken pay and display machine]. They still sent me a parking fine. My daughter wrote saying it was broken. They said you should go to another parking meter. I said there’s only one there. They’ve said you shouldn’t have parked there if there wasn’t a meter…”

We didn’t quite get round to talking elections. Maybe next time. I’m sure there’ll be one.


*names changed

Blogging will be light until the end of the year as am finishing a transcription project of interviews, and homelessness and jobcentre meeting recordings. Still available for contact here.

Why a private rented flat means poverty forever

Here’s a short post on a topic that comes up more and more: homeless people who want to resist being placed in private sector tenancies by councils, because they know that private tenancies mean permanent poverty:

Readers of this site will know that I’ve published several interviews this year with Marsha, a 30-year-old homeless Newham woman who lives in a single-room homelessness hostel with her small daughter. That one room serves as living room and bedroom. The two share a bed in that room.

Marsha and her daughter in the one room in their hostel

Marsha is in deadlock with Newham council about future housing.

Marsha is desperate for a social housing flat – a secure(ish) tenancy and rent she might afford. The odds are against her getting such a flat. The odds are against most people. There are about 28,000 households on Newham council’s housing waiting list. Plenty of people on that list live in dire hostels and flats.

The council has insisted through the year that the numbers mean that Marsha’s only real option is a private flat. (There was mention of a flat owned by a charity at one point, but the rent on that was still high and there was much discussion re: whether the flat was ready or not).

The problem is that Marsha knows that private rented housing will very likely finish her chances of financial independence.

“the private rents and the way it is going … it is unaffordable to me… because at the end of the day, what job am I going to be working where I’m working enough, so I’m able to cover my rent and my monthly expenses? I want to put myself in a space where I can have a good income and provide for [my daughter]… “

So, Marsha does what people do. She waits in the homelessness hostel and hopes to avoid eviction from the hostel while she makes a case for social housing. Bidding on social housing flats isn’t going too well. It’s not unusual for people to find themselves in a queue of over a thousand for a place in Newham.

Thing is – Marsha has decided that trying to beat the odds to get social housing makes more sense than trying to force the sums for private rentals to add.

She has a point. It’s a point I hear more and more.

Marsha has looked at cheap private flats out of London. There is a major problem with flats out of London, though (there’s more than one major problem, but we’ll focus on one for now). If she leaves London, Marsha will be miles and a costly train-trip away from her mother. Her mother is the person who provides the free childcare that Marsha needs while she finishes qualifications and looks for work.

Without that free childcare, she’s had it.

Looking for a private rented flat in London is literally a non-starter. The ever-expanding gap between local housing allowance entitlements (which are frozen) and market rents sees to that. Marsha could not meet the shortfall between her LHA allowance and a private rent once the council stopped paying topups.

Private landlords can easily raise rents and evict tenants for people who’ll pay more. If that happened, finding another flat that Marsha could afford, or a landlord who’d even take an LHA tenant, would be near-impossible:

“…this is not the life that I want for [my daughter]…she’s going to grow up relying [on the system] in the same way…I want her to see that I want to work… I want to pay tax. I want to get into the system where I am contributing to that instead of taking from it…”

So, Marsha waits.

She takes a big risk doing that. Turning down a council offer of a private flat – wherever that flat is and whatever state it is in – can finish a homeless person’s chances of housing help from a council. A council can decide that someone has made themselves homeless intentionally if that person says No to a private flat. Eviction from a hostel, or any temporary accommodation, can quickly follow that.

Point is – people will take that risk to avoid private rentals. That’s where we’re at.

It is not – as I’m sure critics of people on benefits will argue – that homeless people have gotten all above themselves and refuse private places because they feel entitled to low-cost social housing in major cities.

It is about homeless people knowing that a private rental is guaranteed to trap them in arrears and ongoing poverty, and return them to homelessness, sofa-surfing and hostels. Why embark on that journey if you’re already there?

Blogging will be light-ish until the end of the year as am finishing up a transcription project of interviews, and homelessness and jobcentre meeting recordings. Still available for contact here.


Save up for rent before you’re switched to Universal Credit, coz you won’t get money for 6 weeks

Courtesy of Stockport United Against Austerity:

Telling, if useless, advice on the Stockport Homes website which instructs people who claim legacy benefits how to prepare for their claims being migrated to Universal Credit.

The most extraordinary bit of advice on the page? – telling people who have no money, or savings, to start saving so that they can cover a six-week delay to their rent money when they’re switched from legacy benefits to Universal Credit:

Get ahead with your rent – Unlike Housing Benefit, under Universal Credit you become responsible for paying your rent and after switching you will face a six-week delay before receiving your first payment. You should still pay your rent during this time. It’s important that you are prepared so you don’t get into debt. Putting an extra few pounds on to your rent account each week to build a credit balance will mean you can still pay your rent when you switch.”

This is extraordinary. Hope Therese Coffey reads it. Not that she’ll give a stuff.

This “advice” is an admission by the largest landlord in Stockport that built-in Universal Credit delays cause serious hardship to the worst off people in Stockport and threaten their tenancies.

It’s an instruction to people who have no money to save money to protect themselves against Universal Credit’s serious flaws. This is garbage. Those of us who leaflet at Stockport jobcentre know people can’t save enough to build a rent buffer. We keep meeting Universal Credit claimants who are in serious rent arrears and either facing homelessness, or are actually homeless.

You could also say that the above advice is an attempt by a big landlord that also manages properties for other landlords to threaten claimants to save money so that landlords aren’t inconvenienced by Universal Credit’s built-in rent-delay arrears generator. We can’t have property owners being put out by all of this.

Blogging will be light-ish until the end of the year as am finishing up a transcription project of interviews, and homelessness and jobcentre meeting recordings. Still available for contact here.