Bleeding more cash out of homeless people

We go back to Marlin Apartments in Stratford, where homeless families live 4 and 5 to a single room – around which they are pursued by militias of rats, mice, bedbugs, cockroaches, tiny flies and other pests that I didn’t care to view closely at the time. There are pictures and stories here if you can stand it.

Being eaten by bedbugs was plenty to be getting on with, but now, there is more. It turns out that the above vermin aren’t the only ones in pursuit of Marlin residents. Energy and water companies are after them, too – for money that the residents neither owe, nor can pay. No surprises there, of course. You don’t get much time off from your life as prey when you are poor. Your whole day is lousy with bloodsuckers, muggers and vultures who can’t wait to chew you out. You get down to bone, but your tormentors will still charge in to gnaw it.

Which is not to say that they don’t form a type of queue. In any list of voracious wankers, water and energy companies invariably make their way to the top. In a stampede for your twitching carcass, they will bullock past the rest in the race for your soft parts. Which they’ll get.

So it is at Marlin Apartments. Recently, while thumbing through mail that the rats had yet to fully consume, residents found water and energy demands for several hundred pounds. In some cases, these demands were for more than £500:

Image of water costs bill showing a demand for £531.82

At the same time, Marlin residents received letters from Newham council which said that they had to set up their own accounts with energy companies, and pay the usual exorbitant power bills directly to those companies.

image from letter about changed conditions for charging for energy bills at Marlin Apartments

As I understand it (I don’t entirely), up until September, bills were included in residents’ rent – one bill for the lot, residents say. I suppose that makes sense given that Marlin Apartments were once serviced apartments for city-visitor management types, who probably paid an all-inclusive bill for a stay.

Now that the apartments are used as temporary accommodation for homeless people, things have changed – to bring Marlin residents in line with “arrangements that are made with all residents of temporary accommodation,” according to the above letter from the council. I say, “as I understand it,” because the council has not responded to my requests for clarification on the new and old charging “systems.” Also, the text in the council’s letter is about as clear as catflop. I tried hard, but there are sentences that are taking a while to stick:

“As a result of the rising energy costs, it has been agreed with Marlin apartments that the cost of water heating via the gas supply to the building will be made by them directly to you.”

I think that means, “as energy costs go up, homeless tenants will be hit for the lot.”

So, that’s great for residents. As we all found out last year – and a long time before in many cases – knowing that your heating bills will increase in winter, and as dangerous damp and mould set in, is not especially hilarious.

National and local government like to argue that billing homeless people like the rest of us (ie, violently) is character-building and the path out of dependence. This argument tends to circumnavigate the fact that problems with meeting bills are generally less about a lack of character than about a lack of money, but we must grow where we can, I guess.

I suppose that there is a bit of bright side, in that worrying about impossible energy bills could be a refreshing change from worrying about being eaten alive by bedbugs. Then again, maybe being slowly gassed by anti-bedbug pesticides is a better way to go. As I say, you look for positives where you can. Every aspect of council homelessness provision is so terminally stuffed that I now tend to rate problems by degree and length of torture. When looking for answers to problems, you really do find yourself asking questions like – is sitting in a damp room and choking on mould particles over several winters better or worse for body and soul than being munched on by bedbugs and mice? What should you deal with first?

People living in temp housing get both, of course, Such are the times. If you are homeless in 2023, housing success is not about finding somewhere comfortable, or safe, or clean, or even habitable. It’s about finding a place that you and your kids might survive.

Anyway. I imagine that some people who read this won’t give a toss, logic being that we’re all stuck paying huge water and energy bills, so why should homeless people miss out. Also, heaps of people get random batshit demands for hundreds of extra pounds from energy and water companies, so, I can see some people thinking – welcome to the club. I got a random demand for £2,000 from Southern Electric once. Amusingly, they ended up paying me £600 after I started blogging about it.

My point, though: when the squeeze is put on homeless people, you see again that there are no limits. End-stage capitalism hunts for money where there is none. It would be kinder, and certainly prettier, to throw homeless people to actual sharks.

Why you can’t rely on getting a sympathetic DWP work coach

A few thoughts on now-legendary government plans to have jobcentre work coaches decide whether people are fit to work and how hard:

There are many problems with this hogwash, but the one we’ll talk about today is the pot luck element (already a problem). Sick and disabled people in such a system will have to rely on fair treatment from work coaches (already very much hit and miss). Put simply, people will have to hope that they get a work coach who isn’t a punitive twat.

Which isn’t always a sure thing. Some frontline officers are decent. Others, alas, really are out to lunch.

I’ve been thinking about this, because I recently had a long conversation with a frontline DWP officer who, just a few minutes in, struck me as totally gone.

This person was a universal credit case manager who, funnily enough, was on a Stockport PCS picket line, striking for better pay. I was interviewing strikers and talked with this case manager at length. Actually – this person talked to me at length. I mostly stood there wondering why I’d been born.

This caseworker couldn’t have channelled Mel Stride better if they’d actually been Mel Stride. The caseworker said it all: benefit claimants were lazy, their mental health problems were bogus, that anyone could be a millionaire if they tried (wasn’t sure about this, given that the strikers were out for a few measly percent) and – slight tangent – that social media turned people into turkeys (have to say I agreed with that one).


The red flags went up early on, but the one I’ll start with waved vigorously at me – when the caseworker said that benefit claimants should model themselves on Elon Musk.

“[When] Elon Musk started out people were saying, “electric cars, mate – that’s not going to take off.” He’s now outstripping Toyota, because he showed up. That’s all we ask claimants to do.”

Oh goody, I thought. Bet this plays well. As a caseworker, our comrade here had the power to start (or not start) benefit claims, to stop payments, to read about people’s health and their personal circumstances, and to make decisions about their incomes on the basis of that.

Knowing this and hearing the Musk thing, your hopes for a fair world tank. When you spend hours with claimants who have literacy problems, health problems, age problems and work-related injuries, etc, the last person you want to hear from is another frontline clown who believes that getting work – and getting Musk-rich for that matter – is entirely a matter of the right stuff and backbone. No matter if your backbone is crumbling, or full of arthritis, or whatever it is. No matter if you apply for job after job, but can’t buy an interview because of your age. Our caseworker didn’t really touch on the many and often complicated reasons why people don’t work, apart from suggesting that too many of them arse around on facebook.

“Anything is possible,” the caseworker said. “They talk about the American dream. The dream is all around you.”

Continue reading

Jeremy Hunt: curing old age and disability one cadaver at a time

To the real world then! – and the “time to boot lazy old and/or disabled benefit claimants into work” concepts launched at claimants yesterday by legendary civic thinker Jeremy Hunt.

Can’t wait for this. A “voluntary” (don’t laugh) back to work scheme for any disabled people who weren’t bumped off during austerity’s first pass, an over-50s apprenticeship thing to keep not-rich older people grinding in harness so that they drop dead before pension age, and the now-famous plan to force claimants to jobcentres repeatedly for back-to-work meetings with overstretched job coaches who already don’t have time to see clients for more than ten minutes. What’s not to love?

The subtext, of course, is that the only reason people don’t work, or don’t work until their hair bleeds, is because they’re lazy. Disability, old age, mental health issues, sickness – in Hunt’s mind, that stuff is all just panto.

Except that it is not. It really is not.

The “lazy claimants” innuendo is actually the laziest part of Hunt’s gobfest. I can say that for a fact, because as luck would have it, I’ve recently been speaking at length with benefit claimants at a job club in the Stockport suburb of Brinnington (I’m interviewing people for a new book I’m writing).

Intriguingly, this job club has not served up the legions of idlers that Hunt would have you believe are lying around in places like Brinnie and enjoying your taxes via the medium of weed. Actually, the main activity that most people I’ve met are involved in is trying to exist at the rough end of a world run by gobshites and sociopaths such as Jeremy Hunt.

The people I’ve spoken with so far have been older and/or ill (one with a heart condition, but recently employed as a cleaner, and one guy in his 60s who’d been working at McDonald’s), or facing age bias from employers after 40+ years of work and then redundancy, or, in one case, trying to avoid being murdered by Putin. I spoke last week to a 26-year-old Ukranian woman called Nataliia who showed me a picture of a pile of rubble where part of her hometown once stood. She was working as a translator for Stockport council and looking for a permanent job in her field of expertise.

On older people though: You find a lot of older people at these jobs clubs, for the simple reason that the pension age keeps disappearing over the horizon and some people manage to cling to life as it moves.

For example – I spoke at length last Friday with M, who is 64. M had worked for nearly 50 years – the last 34 of them in for the same employer in retail in a curtain manufacturer’s showroom. But then, “my boss decided to retire and went into voluntary liquidation. There was 9 of us [working there]. In January this year, we were unemployed.”

At 64, M was still a way off pension age. This is a garbage situation in itself. Anyone who is even partly civilised knows that when you get to 60, you should be able to retire if you want to, or if you need to. You shouldn’t be forced to scrabble around for painful ways to drag yourself over a ever-fading finish line. “I’m struggling in lots of ways, because I don’t have a lot of computer skills,” said M. She’d signed on for new-style jobseekers’ allowance, because when she was made redundant, she expected to find another retail job pretty fast.

Except that she hadn’t. There were 2 problems here: age bias and health. “I’ve applied for lots of retail jobs [even] before I became unemployed,” M said. “I do think they look at your age. There have been times when I’ve had to send my passport off to prove who I am – and then I don’t get any contact.” Continue reading

Taking bets on when this council block will collapse

We return today to Brassett Point, the waterlogged Newham council block where the pipework down one whole side of the building is so wrecked that daily life for residents is an actual shower of shit.

Wet ceilings, leaking sewerage and water pipes, and buckets and towels all over – see residents’ vids below. Doesn’t look good. I admit I’m no engineer, but I don’t think you have to be. Can’t bode well when your building turns into a sieve.

Bucket collecting water in Brassett Point

Bucket collecting water in Brassett Point


You also start to wonder if the council has given up when you tell them that pipes over your loo are bust – and their suggestion is that you pee in a bucket.

Readers of this site will remember a recent story about the council giving a Brassett Point resident a portaloo to use when the leaks raining down on her toilet became tricky to swerve while perched.

The resident wasn’t thrilled with this arrangement. I think we can all agree that having to sit on a bucket next to your friends in your lounge is socially kind of blunt.

Really – MPs and the council need to get onto this in a big way before the whole sodden building collapses with everyone in it, etc.

The council fixes one leak here, only for another couple of leaks to spring over here. Can’t see this lasting for long.

Water coming through the ceiling

Water coming through the ceiling

More on this soon, but for now – and I do mean now – let’s get moving on this before whatever is still holding the building up finally dissolves.








And the portaloo, just as a reminder of scenes late last year at Brassett Point. I took this picture when I visited:

Portaloo in Newham council flat

Portaloo in Newham council flat


And one more video. Why not:


Opportunity knocks! – if you have a home and front door, etc

Happy New Year! Kind of!

Let’s start with some good news:

There’s this young child in London who lives in a crappy homelessness hostel BUT who has real singing talent, which at the moment is being nurtured. Last year, this little girl got a place on a music programme for children where she gets singing lessons, support and chances to perform.

This could take her great places – perhaps out of poverty and into a future with just a bit more hope, and maybe a housing option where she and mum don’t have to share a bed, or skirt ponds of wee in the hostel lift, or listen to endless shit from the council re: not being overcrowded and sucking it up by sticking an extra bed in the kitchen, etc. That’s the dream, anyway. It’s a warming dream in its way, at least from a middle-class angle – a Billy Elliot for the temporary accommodation age.

So, that’s the good news. The less good news is like many young children in poverty, this one will have to outperform a council that has perfected a modern art of its own – ie turning hope into landfill. And who knows? She may succeed! – though she’ll be coming from a long way behind and she’ll need a pretty big finish.

I say this, because late last week, their council sent J, the girl’s mother, a letter to say that J and her daughter will be chucked out of the hostel in the 2nd week of February. Happy New Year to you.

This letter struck J the two usual blows. It told J that she will be made homeless, because the council is ending its duty to help her. Then, it threw the sucker punch (you could almost hear the council winding an arm up for it), which is that social services had been instructed to turn its attentions to the little girl. They’re great, these letters – exactly the sort of thing you need through the hostel door when you’re already homeless, near breakdown and have nowhere to go in the middle of a terminal housing crisis.

The council did throw in a Sorry About This, Pal, line at the end of the letter: “We appreciate this decision is not the one you would have wished for and apologise if it has caused you any distress,” but I’m not totally sure this has squared things. J has still taken her letter badly. She thinks it means that social services will take her child away, because the child is facing street homelessness. She is also wondering if her fast-failing mental health will improve that much when she’s living in a doorway and desperately bidding for council places on a shaky wifi in some unstaffed library warmbank.

Government and councils seem to think this sort of scenario is character-building, although it could be time that they tried it. Given that J has never had secure housing in her adult life, her fear that she may be homeless forever is not wild imagining. It may also be why I’ve heard more crying than singing in J’s recent phone calls with me.

Continue reading

Is the idea to find out how much cold poorer people can take?

Got a bunch of pretty desperate whatsapp messages last night from N, the disabled single mother of 2 little kids whose housing problems I’ve been writing about for about a year. Happy anniversary to that, etc.

Last week, her council finally moved N and her kids from the cramped emergency homelessness hostel she’d been stuck in for 3 years into temporary accommodation. That sounded like good news at the time – except that now we find there’s no heating or hot water in the temporary place. The oven doesn’t work either, so not much chance of warming up a bit by gathering around that – probably not something to encourage a toddler and crawling baby to do anyway. The little ones may not be in the mood, of course, given that they are both now sick.

In recent days, there’s been plenty of snow and ice outside to make sure that the temperature is as perilously low as it can be. Innovation is key at these points – I’ve just been thinking that you could work up a bit of warmth by cuddling your phone close and reading about the middle classes tobogganing in Greenwich park.

N had hopes for this temporary accommodation, chief among which was having a place for a friend to stay next week to look after the kids while N has surgery on the arm that her abusive ex twisted in a rage. Blokes, eh. What can you do.

N says 2 appointments were made for someone to come and fix the heating, but nobody turned up for either. Maybe third time lucky? Or maybe not. I thinking that I won’t put money on it.

Update: An engineer has turned up and said there’s no electricity and/or the boiler isn’t connected to it. N says she is now back on the phone to the council, listening to hold music. So… that’s third time, but not 100% lucky?

And another update: A blog and an activist email to the council later, and the hot water and heating now work. All N needs to do now is find ways to pay for it..? One thing at a time.

Do migrants feel separation from family less or something

One hypocrisy I really enjoy is this: how the great and good go full the berserker when war, or Trump or other name sociopaths separate families for the political #win, but sort of let it slide when it happens here.

This is particularly true when the families are very poor, or immigrants, or, naturally, very poor immigrants. The consensus seems to be that immigrants feel the pain of separation less.

Email text which says please help me I can't live alone anymore without anyone no friends no family no one is very difficult

Certainly, the rest of the world feels their pain less.

In the past month or so, I’ve been speaking regularly with C, who is a woman in her 30s.

In her life, C has made two of our era’s bigger social mistakes. First one – she was born in Europe. She is Portuguese, but here. Gah. Second one – she’s a single mother. This is absolutely not her fault, but good luck marketing that. Main thing here is that C is suffering for her sins, so that at least will keep the jingoist crowd happy. Somebody’s getting something out of it, etc.

Actually, C is suffering for her landlord’s sins, but no doubt that also works. Two years ago, C was forced to ask Waltham Forest council for help, because she was homeless. The then-pregnant C had been renting a room from some chiseller who said he was the landlord, but was not. He was a tenant who sublet rooms to C and several other women, and, needless to say, paid their rent to himself.

The real landlord, of course, turned up one day in search of his rent. He wasn’t thrilled to find that his rent was all gone and that his place was being run as an unlicensed HMO by a robber. He chucked C and the other women out.

So far, so private rental sector.

Enter the calamity that is Waltham Forest council (I’ve had experience with Waltham Forest council’s treatment of homeless single mums, most of which I hope to forget).

Ever on the (often successful) prowl for ways to make a lousy situation worse, the council made the extraordinary decision to move C and her baby to a flat in very far-off Blackpool to live, presumably forever.

Even accounting for the possibility that nobody in Waltham Forest knew where Blackpool was, the council outdid itself sending C so far away from friends, family and her baby’s brother and father – an hours-long, massively overpriced return train journey “provided” by your choice of useless transport companies that at the moment couldn’t organise a trip to the shops.

Surely, the council could have found C a low-end flat in a neglected and downtrodden area closer to home? Councils used to like dumping homeless people in ratholes in towns like Slough and Colchester. What happened to those golden days? C didn’t actually demand to stay in London. She just wanted to be able to take the occasional trip there.

Placing C so far away isn’t even a cost-saving exercise, at least for the state. C was employed in London, but now must claim benefits by way of universal credit. As for landing a job in Blackpool – never say never, of course, but Blackpool has one of the highest unemployment rates around. C doesn’t know anybody, has no-one to help care for the baby and she is still learning English. She has also has serious depression now, because she is so isolated. Think we can safely say that she’ll be claiming universal credit for a while.


So, there we are. I doubt that C will be getting any big ideas about her human rights, or even being human, soon. Even dog rescue centres usually try to rehome dogs from the same family together, the understanding being is that dogs really feel these things.

You do find yourself wondering why this council practice of tearing people away from their families is still such a thing. No doubt it’s just part of the bigger game we’re playing – you know, the one where we’re trying to find out how much immigrants can take.

The screenshots are from some of C’s emails with the council over the last couple of years.

Sanctioned because you had covid… Great.

Another cracker from the the DWP’s We’ll Get You If Covid Hasn’t files:

We’re back at the Stockport jobcentre on Wellington Road and talking with Doug. Doug is in his late 50s and ready to rumble by the looks of things. Doug’s just had covid and had his benefits stopped for missing a meeting because of it. He’s here today to argue against the sanction with some work coach or other. Safe to say that we’ll know which adviser it was by the end of the week. It’ll be the one with covid.

“How are you?” I ask Doug about the covid.

“If they stopped sanctioning me, I’d be fine,” Doug observes. He says that he is okay to go into the jobcentre by himself: “I can argue with these people all day.” That at least is good to hear, not least because he’ll have to.

After that, Doug thinks he’ll probably need to clear the diary to root around for food. Doug says he’s got 2 tins of beans, a bit of mince and, from the sounds of things, an ageing berg of frozen chicken cemented to the back wall of the freezer which I guess he could try and make last until close of play Friday (It’s Tuesday morning).

The DWP, of course, will tell Doug to go to a foodbank, doubtless firm in the belief that joining the rest of sanctioned Stockport in this week’s race to whichever local foodbanks still have food is an excellent way to work off covid. Ditto for a rugged gnaw on a rock-hard bollock of snowed-in chook. Where you and I see hardship, the DWP sees a chance for people to grow, or at least to improve their fitness. The bin lorry will be out and about dribbling crap tomorrow, so maybe Doug could enter the spirit and trot after that with a plate.

Another possible plan, of course, would be for Doug to die – bit final maybe, but certainly one way to steal back his own narrative. Looks like Doug might ahead of the game on that one, too – he pulls his shirt aside to show me the scar under which his pacemaker resides. Which, now that I think about it, is probably not something to flash around these days. If Doug does keel over, the Tories will have that pacemaker out of his chest in under 5 and hosed off for takers on Marketplace. Although – what am I thinking. If they know Doug’s poor and claiming benefits, and getting older, they probably won’t even wait til he keels.

Austerity the sequel: how to rub out sick and disabled people who survived the first round

Another morning at Stockport jobcentre! – and straightaway, a reminder that energy companies have been trying to freeze some groups of people to death for a while – ie before this year, when energy companies decided to line up the rest of us.

I’m speaking to Chris, who is in her 50s. Chris has heart problems, diabetes and COPD. She has spent time in homeless hostels in the last few years.

Like many people at the jobcentre at the moment, somewhere in her mind, Chris lives on tenterhooks wondering who will finally rub her out: her energy company, or the DWP. Could be a dead heat, of course. They’re both putting a lot into it.

Chris’ energy company is currently hoovering money out of her paltry benefits for arrears repayments that she ran up when she had a place to live. Energy prices have long been out of Chris’s reach (I’ve written before about people in this situation) – upshot being that Chris is used to approaching winter in the crash position.

Which is exactly what she is doing now. “I’ve got no gas at the moment, because they’re taking £10 a week arrears off me, as well as it [prices] going up. So, I can’t afford gas.” Can’t say this bodes well for someone with a serious lung condition, but I can absolutely say that news of Chris’ situation will be music to Tory ears. This winter is their big chance to finish off a few of the poverty-stricken sick and disabled people who’ve somehow managed to cling on through Austerity One. Infamous leaky bumzit Jeremy Hunt knows perfectly well that these people are not going to survive Austerity Two and energy price rises, even if they’d really like to. But there we go. Such is austerity in the Tory mind. What’s a few more bodies on the pile.

For now, we can all surely agree that Chris and everyone at her end of late-capitalism’s great washout starts the new price cap era absolute miles behind. After that, I guess it’s just a matter of how long her lungs last.

Of course – the DWP is also busy lining Chris up for a hearse. She was getting sickness benefits, but then some wag in the department sent her for a work capability assessment and the DWP decided she was fit for work. Genius.

Chris didn’t appeal this decision, because she was worried that she wouldn’t have any money while she appealed. She didn’t know what to do, or who to ask, so “I just took it… I was in a homeless unit and if I wasn’t getting money, it wouldn’t be paid for, because they are large amounts, the rent.” So, now Chris spends her days coughing her way up the street to the Restart building for various useless back-to-work courses. Things are definitely going to end well for her.


DWP: Are you poor and over 60? Get to work or drop dead. We’re here to help etc

Stockport has a second jobcentre now, so that’s where I’m taking you today.

We’ve been hearing about this second jobcentre for a while.

We’ve also been hearing that this second jobcentre is the one through which older universal credit claimants are now funnelled. I have wondered for a while what this second DWP location offers older benefit claimants that the first one doesn’t: probably a one-way door, a Dignitas popup and maybe a line of large freezers out the back. Sounds a bit bleak when you first think about it, but as the morning goes on and if you’re over 50 yourself, you kind of find you start to warm to it. Talk to a few oldies who must sign on and follow the DWP’s ridiculous fit-for-work and jobsearch rules, and you do begin to wonder if the fast track to an eternity in cold store is actually the better option.

For example: I’m speaking this morning with Norm, who tells me he is less than a year away from pension age.

Norm has problems with function and numbness in his arms and hands after years of technical work, and an accident which hurt his spine when he was young. He’s trying to get an appointment with one of the neurology departments round here, which is in itself proving a bigger challenge than Norm was looking for. He says that to start with, he has to get an appointment. If he does get an appointment, he has to wait at least a year for it. Lastly, he has to not croak before his appointment and/or pension age finally roll around – always an added pressure when your twilight years coincide with a Conservative government. I’m beginning to feel a bit of that pressure myself.

On the jobcentre and signing on for universal credit front – a little while back, Norm had a work capability assessment. This resulted in a report that turned out to be more a one-liner than a finding: Norm was told that he was fit to work as something, but nobody had any idea what.

“They’re saying that I’m fit enough to do some kind of work, but they don’t know what it is,” he says, rolling his eyes. We both know that nobody knows what it is, because it doesn’t exist. Norm knows and I know and everyone knows that nobody’s going to hire a man with health and mobility problems who is less than a year from retirement age. We can only imagine what kind of employment Liz Truss et al have in mind with rules that propose there’s work for older people who can’t move much: probably live organ donor, or a part-time gig to 3D print your own hearse. I’ll let you know, because I’m heading towards the time when I find out.

Until death or retirement then, Norm must regularly attend the job centre to talk about the “help” the jobcentre can give him to find work. I don’t believe that he should even have to do that, because he has a note from his doctor signing him off from work and, presumably, jobsearch. This means that Norm finds himself in a situation where he must attend the jobcentre to talk about the help the jobcentre can give him to find work that he won’t get, because a) he can’t do it and b) he’s already signed off sick from it. I’m sure this makes sense to someone.

Continue reading