Taking bets on when this council block will collapse

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

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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.

BRING ME MY GUILLOTINE.

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.

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Does Boris Johnson have to wait 6 months and more for universal credit since he lost his job

Bet he bloody doesn’t.

Food for thought this week at Stockport jobcentre – how do you support yourself if you get sacked?

“You don’t”, looks like the answer to this one. Well – you can if you’re Boris Johnson and can repair to the family pile, unwind with a Gordon’s and soothe the hurt for the next decade by frittering your various slush funds, but we’re hearing today that the party is slower to start if you don’t have the pampered arse background, etc.

We’re talking this morning at the jobcentre with Gary, who tells us he lost his driving job at the start of April. April was also the last time that Gary got any money to speak of. He says that he’s been doing a bit of window cleaning here and there, but he generally gets a handful of change for that, rather than anything vaguely in the vicinity of a living wage. So – it can a while between cocktails for Gary, unlike Boris. Gary had to move in with his dad to stay housed, but even that fallback may not turn out as well as Boris Johnson’s various housing options, because Gary is facing eviction.

Needless to say, the DWP has mostly jilted Gary. Haven’t quite got round to googling this yet, but I imagine that getting the sack when you’re a pleb is a hanging offence, so they’re probably teeing that up. Certainly, the DWP is being furtive in its relationship with Gary. Gary says he applied for universal credit in April, but that that was his last meaningful interface with the department. He hasn’t heard anything useful from them since, despite messaging them and messaging them and messaging them, etc.

He certainly hasn’t seen any money. He’s still waiting for a DWP decision maker somewhere to actually make a decision about his sacking and whether or when he can get any universal credit and what the rules are and so forth. Had a poke around online and I think people who are sacked have to wait some random length of time to start getting universal credit – 13 weeks, or 91 days or somesuch, depending on the reasons why you lost your job – misconduct, etc. Couldn’t quite tell which officious twat decided that was the figure to pull out of the privy – doubtless some diehard policy nut who decided that sacked members of the lower orders needed to repent for at least 3 months and more, and sleep in and eat out of a skip during that time to really feel it, etc. Such is the vengeful DWP and our vindictive political class. Never thought I’d write this line, but you’d probably get more mercy from the Church. Anyway – whatever the rules, nobody’s telling Gary.

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Sanctions for people who need them least and struggle the most. Let’s hear it for the DWP!

Actually – let’s not.

We’re back at Stockport jobcentre:

First thing that happens – a security guard who over summer has made a keen, if hopeless, effort to befriend our protest group hurries out the front to pass on a dire and utterly vague warning. He’s done this a couple of times over the months – trotted out to alert us to some potential drama or other which I’ve never had enough coffee to get my head around.

“If you see the doors shut, it would mean something is going on,” the guard says, pointing meaningfully at the jobcentre doors. “It would be a good idea to move your protest… it’s your safety I’m worried about.”

My first thought is Sanctions – as in the jobcentre is planning to sanction someone who will (rightly) take it so badly that the jobcentre is planning to restrict the audience*.

Could be a repeat sanction for someone who didn’t respond too well to earlier ones. Jobcentres have long had an intriguing habit of laying repeat sanctions on people who are most likely to struggle to manage, or even remember, jobsearch commitments – which is, of course, why they keep getting sanctioned. These are people with addiction problems, mental health problems, prison histories and/or chaotic lives after years in care and in prison. The DWP seems to have this idea that even if you sleep in a ditch half the week, you should be up at dawn to log your commitments in Trello. Less mention is made of the fact that people haven’t got much support for learning ways to keep to the DWP’s meaningless routines, because the Tories have spent 12 years binning support. A lot of the people I speak with can barely read.

Let’s face it, too – even when you’ve done the right thing, the assumption will be that you haven’t. For instance: I’ve been talking in recent times with Barry, who has been in and out of prison for about 13 years, and totally at sea since he last left jail 4 years back. Barry says his most recent sanction (there have been a few) came about because the DWP said he’d failed to attend a work course that he was actually at.

“They said I hadn’t turned up, but I was there. I got the guy [who was running the course] on the phone to the jobcentre and he said “Barry’s been here.” There followed the usual one-way conversation where you try to explain and explain and explain, and begin to half-feel you’re on mute. I’ve done this with people more often that I care to recall – sat in a jobcentre office trying to get the DWP to see sense about a sanction, or even a wrongful claim closure. You talk on and on, and the DWP stares at you in silence like it is measuring you for a coffin. It’s like spending a morning trying to justify a new food to your cat.

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Disabled? Your council has decided you’re not any more. Praise the lord! and find your own housing.

Today we’re taking a brief break from DWP ballsups to talk about council ones.

Readers of this site may remember a story I posted earlier this year about N.

N is disabled, homeless and a mother to 2 very young children. She’s another domestic violence alumni – domestic violence being a problem that the world probably needs to get round to addressing with something closer to urgency. Bet plenty more more women get smacked over as massive energy bills land. Problems like that inevitably end up being our fault.

On with the story. Several years ago, N’s London council placed her in one of its notoriously bad homelessness hostels and there N has languished. She has one shabby room where she and her kids live (“live” is the romantic word for it), eat and sleep. These single rooms in this hostel are the sort of cramped, airless and often baking hot places that you’d be fined for leaving a dog in, but are entirely acceptable for poor families for years on end.

Still, hanging on even to this hovel has been a challenge for N – an unfair one, needless to say. At the end of last year, the council informed a then-pregnant N that she’d be evicted from the hostel, because she’d turned down a temporary flat the council had offered. N had good reason to turn the flat down – it was a ground floor place with a flimsy front door and an overgrown yard in which a pissed-off ex could lie in wait for the woman who’d dared to get a non-molestation order against him. N was too scared of her ex to tell the council any of this. So, she was still facing eviction when she gave birth. She was also whatsapping me and another housing activist about it from the delivery suite. Seemed a new low to me, but I can be slow to move with the times.

Anyway, we can probably put that unpleasantness behind us, because the council has since moved into a new field – miracle healing. Until now, as a lifelong atheist, I have tended to take the long view of this corner of the action, but maybe this will be the time when things finally take off.

Last week, an officer rang N (who is still languishing in the hostel) to say that N would have to accept a 2nd-storey flat with no lift if nothing else was available – this is even though N can’t climb stairs. Continue reading