You’re homeless. You should be grateful for a flat without furniture or a fridge or floor coverings… Suck it up

Back to homelessness in East London – where Newham council tells Maya and Rakib, a homeless couple with two very young children, that a flat with smashed and broken storage sheds and no floor coverings, or stove, or furniture is perfectly adequate for (the likes of) them.

The couple is homeless. That means they have no rights and no voice. They must live wherever authorities tell them to live. They must be grateful. They must understand that they’re at the bottom of the pile – and that’s how everyone else sees things.

Truly, homeless people are disenfranchised.

Says Maya:

“The council officer said they often rent flats out as shells and that was okay.”

This is important. It shows where the official mindset is at.

Windowsills in the flat

We’ve reached a point (we’ve been at it for a long while) where officers and politicians genuinely believe that it IS okay to shove homeless families into shells and hovels – and that homeless people who are offered a shell, or a hovel, don’t know they’re born.

I think that a lot of officials genuinely believe this. After years of austerity, this institutional contempt is rife.

“At least you’re inside,” the argument goes. In the bureaucratic mind, sleeping on an uncovered floor under a roof is better than sleeping on a park bench – because that’s the choice. That’s where the line is now. We’re all meant to accept it. Homeless people no right to expect the basics, let alone a healthy environment, or anything so romantic as comfort.

Homeless people who hope for the basics are felt to have a scandalous sense of entitlement.

I hear the most extraordinary things as a result.

I’ve written about councils giving homeless pregnant women and sick and disabled people air mattresses in lieu of beds.

I wrote about 67-year-old Paul in Oldham, who was told by officers at First Choice Homes that the filthy, tiny and rotting static caravan that he lived in counted as adequate housing and he’d make himself intentionally homeless if he left it. I attended a meeting with him where an officer actually said that.

Paul in his caravan

I wrote about Marsha who was shown a place in Woolwich with stained mattresses, a broken, filthy oven and broken doorframes. She was told to accept the place, or else.

Oven at the flat Marsha was shown

Homeless people must accept all of this, or risk a council discharging its duty to them – that is, refusing to help them any further.

Their “choices” come down to – “do you want to live inside, or outside?” and “live in this hovel, or else.” Continue reading

Mayor apologises for letter which threatened to make a woman with serious mental health issues homeless. Now what.

This is an update:

Regular readers will know that I recently published a story about the letter on this page – a letter that threatened a Newham hostel resident with homelessness if she didn’t attend a meeting.

Lukia, the woman who received the letter, has serious mental health issues.

She’s recently been in the care of a mental health unit.

The note said that Lukia would be thrown off the council homelessness list and evicted from her hostel room if she didn’t attend a meeting that day.

Needless to say, Lukia found this note upsetting in the extreme.


When I first posted the letter, some readers here and on facebook felt that it couldn’t be genuine – that staff couldn’t have issued such a rough note on an unheaded piece of paper in such unprofessional way.

I understood that. Nobody wants to think that council and hostel staff professionalism have collapsed to such a point.

Except that professionalism has collapsed – at councils, at the DWP – all over.

In the two recent videos below, Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz apologises for that letter. She says that there’s been an investigation into the note and that the person responsible has been sacked.

I’ve heard the same thing on the grapevine, so we’ll go with it for now.

Thing is – what next? – for Newham, for councils generally, for the whole of the public sector?

The political and media classes couldn’t care less that the public sector is actually anarchic a lot of the time. Brexit is their one interest and fatal obsession. You’d be better off asking Santa for housing than putting in a request with that lot.

Politicians like Fiaz do a good line in apologising (google “Rokhsana Fiaz apology” for a look), but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still overseeing a housing catastrophe. The national housing disaster is going nowhere even faster than Brexit. Sadly, unlike Brexit, it isn’t live-blogged by mainstream press outlets in real time.

The best you can hope for now with local politicians is a kneejerk response that goes in your favour.

I know for a fact how things “work” behind the scenes at certain council offices at the moment, because I’m in contact with officers here and there. Campaigners and welfare advisers bring individual housing cases to the attention of a mayor or a council leader. That mayor or leader rushes down to the housing options team in that council and tells staff to find housing for that individual pronto.

Staff do as they’re told and money is somehow found to meet a local rent (this part always intrigues me), but staff seethe. Some leave. There’s no system as such – just reflex reactions from sensitive politicians. The thing really is lawless – like Brexit, if you will. Sign of the times, I suppose.

If you’re campaigning with people who are homeless, that sensitivity is your main way in. Problem is – not everyone who is homeless knows that, or is in a position to pressure a council.

Lukia has been offered housing.

Anyway. Continue reading

Get to the office today or we’ll throw you off the homelessness list: how people with mental health issues are addressed

Update 28 Feb: the council says that it is investigating this situation – to find out how someone living in one of its homelessness hostels came to receive such a letter.


Original post:


I wrote a fortnight ago about Lukia, a woman with serious mental health difficulties who lives (if “lives” is the word) in a Newham homelessness hostel.

Lukia has previously been in the care of a mental health unit.

She is battling Newham council for permanent housing.

Lukia came home last week to find this note under her door:

The note says:

“You are request [sic] to come into the office in Victoria Street today by 3pm. Failure to do so will lead to you being removed from the homelessness list and you will be asked to leave your home.”

I post this to show you again the way that people with no clout are addressed by authorities.

Every contact is a threat.

People aren’t invited to meetings with council or hostel staff. They’re told to attend, or else.

The “or else” part can be the threat of being thrown off the homelessness list and out of a hostel room, as in this case.

It can be the threat of street homelessness and child removal. Whatever form the “or else” takes, these threats are heavy-handed, dangerous and unjustified.

It’s high time that councillors and MPs addressed this. A shortage of housing does not justify a shortage of decency and care.

Lukia, as I’ve written, has a history of serious mental health difficulties and of being placed in temporary accommodation so vile and substandard that she’s been moved out of it.

She feels that permanent accommodation is her only chance at the stability that might lead to an improvement in her health.

Threats of homelessness hardly help people achieve that.

Do councils actually try to drive homeless mothers to breakdown so they can remove their kids?

I am starting to wonder.

Readers of this site will know I’ve been interviewing Marsha, a homeless 30-year-old Newham woman.

Marsha is living in a homelessness hostel in Newham – in a one-room hellhole which she shares with her six-year-old daughter.

I reported this week that Marsha had written to the council to ask when she and her daughter would be placed in longer-term housing in Newham.

The two have been living in that stifling hostel room together for over a year.

Marsha is desperate for a place in Newham. She is at college. Her daughter is in school. Marsha relies on family for childcare and mental health support. Her mental health is deteriorating, because of her housing problems.

Marsha is being bullied by the council.

Like so many homeless mothers I and others speak with, Marsha fears that children’s services will remove her daughter if she pushes her case.

Certainly, social services have Marsha in their sights. When Marsha wrote to the council about her housing last week, she was suddenly dragged to two meetings with social services. She and her daughter – who is only six – were grilled about their health and wellbeing.

Now, there’s more.

After that story appeared and I emailed the mayor, Marsha got a call from housing options yesterday.

She was told that the council had one private-rented flat in Woolwich that she had to look at and accept. She was told that if she didn’t accept the flat, she’d be out on the streets. End of story.

That’s the way homeless people are spoken to.

Oven at the flat Marsha was shown

The flat was disgusting – cracked walls, filthy oven, broken locks, stained and squalid mattresses and grimy sinks and walls. I’ve posted photos through this article.

The agent who show Marsha the place said that he wouldn’t house his family members in it.

Homeless women, of course, are expected to be grateful for such places.

Mattress and bed in the flat Marsha was shown

Marsha called me in a terrible state. She has a choice: she can take her six-year-old child to live in this pigsty, or she can live on the side of the road. That’s not much of a choice in my book.

Marsha has become more and more distressed as this has gone on.

The bullying, the threats from and of social services and the upset and rotten housing that she must expose her child to are taking an obvious toll.

I’ve asked the mayor for a response to this. This is council aggression and bullying, pure and simple. The mayor better come back to me soon.

Broken walls and doors in the flat

I’ll tell you this – homeless women I’m speaking with say that they are inevitably treated like this – “do what you’re told and live in whatever hovel we send you to, and be grateful.”

It’s bad enough to know that your mental health is deteriorating because of this and because your kids are exposed to filthy living conditions and your distress.

It’s very bad to know that social services is watching you as that happens.

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So I am scared.”

There’s been more since then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter social services.

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

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

You have to wonder.

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

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

So, there was that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was really uncomfortable…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bed Marsha shares with her daughter


You see my point.

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

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

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

Said Marsha:

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


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

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

This is sick.

I don’t go near the window because I might jump… How many people with serious mental health histories are in hostels like this?

This is an excerpt from a longer article I’m working on:

A fortnight ago, I visited Lukia – a woman with a history of severe depression. She has been in the care of a mental health unit.

For two years, Lukia has lived on an upper floor of a grim homelessness hostel in Newham. She was placed in the hostel by Newham council.

She dislikes living up so high, because she worries about jumping.

Lukia said:

“I’m living on the ninth floor, because… my daughter knows that I don’t go near the window… I always feel like I’m going to go down…”

I asked:

“Like you’re going to jump?”

“Yes, yes… feel like you’re jumping.” Lukia said.

Here’s the view from Lukia’s window:

Her hostel room is also distressing. It’s not really a room. It’s more a hallway with Lukia’s bed and belongings in it. There’s a small kitchen at one end of this hallway and the bed, and window, at the other.

The “room” is filled with suitcases, kitchen items and household belongings:

Why do we make people with serious mental health conditions live like this?

Lukia’s daughter lives in a similar hallway-type room next door, because her mother can’t live alone.

Lukia says the council has offered other temporary accommodation, but she worries about that. She was moved to this hostel from other temporary accommodation, because that accommodation was disgusting:

“They left me there in Romford Road – [that accommodation] was really filthy. We kept on cleaning. We couldn’t do anything. We would have to go through the environmental services… I said I’m not staying in the place. We were about five, six, seven families…. and said you cannot stay in this environment. They all had children. A woman wrote to them – the council – and said, “move these people as soon as possible.” Then, the following day they phoned us and said you have to move…”

What on earth are we doing?

I’d ask Newham Council for a comment on this – in particular, a comment on Lukia’s concerns about jumping and living in a room many stories up – but the council has blacklisted me. There we go.

Social services said: “we can provide a home for your daughter, but not you.” Homeless women live in fear of having their kids removed

Am transcribing interviews atm – here’s an excerpt from one.

I’m posting this to show again that homeless mothers who ask councils for housing help feel that councils are always threatening to remove their children.

I doubt the well-appointed classes know this fear.

The woman in this interview is Marsha, 30. Her daughter is five. They live together in a single room in a Newham homelessness hostel.

Marsha said that social services told her that they could take her daughter while Marsha “sorted herself out.”

Marsha said that social services frightened her badly with that statement. The council wouldn’t tell her where her daughter might be placed:

“… [they said] it could be anywhere – she’ll just be with, you know, an authorised adult who is eligible to care for her until you sort yourself out.”

Marsha and her daughter in the one room in their hostel

So many of the homeless mothers I talk with live in fear that their council will remove their kids.

They believe that asking councils for housing help is a risk for that reason.

Forget the council’s “we’ll give your child back when you’ve sorted yourself out,” line.

Women worry that they’ll never see their kids again once they’ve been taken into care.

They also know that they’re a long way away from sorting themselves out – from finding housing that is decent, secure and affordable. The only way to secure such housing really is to suddenly come into money. Nobody holds out much hope for that.

Marsha and her daughter were sofa-surfing when Marsha approached the council for housing help.

Marsha was desperate. She was even more desperate when she thought the council might take her daughter. Such are the fears that homeless mothers must deal with as a matter of course.

Said Marsha:

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

“So I am scared. Social services literally said that to me when I first went to social services…I was literally going to Belgrave Court [a homelessness hostel in Newham].

“They said to me that what we can do is we take [your daughter] and we can look after her for you until you sort yourself out and then you can come back and get her.”

“I said if you take [my daughter], can you tell me where she’s going to be?”

“They said – oh no, it could be anywhere. She’ll just be with, you know, an authorised adult who is eligible to care for her until you sort yourself out.”

“I said – “it’s in my child’s best interests for her to be with me. I’m the only person that she knows.”

I’d ask Newham council for comment on this, except that the council has blacklisted me. Too bad for the council. I have a lot more on this story.

What will happen to my disabled child in austerity after I die? What happens to my adult child who has learning difficulties when I’m not around to advocate?

The post below – Eddie’s story – is an excerpt from a collection of interviews I’ve made since 2014 with people directly affected by benefit cuts and welfare reform.

This collection is being made possible thanks to a Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust grant.


What happens to my adult child who has learning difficulties when I’m not around to advocate?

Mould in doorway entrance

In my interviews with parents of people with learning difficulties in the past ten years, there was a question which weighed on parents’ minds:

“What will happen to my child when I’m not around to insist that they have housing, income and care?”

This question wasn’t exclusive to austerity, but it took on a new intensity as Cameron-Osborne plans to eradicate public services became obvious.

Parents knew that housing, benefits and care services were being devastated by council funding cuts and welfare reform.

They knew that negotiating austerity’s brutal and labyrinthine public sector bureaucracies for housing, income and care could be devastatingly hard.

“What will happen when my child is an adult alone in austerity?”

That question didn’t really bear thinking about.


Except that people did think about that question.

I thought about it myself.

I thought about it a lot from about 2014 to 2017, when I came to know Eddie*, a Kilburn man with learning difficulties.

In many ways, Eddie’s life over that time was an answer to that question.


Eddie’s story (Eddie’s name has been changed)

Eddie was 51 when we met in 2014.

Eddie had learning and literacy difficulties. He’d received special needs education as a child. Eddie identified as Black British. I knew this, because we filled in a lot of job applications for Eddie together over the years and he always took care with the monitoring parts of the forms.

“I’m British born and bred,” Eddie often said proudly. He said that his parents had come to the UK from Jamaica – part of the Windrush generation.

Eddie had type one diabetes. He injected insulin several times a day. He had trouble managing his diabetes as he aged. He often caught colds and flu. He sometimes struggled to walk, because he had pain in his legs and feet.

Eddie had worked as a kitchen assistant for much of his adult life. He’d been made redundant about six years previously and had not found work again. Eddie signed on for JSA at Kilburn jobcentre. (I met Eddie at the jobcentre during a Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group leafleting session there. KUWG volunteers knew Eddie and gave him a great deal of support over the years. They pushed councils and the DWP to keep Eddie on the radar).

Eddie’s mother had died about a decade earlier: around 2004. Eddie had lived with his mother.

Things began to implode for Eddie several years after his mother’s death. He had to negotiate cash-strapped and dysfunctional public sector bureaucracies on his own. Post 2010, as austerity began to bite, the facts of that began to show.

An austerity state could never replace Eddie’s mother.

There was no question about it. I understood from conversations with Eddie that his mother had been the driving force in his life. She’d made sure that Eddie found work and stayed in work. She’d filled in forms and talked with employers about Eddie’s learning and literacy difficulties. At home, Eddie’s mother had kept their flat organised and clean.

Eddie’s mother was one of the few people who Eddie spoke about with affection.

He often said that he missed his mother.

I began to understand what that meant when I saw how Eddie lived.


How people with learning difficulties are expected to live

I took these photos inside Eddie’s Kilburn flat in 2014.

This was how relying on the state in austerity looked for people in Eddie’s situation:









The flat was disgusting – full of mould, dirt and vermin. It was all Eddie could afford.

Eddie relied on housing benefit to pay his entire rent. By this time, housing benefit only covered full private sector rents on London’s shabbiest flats.

Eddie’s private-sector landlord charged Brent council £1000 a month in housing benefit for the Kilburn flat in these pictures.


That was a benefits abuse in itself. Eddie’s landlord was paying a Zone 2 London mortgage with the housing benefit he collected by letting such places to councils.

The Kilburn flat had only one room. Eddie’s bed, kitchen, small fridge, washing machine, clothes and belongings were all crammed into that single tiny space. Wet clothes and towels hung from rails and chairs. The floors and benchtops were littered with rubbish, unwashed dishes and rotting food. Mice scuttled under the oven and bed.

Eddie never cleaned the bathroom – ever. There was no window in the bathroom. The whole flat stank of sewerage.

There was one ground-floor door in the flat which lead to a small and filthy backyard. I saw rubbish, used sanitary towels and dead rodents in that backyard. Eddie always kept the door to the yard closed for security. There was a tiny window above the door pane which he never opened. Condensation ran down the inside of the door in rivulets. Thick black mould blossomed inside the flat. It blanketed the walls and the ceiling in the wet air.

“It’s disgusting,” Eddie would say furiously of his accommodation. “I should be in a council flat with a separate kitchen, a separate bedroom. I’m getting sick. Look at this mould on my clothes.”

The noise from neighbouring flats in the house worried Eddie a great deal, too.

Eddie complained that he could hear his neighbours fighting. He called the police several times, because he said that his neighbours had threatened him.

His neighbours, meanwhile, complained that they could hear Eddie and his partner Linda having sex.

The problem was that low-rent flats such as Eddie’s were set in houses of multiple occupation – single houses which owners broke up into tiny rooms to rent out as flats to councils.

These landlords always planned to sell the buildings when the mortgages were finally paid.

Such landlords invested as little in the flats as possible. There was no soundproofing between the rooms. TVs and stereos screamed from each flat. People came and went all day – talking, shouting and slamming doors. The noise went on and on.

Eddie said that noise in the house was made entirely by his neighbours:

“They’re drug dealers. Shouting and yelling. Throwing furniture down the stairs last night. They never go to work. It’s disgusting. I shouldn’t be here.”

Eddie was furious about that.

Eddie was furious about everything.

Eddie’s anger worsened over the years as his living conditions, health and employment prospects deteriorated. He railed and ranted. He was hard to take a lot of the time.

He loathed council housing staff:

“They don’t do anything. They never help,”

He hated the jobcentre staff who he had to report to:

“They’re useless. They should all be sacked.”

He disliked his neighbours:

“They’re drug dealers. Shouting and yelling…they never go to work.”

and he hated immigrants:

“They should be put back where they came from…the problem is like a stray cat. Pick it off the street and then suddenly, you’re a soft touch…British and English people can’t get jobs, or flats, which they should have had, long time…When we had that other bitch in – she was so hard, she wouldn’t allow it. Margaret Thatcher. She was hard, that one. This one [David Cameron] has got no backbone.”

Eddie talked in a monologue which never changed, or ended.

His topics were always the same: he should have a job and a decent home, immigrants should be sent back where they came from, jobcentre and council staff were useless and everyone should be sacked.


In 2015, Eddie was evicted from his Kilburn flat.

Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group activists helped Eddie find a similar-sized place – this time in Haringey. One KUWG activist in particular put a great deal of time into trying to solve Eddie’s housing and jobcentre problems. She set up meetings with council officers and pushed councils to provide Eddie with housing and support. She even went as far as to pay the deposit on the Haringey flat out of her own money.

Eddie was evicted from the Haringey flat in 2016.

The Haringey flat – like the Kilburn one – was in ruins at the end of Eddie’s tenancy.

That was because Eddie had exactly the same problems in Haringey as he’d had in Kilburn.

The Haringey flat was tiny – again, it was all that Eddie could afford in London as a housing benefit recipient.

There was only one room in the Haringey flat. The bed, kitchen, living space and all of Eddie’s belongings were crammed into that small, stifling space – a space that he could not air properly, or keep clean:








Continue reading

Got a voluntary job – and then sacked from the voluntary job, because someone “better” came along… how unemployment rolls. More on #UniversalCredit…

There are longer transcripts from these interviews at the end of this post.

I recorded the two interviews below last Wednesday at the Universal Credit protest outside Stockport jobcentre.

The first interview was with Mark, 46.

Mark signs on at Stockport jobcentre. He receives Universal Credit. I’ve spoken with Mark before.

The last time I spoke with Mark, he was pissed off, because the jobcentre wouldn’t let him use a jobcentre phone to make a call about a voluntary job at a local cafe.

This time, Mark was pissed off, because he’d managed to get that voluntary job, but had just been sacked from it.

The person who’d taken him on had received three more applications for the role and had obviously decided that one of applicants was an improvement on Mark.

To Mark’s surprise, he was told that he’d never actually got the job, even though he was very sure that he had. He was told that his few weeks in the job were actually meant as a sort of training course. This so-called “training course” had suddenly come to an end, which meant that Mark had to go.

This explanation for Mark’s dismissal was clearly made-up-on-the-spot garbage, but Mark had to wear it. This “We Want You – No, We Don’t Want You,” stuff happens all the time to people who are out of work:

Mark said:

“I’m getting nowhere fast… I landed it [the voluntary job] myself at the housing office, didn’t I. The coffee shop. Got sacked two weeks ago… I lasted 11 [sic] weeks. She sacked me two weeks ago. Apparently, she got three more job applications… [they said it was a] training course… it wasn’t training. I put in for a job… [then] she said it was training. I did 11 weeks and they sacked us.”

So, there was that.

Since we were there and since there’s nothing else in the news, I asked Mark what he thought of Brexit negotiations. I usually ask people this, to see how people who are most affected by austerity feel as the Brexit shambles progresses (if “progresses” is the word).

Mark said:

“Brexit? It’s a joke. I’m sick of hearing about it. It’s pissed. [We’ve been in the EU] for 40 years. How do you untangle that? I can understand why David Cameron, [George] Osborne walked out of it. They only put it [the referendum] out for a joke, but now it’s for real…

“I kind of wanted to stay [in Europe], so I put the opposite vote in for it, because I thought we [people without money] would get shafted either way. So, I voted for Leave, but I didn’t really mean it…it doesn’t make any difference. We’re still going to let every fucker over here. We still going to have people buying BMWs and foreign cheese and wine. It’s not going to make no difference. It’s just about… how much more do we pay for the privilege of buying it all?”

So, there was that as well.

The next interview was with Steve, 17

Steve was standing across the road from the jobcentre in a group of five or six kids. They had noticed the Universal Credit protest banners outside the jobcentre. They were waving at the protestors outside the jobcentre and yelling “Free the weed! Free the weed!”

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Why can’t Labour decide where the hell it is at on Universal Credit? Hello?

Update at the end of this post

Readers of this site will know that last week, Stockport council’s cabinet agreed that full council would vote next meeting on a motion which called on the government to halt the Universal Credit rollout.

Such a motion would hardly strike terror into Tory hearts, but it was marginally better than eff-all, so I wrote it down in my notebook seeing as I had a spare half-page and was at the meeting.

It’s all turned to turds, anyway.

On Wednesday, I attended the Stockport United Against Austerity protest against the launch of Universal Credit at Stockport jobcentre (the UC rollout started in Stockport on Wednesday).

A Labour councillor name of Laura Booth was there. She told me that councillors were still fighting about the wording of the Universal Credit motion they’d vote on.

Some wanted to vote to Stop and Scrap Universal Credit. Others still wanted to go with Pause and Fix – as though anyone on the planet thinks that’s even possible. Pause where? And Fix what?

Universal Credit is a disaster from beginning to end. Fiddling around with little bits will achieve nothing. You know the one about trying to polish a turd? That.


Don’t you just want to destroy the world.


God help us all.

This is the motion (page 8) on Universal Credit going to the full Stockport council meeting on 29 November. The motion calls for the council’s chief executive to write to Amber Rudd to request a pause to the Universal Credit rollout. Bet that’ll worry her.

This is hopeless. Tells you where Labour is on Universal Credit, though.

From the council’s 29 November agenda:

Motion (iv) Universal Credit

This Council notes:
– cross-party backing for the principles behind Universal Credit (UC), including the
amalgamation of benefits, access via one application portal and ensuring work always pays;
– the work of this Council and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau to help and support people in
relation to navigating the changing benefits system and mitigating the risks of change; and
– that despite this, the Government’s approach to UC rollout has raised significant concern in relation to monthly payments in arrears, overuse of sanctions, the pacing of transition and rollout; opacity in relation to the benefits entitlement, and cuts to the benefits system which are not reflective of need.

This Council further notes concerning reports that for many people, this has led to:

– exacerbated poverty and hardship, in particular for those living with disabilities;
– increased poverty for low income working families;
– people having to choose between food and rent;
– indebtedness due to delayed payments;
– increased rent arrears for tenants in social and private housing relating to the removal of the former direct payments system;
– making it harder for victims of domestic abuse to escape relationships;
– disadvantages for non-IT literate people; and
– instances where these factors have led to loss of employment.

This Council believes that

– measures contained in the recent Budget to provide resources to help improve the taper and help with return to work are to be welcomed, but as the Children’s Society has noted, they do not and cannot fully address the aforementioned concerns;
– as such, this Budget represented a missed opportunity to bring in both these measures immediately and pause Universal Credit rollout completely, allowing for the full review needed to fully address these problems.

This Council therefore resolves to:
– continue to work with partner organisations to mitigate as far as possible the risks and
challenges associated with this month’s UC rollout;
– request that the Chief Executive write to the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions urging a pause to further rollout of the ‘Full Service’ system;
– in that letter, emphasise the need to address all of the above points, with particular emphasis on ending the current system of monthly payments in arrears; and
– request that the Chief Executive write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer requesting that funding be urgently found to address the needs of UC recipients and plug the wait times gap.