Temporary housing? – not for the cockroaches

We return this morning to Marlin Apartments, the Newham temporary housing hellhole where homeless families with very young children are “placed” (deposited?) for years at a time.

As I wrote last week, the building is overrun with bedbugs, cockroaches, mice and rats and their many offspring, and other crawlers, biters and slimers that absolutely nobody I know would want chewing through the family’s food and feet.

I gave the bedbugs a writeup last week, and posted pictures of some of the injuries that the bedbugs and other vermin are inflicting on very young children – children who have, in some cases, lived in these terrible flats for several years. If you think that those kids are going to grow up in good shape, or grow up at all, it might be time to think again.

This morning, I’m posting pictures of some of the many cockroaches and maggots that roam and writhe through and around Marlin Apartments. It goes without saying that something major needs to be done about all of this.

One idea would be to fill a skip with several Marlin Apartments cockroach swarms, road trip them up to North Yorkshire, and dump the lot into Rishi Sunak’s lunch and bed.

The cockroaches in the pictures won’t be going, but there are plenty more where they came from (the pics are from the flat of a family who have a toddler and 4-month old baby):

Here are bugs crawling round the baby’s crib. Mum threw the crib out, because the baby was being bitten. The family can’t afford a new crib, so now, the family sleeps on the floor.

Bedbugs on crib - Marlin Apartments

And video of maggots out the front of the building – the residents say that the communal bins overflow. There are too many people living in too small a space, with too few services.


And I haven’t even got to the serious overcrowding problems in Marlin yet, or the new problems with energy bills that residents face. They used to pay their bills as part of their rent, but now must set up individual accounts. A number of people showed me letters which demanded several hundred pounds for outstanding bills which absolutely nobody can understand.

I’m getting to that.

To finish – this picture is of one of the single rooms that families live in. I have a vague memory of someone on twitter saying that these ex-serviced apartments couldn’t be single rooms, but at least 3 of the ones I saw were, so there you go. In these single rooms, there was a bug-infested double bed (or 2 single beds pushed together), a bug-infested couch and a cot all in one space with a small kitchen at the top end.

Picture of a single-room Marlin Apartment.

Picture of a single-room Marlin Apartment. I”m holding the camera. There is space behind me for a couch and that’s it.

No doubt these apartments were all very nice when they were properly serviced and rented to single businesspeople who were enjoying week-long London jollies, but things have taken something of a slide since the council arranged to rent them from Marlin for homeless families. The “serviced” bit sort of disappeared from the “serviced apartments” idea.

I’ve asked Newham council for comment on this, but they’ve stopped answering. Probably nothing to say that’ll make any of this all right. Would like to see every member of Sunak’s cabinet living and working in this building, though. Lock them in the place for a year, then torch it.

Your Newham Get Me Out Of Here Bushbash Challenge – rising to a slug infestation

Well – this is revolting.

I’ve been sent the slug gallery below by a resident of a flat in Newham.

R and their family (including a toddler and a very young baby) were homeless. They were living in the Newham Brimstone House emergency homelessness hostel. After a while, Newham council placed the family in the flat in the pictures below.

That was the good news. The bad news is that the family isn’t the only crowd there. Slugs have also made the flat their home, sliming their way across floors, walls, the baby’s room and cot, and over kitchen utensils, sponges and containers when they want a novelty ride. Seems as though even slugs are sick of the rain and parked-up jetstreams and are moving their operation inside. There are gaps in walls and holes to the outside, which the slugs clearly see as some sort of invitation to intimate dialogue.

The family reported the problem to the council and landlord months ago. Pest control has apparently been around, but clearly may as well not have been. The council did send the family some links on slug combat, but a bit of a surf isn’t really the same as being rehoused to somewhere habitable, and you start any fight against slugs a long way behind if they have multiple routes inside. You can napalm them with actual crap, or whatever you like, but they don’t care. They just find another door.

Here they all still are. Isn’t grinding poverty and homelessness fun.

Perhaps someone will respond to these photos:






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.”

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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

Can’t use your toilet because of sewerage and water leaks? Have a bucket

Portloo in Newham council flat

On the subject of actual shit repairs:

Visited a part-council block in Newham on the weekend, to take pictures of mould, water and sewerage running down the walls (more on that soon).

Went into the flat of a woman who was no longer keen to use the toilet in her bathroom because of the water/sewerage which drips onto the latrine occupant. You’ll see in the photo below that she’d tried to get around this by stringing a black plastic bag over the toilet to re-route the streams.

This had all been going on long enough for her to make a formal complaint to the council, with a view to approaching the ombudsman.

Rubbish bag over toilet to protect user from water and sewerage coming through gap.

Rubbish bag over toilet to protect user from water and sewerage coming through gap.

Here’s the incredible bit though. The council appears to have countered by giving her a portaloo – a bucket with a little seat. The bucket was very little too. You could definitely only have one guest around and not for very long. Emptying it was also going to be a challenge. We had a few suggestions about possible council and government sites, but all of those involved potentially tricky rides on crowded public transport, so maybe not one to try unless you had really good balance.

Needless to say, the woman had not tried the portaloo out yet. She was using other people’s toilets. They’re not at the portaloo stage. Yet. In the meantime, we rock on with council repairs. While you’re waiting for repairs, you can either wear crap, or handle it. Probably go for wearing it myself.


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.

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