#UniversalCredit, sanctions, rent arrears, radiation therapy, 8 people living in one small flat…what the hell does this achieve?

When will modern society work out that hating and bullying people in poverty doesn’t eradicate poverty?

Last Wednesday, I spent several hours at Oldham foodbank, speaking with people who’d come in for food parcels. I visit Oldham foodbank from time to time.

On Wednesday, I had a long talk with Mel (name changed), 47. There’s a full transcript from that interview at the end of this article.

I’m posting this interview for a specific reason.

Mel and her family were on the receiving end of a great deal of government and public bile.

I want to show you how that looks from Mel’s side of the fence:

Mel talked about being patronised by frontline officers and targeted by people in the neighbourhood.

Universal Credit officers dismissed Mel when she rang the helpline because her benefits weren’t paid: “He [the DWP officer] said, “there’s thousands like you. You’re not the only one.”

A neighbour had dobbed Mel in with authorities – I think for housing extra family members in her flat.

A secretary at a local school had called Mel’s children and grandchildren dirty: “I didn’t actually punch her…I’m not a violent person but…yeah.”

The list went on. It usually does.

That’s the point I want to focus on here.

I know precisely what government and a judgmental electorate would say about Mel’s family. They would call Mel and her family scroungers. They would hate on the family and think – “Job Done. That’ll Learn Them.” (It’s only a pity that bailed-out bankers aren’t punished as thoroughly for their money-handling problems). Such is our era. The general view is that all that people in Mel’s situation need to sort things out is a kick in the head.

I don’t believe that bashing people when they’re already down is a brilliant social policy tactic. What I do know is that Mel and her family were being crushed by the dysfunctional and abusive public sector bureaucracies that they relied on. That part was absolutely not Mel’s fault. That part was society’s fault. Society approves of institutional aggression towards the worst off and likes to describe people in poverty as barbaric if they respond badly to that aggression. That’s how things roll for the Mels of the modern world.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Mel was ill. She said that she was having radiation therapy. She looked sick. She was tiny and gaunt, and her hair was thinning. She kept saying that she looked old. She was upset about it.

“I’ve got two weeks left of radiation… two weeks left of treatment, three times a week. I look old.”

There were other problems, too – like Mel needed them.

One problem was that Mel was receiving Universal Credit. Universal Credit’s defective payment systems had caused Mel no end of grief. For example: Mel had rent arrears. She couldn’t understand why, because the housing costs component of her Universal Credit was paid straight to her landlord. Her rent should have been covered. It hadn’t been at one point or another, and she didn’t know why. Mel kept getting letters from First Choice Homes about the arrears. She couldn’t repay the money. She would never be able to repay the money. The demand letters kept coming. This happens too often to mention. The threats roll in and roll in. There’s no respite. The debts never end.

So, there was that.

Another problem was that Mel’s flat was overcrowded. Her children and grandchildren were staying with her, because they had nowhere else to go.

Mel said she had seven (sometimes eight) people living in her two-bedroom flat. There was Mel, her five-year-old daughter, her 26-year-old daughter, the daughter’s partner and their three kids (and sometimes another daughter, I think Mel said). The 26-year-old daughter and her family had recently been evicted from their flat, because the landlord had wanted to sell.

There was more.

At the moment, the family relied on Mel’s benefit money to pay for food and clothes. Mel’s daughter had applied for Universal Credit, but had only received one payment in ten months. Continue reading

Worried about being moved to the same borough as your violent ex-partner’s family? Tough. Get going.

Here’s a paragraph from a council letter which dismisses a homeless woman’s concerns about being moved to the same borough as members of her violent ex-partner’s family.

You need to see this. It is a common example of the sort of thing that homeless households are told when they challenge a council decision to send them out of borough:

The letter from the council officer says:

“You advised me that your ex partner who you fled whilst residing at [word removed] due to domestic violence. His [word removed] lives in [word removed], but you could not provide me with details such as address or full name but you were confident that [word removed] lives in [word removed]. I looked at your previous notes on file, your housing officer at that time made enquiries with the police, police confirmed that they did not state that you were not safe in the borough of…. were [sic] you fled from, neither did they exclude [word removed] as a risk area and your last reported incident was July 2016…Based on all the information this would suggest that the incidents are historic…”

Really.

I’m seeing more and more letters where every single one of a homeless family’s reasons for wanting to stay in the area that they know are dismissed out of hand by their council.

People tell their council that they want to stay in their borough for their children’s schools, for important health services, for local networks they rely on, and even for safety. They’re entitled to ask their councils to consider these circumstances when councils are looking at where to house them.

Unfortunately, none of the points that homeless families raise seem to rate. People are perfectly entitled to ask a council to review its choice of home for them, but they might as well not bother. I get the distinct feeling that decisions to send homeless people away are made before people even walk through a council’s doors.

So.

The recipient of this letter, Christine (named changed), is a young homeless Newham mother.

Christine and her children live in a single room temporary accommodation flat. They’ve been there for a year. Christine says Newham council told Christine that the accommodation would be short term. She and the kids are still there – all living in one tiny room together.

In its letter, Newham council says that Christine’s only option for longer-term housing is a privately rented flat in another borough (I’m withholding the name of the borough, because of Christine’s safety concerns).

Christine says the council has told her that she risks making herself intentionally homeless if she refuses to go.

But Christine has good reasons for not wanting to go.

As we’ve seen, one of those good reasons is that Christine doesn’t want to move to the area that the council proposes because a member of her violent ex-partner’s family lives there.

Christine’s problem is that she has not been able to prove that easily. Christine says she isn’t even sure where to start.

This problem comes up time and time again when homeless people ask for housing help from councils (and for benefits help from the DWP).

People can’t always give councils or the DWP the evidence and/or paperwork that the excessively bureaucratic public sector demands. Not everyone who has spent years moving from one crappy rental to another has a tidy and up-to-date filing cabinet or contacts book.

Nonetheless, public sector bureaucracies demand paperwork and evidence, evidence, evidence. I’ve sat in meetings with people who’ve been denied crucial rent money because the officer in front of them has decided that another piece of paper is required. Forcing stressed people to chase and present pieces of paper and official letters so that they can get benefits and housing is one of austerity’s special tortures. Continue reading

Osteoarthritis, can’t walk up 4 flights to the flat – and no lift. How many disabled people are trapped like this?

Update Monday 6 August:

Am a little tired of being ignored by councils, so I tweeted the Islington council leader and the member for housing, and asked them to look into Ann’s situation:

The member for housing said he would:

I understand that the council has called Ann today. That’s a start, at least. We push on.

I am still waiting for responses to other questions I asked – for example, I want to know how many disabled people are stuck in flats they can’t easily leave and are waiting for accessible housing.

More updates soon.


Original post (Friday 3 August):

Islington woman Ann Sparling, 47, is trapped in her fourth floor council flat.

Ann has serious osteoarthritis in both of her knees. There is no lift in her building. She must walk down and up four flights of stairs if she wants to leave her flat.

Ann says that she finds climbing the steps impossible. So, she is trapped.

She lives in fear of fire. Ann says the fire alarm in the building went off recently, and “I was terrified about not being able to get out.”

Ann’s been asking the council to move her to an accessible flat for three years. Nothing’s happened. I asked the council for comment on this situation on Monday. Nothing’s happened there either.

The council hasn’t even sent me a general statement.

I want to know how many sick or disabled people are trapped in this potentially lethal way and what is going to be done.

Ann relies on her two adolescent children to bring the shopping and run other chores. I guess it will be up to them to get Ann out if there’s a fire.

Ann’s own doctors insist that she be moved. They say she can’t cope with the stairs and must be rehoused. Her surgeons even delayed knee surgery last year, because Ann didn’t want to return to her fourth floor flat to recuperate.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter written by Ann’s doctor this year:Letter advising of required flat move

Ann reports that the council has told her there are no suitable properties available.

Ann also says communicating with the council is a pain. Emails go unrecorded and calls to housing options go unanswered.

I know that feeling. I asked the council about Ann’s situation and council communications on Monday. I’d heard nothing by Wednesday, so called the press office again. An officer said the council had to check that Ann would permit the council to discuss her details with me. The officer said a general statement might be forthcoming. It hasn’t been. I’ve heard nothing.

I am sick of this.

I say it again.

How many disabled people around the country are stuck and isolated in unpleasant and downright dangerous situations like this?

Have we learned nothing from fire disasters such as Grenfell – you know, making sure that people are safely housed and can get out?

Why do councils refuse to respond?

Somebody at Islington council needs to get in touch with me.

Newham council tries to deny a homeless woman the right to appeal a terrible housing decision. WHY?

I recently wrote about Sara Abdalla, 30. Sara is a Newham woman who is homeless. She has two young children. The eldest is in school in Newham. Sara has a job in Newham as well.

Newham council recently told Sara that she would have to move to Birmingham for permanent housing. Sara requested a review of that decision. A review officer upheld the council’s decision to send Sara to Birmingham. You can read that letter (and the dreadful tone of it) here.

Today, the council took Sara to court to try and deny her the right to appeal that decision. The council said Sara was out of time to make an appeal.

Sara – like so many homeless people I deal with – missed the appeal deadline because she found the bureaucracy so confusing and overwhelming. We all do. Council and DWP bureaucracies are literally designed to exclude anyone who isn’t an administrative genius. Sara was (and is) also dealing with a multitude of issues to do trying to secure housing while holding down a job and organising a young family. She also thought at one stage that an appeal had been filed by a lawyer who represented her – after a fashion – for a time. It hardly matters. The point is that the complexity regarding who was and is meant to do what and when was impossible. It so often is.

The thing is – I’ve been copied into emails with Rokhsana Fiaz, the new Newham mayor. She’s been promising to sort this mess out. So much for that. Sara has been trying to get hold of a housing officer who has apparently gone on holiday. She’s no closer to a solution to her housing problems than she ever was.

Meanwhile, Sara gets threatening courts summons and papers in which the council tries to deny her an appeal. It’s no wonder people lose it when they have to try and navigate all of this.

I have questions (I can’t put them to Newham Council sadly, because I’m on the council’s blacklist):

  1. Why did the council make such an enormous damn effort to stop a homeless woman appealing a decision to send her to a part of the country where she knows nobody and has no work? She was threatened with intentional homelessness if she did no go to Birmingham. So what if she was out of time to make an appeal. Why wouldn’t the council let it go?
  2. Why has the mayor been saying that Sara’s case will be looked at again by the council – at the exact same time that the council is dragging Sara to court to deny her the right to appeal housing decisions?

What a mess. Thousands of homeless people have to put up with this multilayered crap.

Oh yes – there’s is also this: The council was late with its own notice to the courts regarding Sara’s right to appeal.

Says the council in its letter to the court:

“A (Sara) seeks permission to appeal out of time… R (the council as Respondent) was required to file and serve notice in writing indicating whether that application was opposed by 4pm 25th April 2018.

On 26th April 2018, R wrote both to the Court and to A indicating that A’s application was opposed and apologised for the late provision of notice.”

Oh the irony. Council gets to miss deadlines. Sara doesn’t. That’s how things roll today.

I’ve got more so will come back. Sara won today anyway. I presume she now has the right to make that appeal.

Oh yes – there is something else. The council sought costs from Sara for today’s effort:

Says the letter from the council to the courts:

…”the Court is invited to dismiss A’s (Sara’s) application for permission to appeal out
of time and to grant an order for costs in R’s (the council’s) favour.”

That’s charming, that is – an attempt to pile debt on a low paid woman who has nowhere to live. Lovely. Sara was very upset indeed when she saw that.

You can’t have this job because you’re too old. We also deduct £200 from wages because these jobs are apprenticeships. What.

This one is for anyone out there who thinks that people who sign on have it easy. They don’t.

Have posted the recording below to demonstrate again the (often costly) obstacles that are planted in the way of people who look for low-paid work while signing on.

Some of the treatment by employers experienced by the woman in the recording is downright discriminatory and probably illegal. Certainly should be illegal.

I leafleted outside Stockport jobcentre this Wednesday with Stockport United Against Austerity.

I spoke at length with J, a woman I’ve spoken with before.

The recording below is from that interview. J has a son with autism (he’s in his early 20s) and a ten-year-old daughter. Her son’s PIP was stopped recently. J lost her carer’s allowance. She signs on for JSA and is looking for work.

J has been to six job interviews in the last few months.

Only one organisation ever bothered to get back to her about the job she was interviewed for. That was a nursery job.

Here’s the audio – J describing the experience (there’s a transcript at the end of this post):

The woman who called J about the nursery job told her three things:

  • J didn’t get the job
  • J didn’t get the job because she was too old
  • If J had been given the job, the company would have deducted £200 from her (minimum) wage over several months to pay back apprenticeship costs, because the job was an apprenticeship. I thought that any apprenticeship cost or levy was supposed to be paid by employers. I’ll be doing more work on this, but feel free to comment if this is an area you’re familiar with.

J was also told that she would have to pay for a DBS check. Last time I posted about this, people tweeted to say that employers should pay for such checks. I find mixed advice on that one.

The point is that I keep meeting people at jobcentres who can’t get their employer or their jobcentre or pay for DBS checks. The cost – between about £50 and £70 – lands on the newly-employed person. That is no joke for someone who only gets £70 or so a week in JSA or Universal Credit. The jobcentre says No and the employer says No and the person concerned begins to worry that they’ll never be able to start work, because nobody will help pay for the DBS check that the person can’t afford. Continue reading

Newham council tells homeless mother to move to Birmingham. Council says friends and family are not essential to her welfare

Update 27 June:

New mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz has emailed Sara to say that she will look into Sara’s housing problems asap. I will post any updates.

There’s a bigger issue here for Labour, though. When are Labour councils going to start telling government that they simply refuse to house people away from jobs and support networks? How are Labour councils going to stand up to LHA caps and prohibitive market rents? What’s the strategy? Where’s the militancy? When will Labour councils get stuck in?

—————

Original post:

I want to show you the sort of letter that councils send to homeless people who are desperate for local housing. I want you to see where things are at.

The excerpts below are taken from a letter sent by Newham Council to Sara Abdalla, 30.

Sara is homeless. She has two children. The eldest is six and the youngest is just 18 months. The family lives in temporary accommodation in a Newham hostel.

The letter is from an officer who reviewed Sara’s decision to decline a council offer of accommodation in Birmingham. The officer upheld the council’s decision to send Sara to Birmingham.

Sara turned down the Birmingham flat, because she was and is desperate to stay in London.

She has good reason for that. Her son is settled in school in Newham. She has a local job. The review letter was written before she got that job – but Sara says the council won’t factor her employment into her case. She has vital support in Newham – the friends and contacts that women with young children rely on.

This whole situation is the usual poisonous mess. I’d ask Newham council to comment on it, but the press office has blacklisted me. Nothing doing there.

This letter gives some insight into council justifications for sending homeless people away – insight, if you like, into council interpretations of homelessness guidance in this era of intolerable pressure on housing. You’ll see where some of the bars are set.

Here’s the first excerpt. This stuff really is cold-blooded.

The excerpt says that Sara’s support networks of family and friends Newham are not key to the family’s wellbeing.

The officer writes:

“I accept that it would be disruptive for any family to have to move away from an area where they have established social links over a number of years and away from their family, and that this may be more disruptive for a family with young children like yours. However, I do not accept that the support of your family, friends or local community is essential to your household’s welfare.” (My emphasis).

There’s more.

The council concedes the move to Birmingham would be a wrench, but says that Sara’s family and friends could visit – for all the world as though occasional sightings of friends make up for the loss of daily contact and support. No mention is made of prohibitive travel costs, or the difficulties that some people would have travelling that distance:

“Google maps has confirmed that the distance from the Housing Needs Service in Newham to the accommodation… is 136 miles, clearly a distance likely to prevent you travelling back to Newham on a frequent basis. However, you can always commute by train to London and your relatives and friends could also in turn come to visit.” (My emphasis).

The state as we have it really is vile. Continue reading

Don’t care if you have to pick your child up from school. You must attend the jobcentre so we can watch you apply for jobs you won’t get

Another story from recent leafleting outside Stockport jobcentre with Stockport United Against Austerity:

JSA and Universal Credit claimants say the jobcentre is presently forcing claimants to attend the jobcentre at least once a week to sit at computers and apply online for job after job. Jobcentre advisers watch while they do this.

People say they weren’t told why they had to attend these sessions in the first instance. They were just instructed to get to the jobcentre at a set time, or else.

Such regimes are not new. Most people who sign on are forced into these compulsory attendance activities. I interviewed people at North Kensington jobcentre who had to attend the jobcentre every single day to sign on. It really is Big Brother stuff – the DWP forcing claimants to a location where they can be seen. Can’t be long until government decides that people who sign on should be tagged.

None of this is about helping people find work, of course. It’s about a government department standing over people who are already trapped.

At these compulsory onsite jobsearch sessions, people just sit at computers and send off one job application after another. They literally never hear back about any of them. Often, they don’t know if the jobs they’ve applied for actually exist. People have to engage in this perfectly meaningless activity on work programmes and at work courses as well. I’ve sat with people as they’ve done it.

“Petty tyranny” is the phrase.

The depth of this pettiness (if there is such a thing as deep pettiness) never ceases to amaze. Jobcentres find any excuse for it at any level.

At Stockport recently, I spoke with one woman who’d just started these compulsory attendances.

She was on edge as it was. Her son had autism. His ESA had been stopped. So had her carer’s allowance and housing benefit. She was signing on for JSA to try for some income.

Now, she had another problem.

Her jobcentre adviser had set her next mandatory jobsearch-at-the-jobcentre session at exactly the time when she had to collect her ten-year-old daughter from school.

She said the jobcentre knew perfectly well that she had a schoolage daughter, but refused to change the time for the compulsory session:

“I’ve got to come here at three o’clock – but how am I supposed to pick my daughter up? They [the jobcentre] don’t care.

This is the only jobcentre [in Stockport]. If I walk, it will take me about 45 minutes. It took me an hour today on the bus, because of the traffic. What I’m going to have to do is take my daughter out of school early to come here. She’s missing out on her education.”

I’ll have to make some excuse up [to tell the school].”

I have a great many conversations like this with benefit claimants: stories about the DWP making already difficult situations even more difficult for people in agonising ways. Still, the DWP gets away with it.

This woman had problems enough. She was appealing the DWP’s decision to stop her son’s ESA. She was trying to sort out problems with his PIP and carer’s allowance.

Now, she had to drag her child out of school, and lie to the school about the reasons why, to get to a jobsearch session that in itself was pure charade. Non-attendance at that session would very likely mean a sanction.

This incident may sound small, but it absolutely wasn’t. It was part of a picture. Once the DWP has people, it never stops putting the boot in. Every part of their lives is fair game.

“[MPs] don’t worry about money. They don’t worry about where the next electricity is coming from. You never see anyone like that knocking down at foodbank.” #UniversalCredit

Have posted below a longer transcript from recent interviews at Oldham foodbank with Michelle, 38, and Jeanette, 53 (I published excerpts earlier here and here).

Like so many interviews I post on this site, this transcript highlights two important points:

1) Political and press obsessions such as government, voting and Brexit barely register in many lives.

I asked both woman for their views on government and Brexit.

Michelle said:

“I ain’t got a clue me, I don’t understand it. I really don’t.”

Jeanette said:

“Neither me…You never see anyone like that knocking down at foodbank…They don’t worry about where the next electricity coming from.”

2) The benefit systems that people in poverty rely on are in tatters, but that fact is ignored. Nobody cares.

Politics refuses to intervene, or to offer constructive answers. Mainstream politics is fixated on Brexit and central politics to the exclusion of everything. Meanwhile, people in poverty are being dragged down by failing state bureaucracies. Online benefit application forms fail. Helplines are hopeless. Claimants go months without money, which makes debt inevitable. The idea is, of course, that anyone who has ever received a state benefit deserves the worst. Dependence on the state justifies aggression from the state.

Michelle had rent arrears, because the DWP took ten weeks to make her first Universal Credit payment. She was also repaying a tax credit debt that she disputed and an advance loan that she took out to buy food during that ten-week wait for her Universal Credit:

“Oh God – it were a nightmare signing on for Universal Credit. You have to do it online and I had to [keep] ringing the jobcentre. I had to keep ringing them, because it were so hard.”

Jeanette had had a stroke in 2009. She struggled with balance and speech. She’d recently applied for Personal Independence Payment application, but missed an award by five points. She’d decided not to appeal that decision, because the appeals process was too complex and wearing:

“Too stressful. I’ve got to think of my health. Just rely on family and friends to get me around.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no part of this mess helps people find stability, or work. Quite the reverse. Any stability people had has been torpedoed. Prevailing government theory is that destabilising people by throwing them off benefits motivates them (whatever “motivates” means). It does not. These broken, maddening public sector bureaucracies mire people in debt. Unfortunately, that fact is below the radar.

Transcript: Oldham foodbank, 7 March 2018.

Michelle:

It hasn’t been this bad before. [They] moved me over [from Employment and Support Allowance to Universal Credit] in October last year. They made me do it, yeah.

They told me… I applied for ESA again, but they said because I was in the catchment area for Universal Credit, that I have to have that instead…but I went for [an ESA face-to-face] assessment on 25th of October [2017] and I’ve still heard nothing…nearly six months. [The assessment was at] Albert Bridge House, yeah.

I don’t sign on. I just have to go and see my advisor at the jobcentre every few weeks.

Oh God – it were a nightmare signing on for Universal Credit. You have to do it online and I had to [keep] ringing the jobcentre. I had to keep ringing them, because it were so hard.

[I] could do one bit of it, where they told you to do your details, but then it told you to do something else – a separate thing which is a new ID thing what they’ve set up. You’ve got to do that to prove your identity. You’ve got to choose which company to do it with.

I did mine with the Post Office. Got to set that account up and then go back to Universal Credit [with the registered identity details] Oh, it is horrible. Then, you’ve got to get an appointment to go up to the jobcentre to do the rest of it there…

You just do it [the identity proof] online while you’re filling your form out. It just takes you to another site and it tells you choose which one you want to use, so I clicked Post Office. Then you have to like create an account with them just to prove your identity, because they’ve got more information on you then – so that they know that it is you, because there are a lot of people trying to claim benefits under different names, so to try and stop that basically.

Had to give my passport, yeah, because it was online…

I had no money for about eight, ten weeks. They let me have an advance payments, but it were only for £200. I’ve got two kids and got behind on all me payments and everything. It were horrible…

Jeanette: It puts you behind with your rent.

Michelle: Yeah, I’ve been having to pay extra each month, because of my rent was in arrears and it wasn’t my fault. It was horrible. [I] rent with First Choice Homes…arrears, about two months, about £700 I think. I have to pay about £20 every month on top of the rent, because the rent’s £330.

They [the DWP] are deducting [money from my monthly Universal Credit payments] for advance loan – about £40 a month. They are taking [repayments for a] child tax credit [overpayment], because when I went onto Universal Credit, the child tax credit stopped, because it all goes in with that. Then after I had been on Universal Credit for a few months, [the DWP] decided to say that they had overpaid me [tax credits] and I owed £300. So now, they’re taking £49 a month off me for that as well.

[So that’s] £49 [taken out each month] for child tax credit debt, £40 for advance payment and £20 for arrears. Not much left at the end of the month once I’ve paid my bills and gone shopping. Only have a little bit left. If my girls need anything, I can’t…do it. Once that little bit of money has gone, I’ve got to wait another month again. The only other thing I get is child benefit, but that is £34 a week. That goes on the stuff like I need like the gas and electric. I can’t give it to my girls. Girls are [aged] 17 coming up and nearly 13.

[The DWP never contacted me to negotiate deduction amounts I could afford]. Oh, no, no, no. They just tell you. They don’t ask. They don’t discuss it with you. They just tell you.

Continue reading

Intentionally homeless with kids? Council will house the kids but not you – ie, you’ll be separated from them. The hell with this.

This does my head in. It should do yours in as well.

I spent an hour this morning interviewing a young woman who has three kids under the age of 12.

She was evicted from her flat at the end of last year for rent arrears. I have a letter from her council to her MP which says the council is likely to find her intentionally homeless, because of those arrears.

The young woman believes that the council has found her intentionally homeless. She has no fixed address, so she isn’t sure where any post advising her of her situation is going, or if it is being posted at all.

She’s sofa-surfing with her three kids at the moment – sometimes at a friend’s place and sometimes at her mother’s place. Her mother is in temporary accommodation herself and has eight family members in the flat with her. Two of the school-aged kids are sleeping on airbeds with their grandmother in the grandmother’s room. The older child sleeps on the floor in a room with two others.

At the end of that letter is this sentence:

“If [name removed] is found intentionally homeless, then the Housing Options team will not assist her into alternative housing and will only give her advice and support to find her own accommodation. A referral will, however, be made to Children’s Services in respect of the welfare of the children”:

In other words, people who are found intentionally homeless risk having their children removed, or, at least, having their children housed away from them. What a threat that is – and to so many people. So many people are evicted for rent arrears these days. So many women tell me that they are terrified that the council will remove their kids if they can’t find decent – or any – housing for them. Getting evicted and finding yourself without a roof is bad enough. Now, homeless people believe they risk losing their kids if they return to to their council to challenge an intentional homelessness decision, or if they approach a council for further housing help.

This shit has to stop. Councils cannot be permitted to threaten women with the loss of their children, just because those women are poor.

This situation is untenable. Let’s have some #metoo outrage about it. Imagine the headlines and fury if some council tried that that sort of threat on with a middle class family, or – gasp – a celeb.

“We’ll come after your kids.” I think not.

Image: the two airbeds on either side of the grandmother’s bed:

Forget #metoo celebs for 5 mins. Where’s the wall-to-wall mainstream outrage and coverage about the violence the austerity state visits on women?

Am pissed off this morning. Here are my perceptions of celeb domination of #metoo and mainstream obsession with celeb suffering as a priority:

I just finished a phone call with a woman who has three young kids and is homeless. They’re all homeless. She and the kids sofa-surf at a friend of the woman’s some nights and some nights with the woman’s mother in her mum’s flat.

The woman was made intentionally homeless by her council for rent arrears – arrears the woman said she didn’t realise were building up, because her housing benefit, which was paid straight to her landlord, suddenly stopped last year. Her housing benefit was stopped, because there was a problem processing a JSA claim she’d made.

She was accused of “getting money from somewhere else.”

Just about every woman I talk to in these situations is accused of “getting money from somewhere else” – which, for so many women I speak to, often means accused of living with an ex, or sleeping with some bloke who pays, or your choice of variations on that charming theme.

This side of things is remarkable, now that I think about it. I’m actually sitting here as we speak thinking about all the women I’ve written about over the years who’ve received housing benefit, or other kinds of state support. It occurs to me that nearly all of these women were accused by a council or the DWP at one point or another of cheating the state by generating extra cash for extra goodies via a man – ie, living with an ex, or with new bloke, or with some bloke nobody had even heard of.

That should tell you all you need to know about the state’s real view of women. We’re all cheating liars who’ll suck anything for an extra fiver for drink and fags – and that goes particularly for women who receive housing benefit. No matter that the state accuses people wrongly. No matter either that some women need extra cash in austerity and that people take the options they have with good reason. The realities of real women’s lives in this era doesn’t matter a damn. Women are seen as graspers, whether we need money or not.

Back to the story. The woman I talked to this morning was eventually evicted and found intentionally homeless. The woman says that the council told her that it would house her kids, but not her. The council would find the kids somewhere to go if social services got involved – but not her. The subtext there was pretty clear, to her at least: she’d be separated from her kids if she went down that line. I hear this story again and again and again and again. I hear this story every time I interview a woman who has a housing problem, rent arrears and kids. “You’ll go one way and your kids will go another.” It’s the threat to beat all threats. It never, ever ends.

Which brings me to my main point. Where is the wall-to-wall #metoo mainstream press outrage for women in these situations? Where’s the non-stop support and mainstream press coverage that #metoo celebrities have now had for months on end? Why is a night out or a trip in a cab with a groping celeb or politician now the only sure way to get women’s issues on the mainstream agenda, especially as a viral and ongoing concern? Reading the mainstream press at the moment – even those publications we’re supposed to rate for maturity and depth – feels like spending too much time on rubbish celeb sites. I know this, because I do both.

Where’s the widespread mainstream press and political eagerness to believe and report non-stop women’s stories of abuse and dismissal at the hands of the austerity-enforcing state? I tell you this – I bet a lot of the women I speak to wouldn’t even be believed by the media and political classes at the moment. They’d be called liars and exaggerators. Even in polite liberal circles, there’d be smirking about the choices made by these women and about women who have children in poverty (for all the world as though women always have a choice). Councils and the DWP would say that women had lied about making rent payments and about missing jobcentre meetings and all the rest. They’d be believed – not the women. There’d be snarky remarks about the feckless and irresponsible poor, and the working-class mother’s terrible and destructive sense of entitlement.

Celebrities are admired by the mainstream and generate web traffic. Women who are throttled by the state in austerity are not and do not. I know this. I get this. I can’t accept it.