A decent place to live


I seem to have had something of a ‘home’ themed week in one way or the other, so thought I’d round it off with a few thoughts about more general housing.

In one of the previous teams I worked in, we had a basic line that a lot of the situations and difficulties that were challenging to service users were created either directly or indirectly by poor housing. Mostly the reasons being

  • Inaccessibility (physical disability and a flight of stairs without a lift in the property)
  • Overcrowding (at least two people sleeping in every room including communal areas – I have seen a family of five in a one bedroom flat with a cat – on one occasion)
  • Hoarding (this isn’t just a few newspapers from last week lying around – this is rooms not being able to be entered for the amount that is in them – rotting in some of the more extreme cases)
  • Poor state of repair – bare floorboards, damp, holes in plaster in the walls, broken boilers
  • High rise blocks with lifts that are continually broken
  • Neighbours

And it is hard not to think in political terms about the effect that right to buy scheme and the loss of large swathes of housing stock with the inability to reinvest has had a massive effect on some communities but the way that some housing has been maintained is also shocking.

Some of my biggest battles to date have been with housing officers and departments, trying to hound them into carrying out repairs usually.

Last year I had a particularly frustrating time, working with an elderly man with dementia who lived on his own on a second floor flat. After numerous, increasingly urgent telephone calls to the local housing department, he actually had water pour through his ceiling one day and moved temporarily to a local sheltered housing unit (at the cost to social services rather than housing, of course) in order for work to be carried out.

Cut to a lot of angry telephone calls and the work was completed with redecoration, new boiler etc.

He moved back and was delighted with the newly decorated flat. But I was left, once more, scarred by a battle for resources that are very scarce and the knowledge that not everyone is able to argue their way to a decent basic service.

One of the things that always makes me smile a little (on the inside, of course, and always in an ironic rather than comical way) is when people ask for support for a housing application – only because I know how little difference it makes in effect. Although the move in some London boroughs (it might be the same nationally, but I only know about London!) to online bidding for properties can really disadvantage some people who need to move the most.

I tried to support a family with three generations living in the same household where two of those generations were affected by serious mental illness to get another property so the daughter and her children could move out. To say banging head again a brick wall would be an understatement because with all the best will in the world, if the homes aren’t there, they aren’t there.

There just isn’t enough accommodation for people to live in dignified and healthy conditions and poor housing can trigger so many social difficulties at the very least.

I read this story this morning about a woman who smuggled a baby into the country in order to secure council accommodation and it was just indicative to me of a system that has been pushed beyond its limits and people willing to do quite literally anything to get a place to live.

And with the demand rising and supply falling it doesn’t look like there will be a happy ending and just a means for discontent, anger and alienation to grow. This can, of course, be manipulated for political gain and I think the whitewashing and simplistic ‘single mothers, immigrants etc’ get all the housing, is a means to divide and rule by the right wing press and political establishment.

Everyone would benefit from better quality housing and trying to create an us-and-them culture, apart from not being entirely accurate, doesn’t help anyone.

I know a lot of attempts have been made, certainly where I work, for more links between housing and social services departments but there is still a long way to go on that, because there is a culture of shifting bucks between one and the other that I have seen. But I honestly can’t see the problem of stock being solved in a hurry.

4 thoughts on “A decent place to live

  1. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have a nice flat on a quiet tree-lined street. For years I lived in bedsits in rough areas that were pretty grim. I’m sure this contributed to my mental health problems.

  2. I think that it can’t help but be a contributory factor to be honest – but I’m glad to here you have a little bit of green (and quiet) around you now! (I live on a major road and I don’t think I’ve seen a tree today!)

  3. I know that Reading is moving soon to a choice based system, and one of the concerns that we all had when we discussed this in the CAB was how it just seemed that the most vulnerable people would be least able to take advantage of it.

    You’ll be amused to know that the housing expert who was taking that session noted ‘most of them will have a social worker to help them with the housing application.’

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