23/11/2012 | By Julie Fawcett, Inside Housing
It’s clear that the squeeze is getting worse and the effects are already being felt. Just spend a day at Stockwell Park Community Trust, where I work, if you want to see the truth.
A young mum, having just been through a horrendous incident of domestic violence has been offered a flat in Manchester. Lonely, confused and depressed, she cannot face uprooting herself from London and the only support network she knows. She has made poor decisions about her life in the past and she is not in a place right now to make any better ones. Legally she is an adult, but she is a child of the state. She is floundering as all the phone calls she is making in desperation to try to get help are drawing a resounding blank.
Her friend is 18 with a five-month-old child. Her mum was 14 when she gave birth – children having children. The results are catastrophic for the kids themselves and society as a whole. There can be no shame or blame – there are babies involved and the mum needs supporting. Seeing a mother being thrown out of a mother and baby unit for rent arrears is like watching the weakest gazelle wandering around the savannah.
‘Failed’ by the system
Another youngster is sitting in the corner. Tiny and ill-looking, she has just ‘failed’ her last employment support allowance interview. She has two children and she can’t hide the tears in her eyes. She blinks them back as fast as she can, hanging her head so no one can see. Sanctioned by the Jobcentre for not looking for jobs hard enough, she tries to explain that she can’t see how she can make it all work. ‘They go to different schools… I have to be there to collect them… I don’t have any help… my mum doesn’t want to know,’ she says. She has come to collect food vouchers and has just eaten our Friday free supper.
A class A drug dealer arrives. Not a single qualification to his name, he is a care leaver diagnosed with mental health issues. He is homeless after being evicted from his flat, volatile and desperately vulnerable. He doesn’t claim benefits, has no address and no key worker. As a care leaver he should be supported until he is 25 years old, but he is all over the place and can’t sit still long enough for anyone to help. He is charming, menacing and childish and has been rejected, banned and sanctioned by all sorts of agencies.
Shut out by age
An older women who has worked all her life sits drinking Lemsip at the computer. She has applied for every job she thinks she might get, however has only been invited for two interviews and neither were successful. She has been reduced to tears by Jobcentre staff and receives no benefits at all. She saved throughout her working life and now, out of work for the first time, she is watching her hard-earned money dwindle. She has paid for the Jobcentre staff’s wages through her taxes and yet they imply this is her fault – as if she has deliberately created her own tiny piece of hell.
Living in the flat she grew up in, she faces the burden of the bedroom tax as her parents – who she cared for in their later years – have now died. She can’t bear the thought of leaving the flat, her neighbours and her memories. She is thoroughly depressed. Being told to take voluntary work when she has supported herself all her life is the last straw. She has attended every available course. She is not wanted by the current workforce, she knows it and it has crushed her.
Fear of the authorities
A delightful young man who has a partner and a baby is in agonies as he tries to sort out his future. He has lived in Britain for 10 years and attended school and college here. His mother has ‘problems’ and while she is legally in the country, he is not. She didn’t bother to send off the paperwork and he and his two brothers have been in limbo, working off the cards to pay rent in private housing and watching the work opportunities dwindling. The mother has not paid her rent, and the young man is distraught. His brothers, who are still young, may be on the street but he dare not inform the authorities – the fear of social services paralyses him. We find phone numbers of groups that might help – everyone is up to their eyes in it.
It seems to me that, for more than a decade, all the cracks were papered over by a generous state and now the wallpaper is peeling, exposing them to public view. The screw is being turned by people who have no idea what it would be like to be in a situation of desperation with no one to turn to and no ‘get out of jail free’ card.
We have allowed a generation without assets to grow up with expectations. The assets they would have received from the state – an education, a secure tenancy, dental treatment they can afford and, in some cases, a job – are not on the agenda any more.
The state in all its manifestations appears to have become one huge police force intent on controlling those in receipt of its remaining benefits.
The dealer sits in front of me while I read him this article. ‘Prison is the best place for me,’ he declares. ‘No one wants to give me a job. No one wants to help me out here. In [prison] I stay clean and fed and they might give me somewhere to live when I get out. It’s cruel out here.’
Julie Fawcett is a housing association tenant and a director of Stockwell Park Community Trust