The View From A Council Estate: What A Fucking Mess We're In

Welcome to The View From A Council Estate

Every Sunday, I'll be breaking down the big news stories. And I'll also be sorting through other news. The stuff that maybe hasn't made the headlines. But I'll show you how it affects people on council estates like mine across the UK. 

Be warned: no filter, here. This is me, writing how I speak in everyday life. So expect a bit of swearing. There'll be a bit of a laugh (hopefully). But there'll also be plenty of takes that you won't find elsewhere.

Remember: this article is as much about you as it is me and my estate. So give me your views on social media. Use #TheViewFromACouncilEstate. Thank you to everyone who commented and got involved last week. Your feedback was kind and appreciated. 

This week is all about 'the mess we're in'. We've got politicians acting like dickheads. Other politicians and the media ain't doing their jobs at all. And us at the bottom are just trying to survive. 

Let's go.

Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs). 

Put your hand up if you watched this week's PMQs? Then put your other hand up if you thought it was awful? Keep both hands up if you tell yourself every week you won't watch it, and then you do. 

We're a minority. Between 600,000 and a million people watch Politics Live. That's the show which has PMQs on during it. Guessing that the viewing figures for PMQs also include people who watch via streaming and BBC Parliament, maybe 1.5 million tune in for it. Probably an over-estimate. So, that's at best 20% of the total people who watch Coronation Street

Polling found that more people don't care about PMQs (a "neutral opinion") than are positive or negative about it. And it's not really a surprise. 

What a shit-show

I wrote for The Canary about this week's PMQs. The only decent thing about it was the SNP. Its boss in Westminster Ian Blackford got straight to the point. He asked a direct question about the furlough scheme. And then he asked the question again. 

But Labour leader Keir Starmer and the PM Boris Johnson did none of that. The whole thing was a mess. To the 'Westminster Bubble' (those involved in politics every day) PMQs probably came across well. But if your knowledge of politics is picking up bits of news when you can - then watching PMQs must have been like living on another planet. 

Take Starmer for example. He focused on coronavirus testing. But he basically had the verbal two-bob bits. At one point he said:

The point is not whether the children have got covid, but that they have got covid symptoms and then they are off school. The Government’s own Department has shown that one in eight children are off school this week. That disrupts their education. Whether it is covid symptoms or other symptoms is not the point. If the Prime Minister does not see that, he is really out of touch with families and what they have been going through in schooling, day in, day out in the last few weeks. The reality is that losing control of testing is a major reason why the Prime Minister is losing control of the virus. As a result, he is phasing in health measures—restrictions that we support—but at the same time, he is phasing out economic support. Health measures and economic measures are now dangerously out of sync.

Starmer could have just said "Why are there not enough tests? You're making a mess of the country!" six times. Or he could have mentioned the test and trace is disastrous because it's privatised. Instead, he rambled while the rest of us nodded off and Johnson dodged the questions. 

Say what?

I struggled to follow what the fuck Starmer was going on about. So, a lot of the country probably would have, too. This is not because people are stupid. It's because politicians are completely un-self-aware. Just because something sounds good in their head, or makes sense to them - doesn't mean it does for the rest of us. 

But career politicians like Starmer also intentionally speak in riddles. This is because by making us think their jobs are complicated and hard, we should then trust every word that comes out of their mouths. And, do as we're told. 

Where's Corbyn when you need him? At least he repped for us every week.

Anyway. The corporate media tries to tell us the pretend rowing and shouting at PMQs is important. When really it's not for most of us. Why does it do this? Because for the middle classes, politics and poor people's lives are all just one, big, get-rich-quick game. 

Good morning, Owen Jones 

Meet Owen Jones. 'Little Lord Stockport', as my mate Matt Black sometimes affectionately calls him:

He is one such problematic corporate media type. He was on Good Morning Britain (GMB) this week (KLAXON! Don't click that link! Express alert!).

Apparently, Russell Brand called him 'our generation's Orwell'. This is on the cover of Jones's new book. 

Let's do a little fact-check, here. 

  • George Orwell: a journalist and fiction writer who focused on poor people's struggles and how badly governments treated them. 
  • Owen Jones: an opinion column writer-turned non-fiction author who focuses on whatever he thinks will get him attention. 
  • George Orwell: middle-class, but with the ability to amplify the experiences of poor people.
  • Owen Jones: middle-class, but with the ability to amplify his own voice at every opportunity. 

Orwell at least made the effort to write about how poor people actually felt. Jones, overall, puts his own takes on how they feel forward. He, like much of the corporate and independent media class, is a 'carpetbagger'. 

Carpetbagging 

This means:

[A person] trying to become a politician in an area which is not their home, simply because they think they are more likely to succeed there.

It applies to opinion column writers, too. Jones is a classic carpetbagger. Jumping on the issues poor people face because it keeps him on the telly and in the newspapers. Oh, and in book sales of things like Chavs. It's kind-of fine, in some respects. Jones can be safe in the knowledge that most people on my estate wouldn't have the first clue who he is. Nor would they care. Ironic, considering he thinks he knows so much about people like us. 

The media's 'Agent Smiths'

But the deeper problem is there are thousands of Jones's out there. Much like Agent Smith in the Matrix films:

The pages of the Guardian are littered with them. Countless ones write for the Mirror. And others earn a buck from independent media. This means that we rarely hear the actual voices of poor people. It's always the "chattering class" (as my late father called the middle classes) talking about us.

This means that the media and politicians misunderstand our issues. It means that they can push stereotypes about us. And it also means that we're never truly represented in public life. When you have people with no experience of poverty or classism writing in the newspapers and making policy in government, it's no wonder, for example, that in 2021 so many people rely on foodbanks. Or, as Rachel said about last week's The View From A Council Estate:

Politicians can get away with abusing us. Because the system doesn't give us the chance or the platform to fight back. As Gav Pauze summed up:

Flip-flopper-in-chief 

A prime example is middle-class carpetbagger's obsession with social housing. Jones is a classic when it comes to this. In 2015, after Labour's general election defeat, he wrote an article called:

Why Labour must become the party of home ownership

He finished it by saying:

Labour should say it loud: under the Tories, home ownership is becoming an impossible dream – and it is only Labour that can realise the hopes and aspirations of the majority.

The fact that home ownership is peak capitalist thievery is for another article. By February 2018, Jones was still noting the importance of home ownership. But had moved towards us needing more council housing. And by December that year, he wrote that:

More MPs should live in council housing. It’s not meant to be a poor ghetto

Jones goes where the political wind takes him. In late 2015, Jeremy Corbyn had not been in charge of Labour long. The hangover from the capitalist Tony Blair/Gordon Brown/Ed Miliband years was still there. So, pushing a progressive but capitalist line won favour. But by 2018, Labour had stripped the Tories of a majority and most of its members were socialists. So, Jones was pushing council housing as the solution. My 14-year-old step son has more moral fibre and political backbone than him.

But flip-flopping Jones is not the only problem when it comes to social housing. We need more of it, him and others often whimper on our behalf. Trouble is, none of them actually have to live in it. If they did, they'd realise what a mess the system actually is.

Sink estates. But not because of the people that live on them.

These photos are of the front of one of our neighbour's houses. I've used them with permission. They're housing association is Clarion. It's ours, too. And Clarion is the UK's largest housing association. 

This is the family's gate falling off:

Here's the fence falling down and the electricity junction box exposed:

And this may look like an ordinary pavement. But it's actually a wasp's nest under the tarmac on a public footpath:

The council won't deal with the wasp's nest. They say it's the housing association's job. The housing association won't deal with the wasp's nest. They say it's the council's job. The same issue applies to fences that border a public footpath. 

And the fence in the picture? Our housing association changed its contracts a few years ago. Before, fences between properties and gates were its problem. Not any more. It's down to the residents to fix. Even though we don't own the land. If it was a private rental landlord, they would fix it. So, we're left with a problem. Firstly, whose boundary is it? The family on the left or the right? Secondly, the family who gave me the photos are all reliant on disability social security/pensions, except one member of the household. So, to get it fixed, it would have to come out of their meagre welfare income.

Broken fences are one of those things that people who don't live on council estates often associate with them. Like the fly-tipping of mattresses I wrote about last week. But it's not our fault. It's the housing associations more interested in making profit. 

Not just London

A disabled person who lives in social housing in Kent got in touch. They told me about the state of their landlord. And of course their property:

Trying to get the housing association to do repairs and maintenance is a full time job in itself. 

It's because they won't allow us to do these things ourselves. And when the companies that have won the contracts for the jobs send workmen to fix things they are the worst of the bunch. It's due to the low wages they're paid so the contractor doesn't lose money. Half the time they don't turn up, wasting days. Then when they do turn up, their jobs are either shoddy or incomplete. This is because the company bid so low to get that contract. 

For example, my bathroom floor started lifting up due to a leak from my toilet. Mould started to grow under it. The contractor had two failed attempts at fixing it. The workmen refused to sort it as it was 'too hard'. So, they sent another person out (three days wasted). But he couldn't do the job. The housing association told him he needed to fix the carpet on the stairs; bearing in mind I live in a ground floor flat. I ended up having to get a private contractor to fix the flooring. 

But this story doesn't end here. 

They also told me:

Housing had agreed they would pay for the private contractor. They told me to send them the receipt via email. Then, they would reimburse me. I sent them a receipt but even that was a hassle. First they lost my email. Then they told me they had paid me the money back. But they hadn't. Then they admitted they hadn't. So, I had to wait a total of two weeks to get my money back. This left me without food as I had used my food money to pay for the floor.

This is typical of the state of maintenance in social housing. Everything done on the cheap. Zero accountability. And residents' needs put at the bottom, below profit and the bosses of housing association's salaries. 

Con-artists

For example, in 2017/18 Clarion spent £121.8m on "routine maintenance". In 2018/19 this went up by £900,000 to £122/7m. An increase in spending, Clarion would say. But not really, when the inflation rate was 2.48% in 2018. If Clarion's spending had gone up in line with inflation (the cost of everything) it would be £3m more. So, actually - in real terms these con-artists cut the maintenance budget.

Meanwhile, Clarion built just 1,243 new homes in 2018/19. But only 74 (yes, seventy four) of these were social housing. It also claims not to run a profit. That ignores its eight other companies, which do make money. And its top boss earns over £340,000 a year. 

All these figures are available in Clarion's accounts. They're at the bottom of this article.

We need to end the reliance on privately-owned housing associations. And we either need to shift back to councils running social housing, with residents at the heart of decision making. Or, we create a new model. It's one where communities own the housing stock in their area, and run it for themselves. 

I ain't even got the time...

To talk about the scary vision of the future Newsnight put out. Or maybe it didn't...

And I haven't got time to mention coronavirus test and trace cluster-fucker Serco getting a mess left on its doorstep on Friday. In the form of horse shit:

I hope this week's The View From A Council Estate made you laugh/think/offended/sad.

Until next Sunday, take it easy.  

Oh, and if you want to support me writing this (I'm doing it for free) then you can donate via PayPal below. Much respect.

Comments

  1. Re MPs living in council houses: I still can't believe Starmer succeeded Frank Dobson in Holborn & St Pancras.

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  2. The evil Hag created this housing problem with her bargain basement sale of Council Houses, turning some working class voters into thinking they were now middle class and therefore had to vote Tory. A master stroke.!

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    Replies
    1. She did with the full knowledge that any profit would be filtered back in end of life Care Home fees !

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  3. Thank you for a very good read - for once the truth!!!

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  4. Great read it's like you were reading my mind. My daughter is living in a nightmare with Prima housing, last winter her roof ended up on next doors car, and it's got worse since then. The majority of politicians have no idea how ordinary people live or what the inside of a foodbank looks like, they are way out of touch. All of them should be made to live in a B&B on £35 a week for 6 months before they are allowed into parliament. Looking forward to your next blog. Fight the good fight πŸ‘Š

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  5. There is a online private company - OpenRent - that aims to be a bit more ethical than most letting agents and to attract ethical landlords. I used it to get my current place, and I've got a great landlord - problems sorted immediately.

    Definitely worth a look : https://www.openrent.co.uk/

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  6. As a current HA tenant I share your anger, I've lived with extension leads across my kitchen for 9 months to use my cooker, washing machine and any other electrical goods. As a disabled woman of mature years - It isn't easy and certainly not good enough

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