Welcome to my council estate. You're going to hear a lot more from it.


I'd like you to meet my council estate. 

It's not the one in the photo, before you ask. As if I'm letting the world know where I live. But it's not unlike it, and thousands of others up and down the country. And you'll be hearing a lot more about my estate. Because every Sunday at 11am, you're going to be getting to know it, and what the people living on it really think, a little bit better. 

Welcome to the estate

Me and my family live on one of the poorest (former) council estates in England. It's now made up almost entirely of social housing. The government collects data on each little bit of the country. These are called Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs). In short, it breaks England down into areas of small populations and/or postcodes, and then collects information about how rich or poor they are and what standards of living are like.

There are 32,844 LSOAs. Our estate is one of them. It's in the top 4% (top 1,300) for older people poverty; top 5% (top 1,700) for child poverty; top 6% (top 2,100) for income poverty and top 8% (top 2,600) for housing poverty. To be honest, the only reason it's that high on those measures is that one, slightly better-off street is included. We're almost a straight 50/50 split of white and ethnic minority people, as well as having a wide age range of residents.

So, we're all a bit fucked round here. And I think our little estate in south London is a good example of life for many people in the UK. So, every week you're going to be getting a column from me called The View From A Council Estate

I'm going to be talking about the major stories, and if/how they really affect people at the bottom of society. I'll also be highlighting the stories that do hit people on estates like mine but that the corporate press generally ignores. In time, my friends and neighbours will hopefully be sharing their thoughts. Plus, I'll be telling you what's happened on our estate over the past seven days. And the whole thing will be wrapped up in language that everyone can hopefully understand. 

Now, let me make several things clear from the outset.

Missing voices

I'm hoping this weekly column will be unique. Because we have a problem in both the corporate and independent media in the UK. And it's that the poorest people's voices are rarely heard. Sometimes, we're asked our opinion on things for segments on TV. Or we're interviewed for an article online or in print. 

But actual poor people writing regularly for the corporate or independent press is almost non-existent. The pages of the Guardian, for example, are littered with people like Owen Jones - middle class but speaking on our behalf. Or there's the odd working class 'done good' columnist. Then, most of the independent media is filled with people either doing what Jones does (but just a bit more out-there with a touch of 'luxury communism'), or people claiming to be "working class".

Paigons

The "working-class" independent media journalists are not my idea of working class. They may come from old-fashioned working-class families. Or, they may not earn that much - so think they're somehow 'poor'. If someone wants to tell me how many of these "working-class" independent journalists and their families get more money from social security than they do their actual work (like my family does), then I may change my mind (people like Alex TiffinCharlotte HughesRachael Swindon, some of my Canary colleagues and others being exceptions). 

But I won't have to change my mind, as there are hardly any of them. However working-class most of these independent journalists claim to be, they're still completely detached from the reality of the lives for the UK's poorest people. It's because they're not currently living through poverty and hardship. So, like Jones and the Guardian, they're just spying on us through their windows; making money off our misery. This also points to another problem I have with the idea of 'class'

What does "working class" even mean?

The term "working class" is, for me, too much of a catch-all phrase. It still holds relevance in terms of political and social science. That is, real change in the world will only happen once all the working classes collectively bring it about. But until that point, "working class" is somewhat dead as a word to describe the poorest people.

Social grade is a far better way of grouping people's lives. It allows the differences between households on estates like mine to be recognised, while still having an overall working-class group. In short, social grade is broken down into four categories:

  • AB: “Higher & intermediate managerial, administrative, professional” jobs.
  • C1: “Supervisory, clerical and junior managerial, administrative, professional” jobs.
  • C2: “Skilled manual” jobs.
  • DE: “Semi-skilled and unskilled manual" jobs, "unemployed and lowest grade” workers.

So, the working classes would be C2 and DE; middle classes C1 and some people in B, and upper classes A. This is a broad spectrum, and your own social grade depends on factors like educational qualifications, access to healthcare etc.

One estate, lots of experiences

The point being, on my estate there are people in different social grades with different life experiences. The family on the row to the back of mine has a husband who's a postman, a wife who also works and children who are studying A-Levels. They also spend much of their time preening their garden in their bought council house; a hedgerow'd affair that effectively shields them from the rest of the estate. Make what you will of that. 

Their experience of being "working-class" is nothing like my family's. We rely on social security, my partner can't work due to ill health and my work on top of my full time unpaid caring would be considered 'gig'. We're not the same working class. They're social grade C2. We'd be classed as E. But the other family is the exception to the rule in these parts. 

Daily life

Having a two working people household is unusual; as is having a garden you have the time and motivation to look after. I know some people who work; many don't due to ill health and others due to systemic problems in society.  

So, life for most people on my estate has some running themes:

The police don't come to our postcode unless it’s on a drug’s bust or the regular, badly disguised plain clothed feds who stand out like Trump at a BLM rally. 

The nightly lullaby is the police helicopter.

Political canvassers are usually too shook to door-knock at election time. This makes me happy.

Street signs have been removed so gangs from other postcodes get lost. 

E-scooters or knock-off Boris Bikes are the commonest form of transport.

Drill, Dancehall, Reggae and Afrobeats boom out across the estate. That includes from our house.

There's a curious breed of bird that whistles to each other all the fucking time (if you get what I mean, you get what I mean). 

Little silver canisters are the most common species of fauna and flora on our estate. 

On a more serious note, my mate and grime artist Marci Phonix summed a lot of the serious, institutional issues facing the poorest people in society (a lot of who are black) in his recent cut Everyday:

Shitting in your own toilet, not on your doorstep

But there's something else quite common - and one that many people on estates like ours up and down the UK will recognise. 

It's that generally, people don't shit on their own doorstep. There are fights. People row. Gossip is a full-time occupation. There's several fat, racist old men and their female counterparts. But generally, when the shit hits the fan - people stick up for one another. The prime example was the physical confrontation between dozens of residents and terrorist police who were raiding a Muslim family's home. 

Crime against other people on the estate is generally low. If you're a 'head' around here, you're safe. It's one of the greatest pieces of middle-class spin that council estates are hotbeds of danger and trouble. Sometimes it kicks off, yes. But it's generally not troubles between residents; except those fat, racist old men and women.

That's not to say out estate doesn't have its problems. 

Just surviving 

Two of the biggest issues are the lack of community organising, and also how gossip can turn into abuse of people. But it's endemic of the system and other estates. The poorest people in society are so ground-down by life that they end up being caught in an ever-spinning wheel of problems. And as a collective, everyone then suffers. 

That old-fashioned idea of council estates being communities with beating hearts doesn't exist like it used to. Gone is the 1970's chatting over the chicken wire fence; the meeting in the local pub; the trade union organising and the street parties. This is individualist, corporate capitalist 2020, after all.

People still say hello to each other. In times of crisis people will support one another. But generally, people live in their own worlds and small circles of friends. I know several people on the estate who are really isolated due to ill-health, old age or personal circumstances.

It is, of course, what the system wants: us to be so consumed by just surviving that we don't have time to fight back - and often end up fighting among ourselves and neglecting each other.

Smashing stereotypes 

But opposite to this is the fact that it's the youngers on the estate who sometimes buck this trend. You know the ones: the kids who shot for a living; wear hoodies and sliders with their bloody socks pulled all the way up; ride e-scooters; listen to Drill and think nos or Redbull is a decent breakfast. 

Or rather - the middle classes and media would have you think that's all they're good for. On my estate, they're generally respectful if you respect them back; funny and articulate; some are fyah rappers and singers; most know the world is fucked and ultimately are just trying to survive. Most of them are in no way stupid wasters - and quite often are politically and socially switched on. They know they can knock my family's door if they need help. And often have. 

All these people are the voices that never get heard. The view on council estates and the people who live on them is usually wrong. And it's often manipulated to suit classist political agendas. So, my weekly column will not only redress these imbalances, but also aim to let you listen to what actual council estate people think about things.  

Do you want an idea of what to expect?

(Not) my kind of news

Let's deal with the news that a Tory adviser quit on Monday 14 September. As the Mirror reported:

Boris Johnson's religion envoy has quit over his plan to break international law over Brexit.

Gillingham Tory MP Rehman Chisti, who was the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, quit today said he "cannot support" the PM's Internal Market Bill, which would rewrite parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

And he said backing the bill "would be contrary to the values I hold dearest". 

My kind of news 

Firstly, who the fuck is Chisti? I'm a political journalist and I've never heard of him. 

Secondly, who knew we had a "special envoy on freedom of religion or belief"? REALLY. Who knew? 

Thirdly, Tories rowing with Tories is hardly news. It's partly how we got to Brexit in the first place. As Gav Pauze said on Twitter:

But the bottom line with the Chisti story is that it's a Westminster bubble one. Yes, it sums up how arrogant and out-of-control Dominic Cummings' Tory government is. Really, though - back in the real world, like the one on my estate, I can safely say that if I knocked on every door most people would not have heard the news. And they wouldn't give a shit if they had.

I'm not saying this lack of news knowledge is a good thing. The reasons for this are for another column. But ultimately, most people won't care. And they shouldn't. 

The real story

The real story here is about the corporate press. Firstly, that in its world this is fairly big news. It's not. And secondly, that it's reporting of the story and its bigger sister (the so-called internal market bill) has from some been balanced between both sides of the argument. From the BBC Tory gopher Andrew Marr's defence of the government, to the BBC's always arse-licking Chris Mason's shitty "analysis" - a lot of the media has shown the story to be two sided.

It isn't. The government wants to break the law. I wouldn't mind if it was in the interests of the UK's poorest people. Rip the law up if you want. But it isn't. It's, as always, to serve the interests of the rich and powerful. And our useless media is once again letting the Tories get away with it. 

Meanwhile, for people on my estate - more important matters exist. Like the news that four in 10 older people are not getting pension credits, even thought they're entitled to them. When most of the older people on my estate live in poverty - this is news. And in a different world, I'd be knocking on all their doors, checking if they were getting it - and if they weren't, doing the forms for them. 

Pass through on Sunday

So, that's the kind of thing you can expect with The View From A Council Estate. Pulling apart the bullshit news, bringing you the stories that matter - and telling both like it is, in a way everyone can understand. 

I hope that the column will be a chance to hear different points of view; put across in a way you wouldn't usually see. 

So, until 11am on Sunday 20 September - 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. Excellent. Looking forward to these, Mr Topple.

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  2. I was brought up on a council estate, we were the poorest and we were a big family. I am always suspicious of people writing about / for the working class. I can remember a lot of one-off programs on TV, good ones that had made an impression on me and made me think that things may change now the reality of the way life was for the working class was known, but it just was a case of, 'oh, that's awful, coronation street is on next'. or something like that. But i am worried about about the state of affairs in the UK today, I have never known such a time when there were so many gob-smacking serious life threatening issues all at once,,,,CLIMATE CHANGE, PANDEMIC, GOVERNMENT LAWLESSNESS are the 3 that come to mind...Also, seeing, on TV, the way people risk their lives to get to the UK and hearing some really heartless reactions to this, living in isolation because being near others can cost you your life, knowing that there is no opposition to this government and that democracy does not exist....

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