This late into the autumn of my life I should not have to be writing and working on the human right to a decent home. But I am. Or the responsibility of the organisations of the state not to be the enemies of our own people, but they are.
Stories of what didn’t work can be as instructive in the long run as things that did. So I’m leaving this here, so others might find it one day…
A few times on here lately I’ve alluded to a new idea I’ve been working on, saying I’d be ‘telling you about it soon.’ Well soon is now, and I’d like to introduce ‘Coming Home.’
As you’ll know if you’ve been around this blog any amount of time, one of the core beliefs that has driven the whole of my life has been that having a decent home is a basic human right. And that any society that is failing to ensure that decent homes are being provided is a failing society. We are a failing society by that measure. So I’m going to do everything I can through ‘Coming Home’ to put that right.
I’ve often written about public libraries but not for some time. I have been spending a lot of time in them though lately, as I’ve been writing a book. It’s a book on the 50 year history of Liverpool Housing Trust, one of the ‘Cathy Come Home’ era housing associations and a place where I first volunteered and then worked in myself for 20 years from 1975. No doubt when the book comes out, which will be soon, little hints of what’s in it or long bits of what turned out to be too long to go into it will appear on here.
I’m not writing it on my own mind. My friend and ‘proper’ writer and publisher, Fiona Shaw of Wordscapes is doing much more of the writing than me and also editing the whole thing. But we divided up the bits we’d do and mostly write on our own, getting together occasionally to see where we’re up to.
And I’ve done most of my own writing of it in public libraries. In our grand and lovely Central Library when I wanted to lift my spirits and get going on what felt like a big project. Then most often in my local library at Allerton Road as I’ve settled into the work and enjoyed every minute of it.
In 2014, 13th November was to be #HousingDay. 24 hours on Twitter of stories from the world of Social Housing. I thought it couldn’t do any harm and might even do some good. It had been Twitter that morning, after all, that had led me to two savagely upsetting articles about life in the housing world.
First Aditya Chackrabortty’s story of the millionaire Tory MP forcing tenants on the New Era estate on the edge of the City of London to ‘seek alternative accommodation’ so that their £600 a month rents can be jacked up to four times that. The ‘alternative accommodation’ being most likely several years in a homeless shelter followed, if they’re lucky, by a move to somewhere well out of London. All to add to the personal wealth of someone whose existing riches are well and lavishly documented in Aditya’s brilliant but heart wrenching article.
Followed shortly after in that morning’s Twitter feed by something just as distressing. Polly Toynbee’s article from within such a homeless shelter, in the prosaically but factually named ‘England’s Lane’. It reads like a dystopian and Dickensian tale from a land we might have imagined was long gone, but is right here right now. It reads like Ken Loach and Jeremy Sandford’s classic sixties tale of ‘Cathy Come Home’. Except it’s happening now and it once again sounds as if Cathy never will come home.