These are our homes. 

My mum is in her eighties and she still lives in the home I grew up in. My father spent his final days here and the house holds memories of him. She has all her things around her. For my brother, sister and I it is our family home. My mum loves her home and she would not want to live anywhere else. That home is a two bedroom maisonette on the 11th floor of a council tower block in South London.

My parents were housed by the council as they were renting rooms in a house which was part of Southwark’s slum clearance in the late fifties early sixties.  My mum and dad were one of the blocks first residents. Growing up we knew all the neighbours. The lovely nurse  and her girls down the corridor who we could call on in an emergency. The wonderful lady who was incredibly posh and went on holidays every year.  Parents and children, old and young. We had neighbours from around the world. As my father lay dying a neighbour came in saying ” this wonderful man has prayers being said in every tounge and of every religion”.  My family were part of the fixtures and fittings, with our involvement in the tenants association fighting for the rights of all the tenants.

We fought to get new lifts installed back in the early 80’s. We had elderly people on the top floor who would become prisoners when the old ones broke, which was often. I remember one man who had a serious heart condition who also lived at the top. If he came home and the lifts were out he would have to sleep in his car.  He unfortunately died before we won our case. His death was an important factor in the council agreeing to the lifts being installed.

We had Christmas parties, and Santa would come around and give a gift to all the children in the block. We had jumble sales and fetes. We had ups and we had downs. We were a community and there was help if needed.

So the events of last week, seeing a tower block being turned into nothing more than a bonfire. Well it hit home. The deaths the stupidity of the whole thing. The crimes that have obviously been committed.

Don’t politicise it we are told. This is council housing we are talking about here. The same council housing which has been declining in number ever since Maggie handed over the first set of keys in the Right to Buy Scheme. Nothing more than a tactic to  to gain many more Tory voters. Indeed this was the crux of the “Homes for votes” scandal in Westminster council. We have had regeneration which basically results in gentrification. The accommodation that is left could be filled a thousand times over. There is even more of a need for council housing now as house prices mean that the majority of  people, especially young people, have no hope of buying a home.  Council housing is always political.

Oh I’m sorry, I have just noticed I should of course be saying “social housing”. We live in social housing now not council. I wonder how long the meeting was to think that one up.

However, regardless of what we call it the outcry at these tragic preventable deaths is quite rightly going to have repercussions for a long time to come. Social media is putting on the pressure as usual. And it is social media that has me made me realise something.

The comments I read from so many are of the shock of disabled people on high floors, the elderly in such a block. The lack of fire alarms or fire fighting equipment. The lack of a fire drill. The lack of emergency lighting.

I have replied to many that this is pretty normal. It is what social housing is like. It’s the no thrills every thing on the cheap. It is the Tesco value of housing. It is a limited resource that means people live in the wrong places for their needs and overcrowding is common.  What these very well meaning people did not understand is the acceptance and experience of those living in social housing. The “them and us” that is ingrained in the minds of us in dealing with authority as time and again we see our rights our needs neglected by councils. That councils only respond after we express anger or die. The mindset we have to have if we are to survive and protect our homes from those who want to take them away.

Then we get the other comments. They were all on housing benefit anyway, why should they be rehoused in London? Why aren’t they grateful for what they have? Why should they get luxury flats? Why don’t they just move to Preston? If they were so desperate they would take the first thing going. People should get social housing until they are earning then they move out.  The block was full of illegals and sublets anyway. They will trash those new flats it a disgrace.

It is these comments that have made me actually stop in my tracks. Not just because they are basically uncaring and unsympathetic judgemental and racist. But because I realised that those for who social housing is not their home know very little about the social housing experience. It suddenly dawned on me that the term social housing brought to mind Social workers, Social Security, Social invisibility. The belief that the only good people are those who own their houses and those who can’t must have some kind of individual fault. They are lazy, scroungers, good for nothings, immigrants, illegal, criminal. They are Benefit Street.

They seem to want us to be the cap doffing serfs who should be grateful that the Lord of the Manor grants us a hovel and a bag of coal. We should be thankful that our lives are controlled by our Local Authority which in this case was deaf to the voices of the Grenfell Tower community and indifferent to their suffering. .

Social housing should be available for the nurse or the firefighter or the teacher so they don’t have to work second jobs or visit food banks as they struggle to pay the mortgage or overpriced rent. For the veteran, the single man, the homeless.  It should be something to be proud of. To show the world that this country takes care of all its citizens. It should not be stigmatised as there are many great great people who have been nurtured and cared for in the centre of a council home and have gone on to great even historical things.  We need to stop decanting over a thousand tenants from their homes against their will and using the land their homes were on to build luxury apartments and only seventy nine social housing units. We need to stop councils voting to omit affordable housing on new developments, such as the project around Battersea Power Station.

It is not a gift nor a disgrace to be given a flat next to luxury apartment when your home has been burnt out. It is not disgusting that these people are being re housed in the posh end of Kensington. It is not unfair to those who work hard that they have been given social housing , although many still believe that they are being given million pound flats each.

Now we have the evacuation of hundreds of people from dangerous buildings. Flats, hospitals, hotels all worried about cladding. The cladding which gave the impression that life in Grenfell Tower was ok, that it would disguise the poverty, the injustice , the social stigma of the block. So that it would look nice for those nearby. As if it were an invisablity cloak, hiding from view those who have been forgotten anyway. Dehumanised by terms such as immigrant, Muslim, single parent, disabled, black, unemployed, mentally ill, white working class, benefit scroungers, uneducated, lazy, apathetic. Abused by the papers who sell to those who only want confirmation of their views. Those scared by the thought that their world is falling away. Those fighting against equality as they have the most to loose. Now the residents of Grenfell Tower have been gassed and incinerated.  I don’t think I have to spell out the similarities here. But don’t call for patriotism when that blackened shell of a building incorporates all that was fought against in World War II.

I think we need to drop the term “social housing”.  Why don’t we call them “affordable homes” or “sensibly price homes” or “rental homes”. Take away the terminology that so strongly  brings to mind those negative concepts.  Call them homes. Because that is what they are. Homes.

I have also realised due to the type of home I live in I am a voiceless one. A expendable existence. Someone who should not even live in London, my home city that I was born in and grew up in and which I love. I should be on my knees in gratitude. Don’t get me wrong I feel very blessed I have a home that is large enough for my family and in an area I love. But this is one of the richest countries in the world. It needs its cleaners and porters, it’s shop staff and it’s waiters. The minions who work to keep the city and the country and the economy going. It needs to realise that the people who live in social housing are not all on benfits. They are not all uneducated lowlife trash. They are humans and no matter what particular situation they are in at this present time they deserve a home. The social cleansing that is happening will mean there are no homes for these people. They cannot commute as wages are too low. What will all those who have moved into the once vibrant working class areas do when the working class are no longer there?

This crime against humanity, witnessed by all through the screens of the phones that captured the horror, almost had to happen. It was enevitable when the companies lied to councils about the cladding they used. When councils ignored the tenants. When the country became obsessed with home ownership. When lies became the truth. People cannot unsee the fire. Cannot unhear the screams. But those voices that once were silent are being heard.  I and many others  intend to make use our voices, talents abilities and passion in whatever way  we can to shout above the noise of inequality.  Those voices need to be heard. These voices will no longer be igonored. For the memory of those who can no longer speak and to stop anything like this happening again.

Social housing , social cleansing 

I can’t stop thinking about them. Knowing death was coming and not having a way out.

The community that is now doing so much because it could do so little will be haunted by the screams and the sights of that night. A video shown on TV today has a nano second of noise and I heard a screaming child. A second of sound now lodged in my head I cannot unhear. I sobbed when I heard it, real uncontrollable sobs. What the hell are those who heard that for so long, longing for silence but dreading it too, going through?

We are all skirting around the numbers involved, the near impossibility of anyone from those high floors escaping, the forensic nature of the recovery. We are sharing pictures, each face a loved one, a life, a world.

Being accused of politicising this event it beyond stupid. It was political from the moment Margaret Thatcher handed over the keys to the first council house sold under the “right to buy” scheme. Every one of those houses was lost to the social housing stock and not replaced. Those who were fortunate to have been rehoused in the post war building boom took a socialist idea of decent homes for all and turned it into a quick buck for themselves. I can understand that in a way. Don’t like it or condone it but it made some folks quite a bit of money so that obviously benefitted them and it was the beginning of the personal enterprise looking after number one era. It was also the real start of an obsession with home ownership.

Affordable rents bad, extortionate mortgages good.

I grew up in South London on the 11th floor of a tower block. I have never lived in a house in my life. I have been fortunate enough to have council accommodation all my adult life. I have lived in overcrowded accommodation with my family but was blessed with a move to a home with bedrooms for my children and room to live. I cried when I moved in. I cried tears of joy for having space for my children.

I did try to buy around 1996 but it fell through.  I was pregnant at the time and I dreamt of giving my baby a house to live in. But things did not work out and when we were in a position to try to buy again prices were beyond us. In 1996 we were looking to buy a house for £50,000 ( three bedroom). The same house now would be in the region of £250,000 to £300,000.

There is no hope my children will get a council house.  There are not enough of them and the housing stock there is either from the big build of council homes post war or new builds.  The new builds arise from regeneration. That basically means you look at a housing estate and the land it’s on. You think we could make a fortune from that land. So we will neglect the homes on it. We will call the unsafe or open to criminality. We will move a succession of temporary tenants in so communities are weakened and then we will say we are knocking them down and you will get a new home. We will do  a deal with a building firm you can have the land to build private accommodation you can sell for stupid amounts of money but just build some social housing for us. Then deals are done, the number of social house gets less as affordable ones are put forward. Eventually the thing is finished. The character of the area is lost, communities lost, families rehoused all over London and outside. A few get nice new houses but the rest are sold to overseas investors first. They let them sit empty or rent them so we have no people or transient tenants. And coffee bars and artist spaces and water feature abound in a gentrified environment that the locals can’t afford to use.

It is social and ethnic cleansing basically. We only want those who can afford to pay living in these new up and coming areas. They were ok for council tenants whilst they were shit holes but now it has a tube link why should they live here?

So housing stock goes down and waiting lists go up.

And we then get oh we are doing up your area so we will refurbish council stock on the cheap. So it is more appealing to the more wealthy who live here. We get the choice between fire resistant cladding or non fire resistant which is a couple of quid cheaper. We get the voices of the tenants drowned out by the you should be grateful you have a council home brigade. The I’m getting a nice little earner out of this so shut up people. The I’m going to make a killing out of this folk. Yes you did. You have made a killing of an untold  obscene number of deaths in a tower block that was nothing more than a death trap.

What has got me has been those well meaning people saying they are shocked there were no fire drills, no extinguishers, no emergency lighting, no sprinklers.

No this is social housing not office space. Living in council accommodation all my life I have never once lived anywhere with those fire safety measures. After previous fires recommendations were made to fit sprinklers but that report and recommendation has been sat on by the Tory Government as it may deter investors who wanted to build houses.  Also to fit it into social housing already standing is expensive.

So we have some of the most vulnerable and poorest of society living in overcrowded and unsafe conditions because of this housing lack. Children and elderly living on the highest floors of a building. In small flats crowded with family paraphernalia. All combustible, all hazards in a smoke filled room, all toxic when burning.

All of these people were trying to get their voices heard saying  that the refurbishment was being done badly was ignoring safety and that it would take a major incident before people took notice of them. They were right.

We have now homeless people who do not know where they are sleeping. People who have lost every single thing they owned except what the stood up in. We have people walking the streets in search of the missing. We have those who have died yet to be found, possibly never known.  We have a mental anguish not only of the community but of fire fighters, police, emergency crews, volunteers, children, adults all in need of support and counselling coming from mental health services again so underfunded for so many years it is almost piecemeal. We have people working twenty four hour shifts, coming in on days off as cuts have meant they cannot be replaced and they have not has a pay rise in years.

We have an event  that is now etched into societies consciousness  so deeply it will never be forgotten. We have those voices who begged to be heard now being heard loud and clear throughout the world. We have a shell of a building that will come to symbolise austerity, neglect and the de-humanising  of the poor, the immigrant, the disabled by the government and the media.

We have a Prime Minister who cannot walk among the hurting community because of safety reasons. Yes I can see why you did not speak to the people Theresa.  You don’t know how to as these are not your normal calibre of conversationalists. These are the everyday people you clam to represent. You don’t know that these are some of the finest people you would ever meet. You are afraid of them like a child who has broken an ornament is afraid of its parent. You know you are guilty but you hope you can sweep the pieces under the rug and no one will notice.  We have not only noticed we are sharing information on what you and you like have done.

I can’t help thinking of the money avoided by the Duke Of Westminster by using loopholes to avoid inheritance tax. The refurbishment of stately homes such as Buckingham Palace and the home of Mrs Reece Mogg. I can’t help but think of the money you have given away in tax breaks and to the banks and the way you imposed austerity on all of us.

I can’t help but think of all the new social housing these millions probably billions could build. How many wage rises, safety checks, emergency services, sprinklers this could provide. And how instead of doing up the home of someone who has never had to consider how she will pay the rent we provide safe plentiful cheap affordable rentable housing so all families in this country can call home.

And safer cladding would have cost five grand.

There are so many angry people now, smashing keyboard keys, organising marches, spreading information on fund raising and donations. They are calling for answers and justice. It should be swift in coming and compete. No scapegoats and passing the buck we want to see people loose jobs and not be put in in position power again. We want this so those in authority will never silence the voices of those who are struggling to be heard, cut corners and scrimp on safety and who want to destroy the very nature of London by cleaning out all of those who can’t afford sour dough bread.

The next few days, weeks, months even will be filled with names and faces of those lost. Children who have died needlessly. We will see the grief of a community. We cannot forget them and move on to the next story. We have to support them and support the thousands of people who do deserve safe homes  to live in within the areas they were born in, moved to, raised families in.

But most of all we need to change the Government as soon as we can. This one has failed and failed badly and whilst they are in power our society will never be a fair and just one. The people have awoken, their unity will win their voices will be heard.

For those who have lost their lives May you Rest in Eternal and Everlasting Peace

IMG_3631

 

Mirror – May chief of staff sat on report re fire regulations

Express – fireproof cladding would have cost £5000 more

Independent- gov housing regulations tantamount to social cleansing

An intensifying and elite city

The Grenfell fire is political

Just giving crowdfunding – Grenfell Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is Theresa May?

We have seen today the unbelievable horror of the fire in Grenfell Tower. 

The death toll will rise and families will have been lost. The community is amazing and the love being shared is quite moving. 

I live in South London and my aim is to donate what I can and to fight for a independent enquiry. 

However, I have to say one thing.  Jeremy Corbyn has made a statement and said today was for focussing on the event, the people, the suffering. Tomorrow was for questions. The interviewer pushed him on these and he answered that yes if ministers had failed they should be held to account and cuts in emergency services were unacceptable.

He has been said to be politicising the event. But we have to.

This event was predicted by the tenants and resident  associations for some time. The warnings and calls for help were ignored. The community and residents today talk of threats, social cleansing, the cladding, bad advice, failed alarms. People are in shock and are angry.

There has to be an independent enquiry. This has to be investigated by those not influenced by connections to anyone who may be involved in this event. 

However I have been amazed by the complete lack of any appearance of Theresa May.  During the general election when we had the appalling terror attacks we had, quite rightly, statements from Theresa May (although during an election and considering the issue it would have been better to have all three leaders present in my view). The podium was brought out and full media coverage given. 

Yet today, no podium. No speech. No Theresa. 

I can only conclude that this is due to several reasons. The general election is over. The incident happened in a social housing block. A lot of the residents came from black and ethnic minorities.  The Tory government did not act on the findings of the enquiry into the fire in a block in Southwark to install sprinklers in tower blocks. They have sat on this for years. They messed up.

She could not go and visit the area I grant you because I really don’t think she would be welcome. 

But at a time of grief for London and I am sure around the country she has failed in her duty as Prime Minister.

This disaster need not have happened and if we don’t look at the politics of social housing, gentrification, cuts in essential services and the failings of cabinet members to do their job and the response of Theresa May today then we are doing a disservice to the people of West London.  We also accept that we are putting thousands of people in danger. 

I think that she knows that this is not going to be allowed to happen. 

Going to uni 

I am in the process of writing a personal statement to apply to study sociology in September 2018. I like to get things done early.

Therefore obviously I was only voting for Labour as I was hoping to save myself a lot of cash. It’s amazed me how I have seen comments about young people only voting to get free stuff. What you mean like the free university education you got then?

I digress.

I have always had a touch of the sociologist about me. As a child I knew my world and the world of Ladybird books, adverts and Terry and June was so different to mine. My conclusion was I must be undeserving of such a life or that I did not fit into society.  Eventually it developed into a deep pride of my ethnic origin and my class and found ways to be better than them – the middle class and the Posh Lot. Them with their Gardeners Question Time and letters to Points of View.  Laughing and ridicule were the key weapons. They would never understand or have what we have no matter how mockney they became.

But secretly deep inside I wanted to be like them. I wanted to live in a Ladybird world, the advert world with all problems being solved by having clothes that were whiter than white and a house smelling of shake n vac. The accepted, respectable and oh so British middle class life with its middle class gardens and middle class problems.

It is all a lie of course. That world of adverts, film and television. The sexist racist backdrop to my 70’s childhood is shocking to my adult children. The dream of the perfect home the perfect life is a mirage and is now the subject of ridicule. it is how the society I grew up in has change so much that I love to investigate.  How did the LGBT community, trans gender issues, same sex marriage become integral in society when I recall the 80’s, clause 28 and police officers wearing gloves to search gay bars in case they caught AIDS.  I look at the inequalities faced by people of colour after recalling the National Front marches passing my home and the constant mumble of racism from the lips of neighbours, friends and the media. Then I look at the most ethnically diverse House of Commons ever with the most women MPs as well. Politics, oh my gosh politics. I mean that alone is a reason to study sociology.  That is my inspirational for turning my lifelong hobby into a profession.

I should have gone to uni years ago but really it was not expected of us.  Uni was for others.  It was not for me.  Not then anyway, not at any other time in my life. However it is now and my excitement at just applying sometimes make me just make a little happy noise and punch the air.  I don’t know if I will get into my chosen university.  I’m aiming high but if you are going to do something after waiting thirty odd years to do it you might as well. If you are aiming to have the most impact on the inequality and misinformation about the causes of the issues we face in society then it is necessary.

It sounds quite arrogant in a way. Waiting until this late in life to enter a profession and sound like I am going to be the saviour of the world.  The thing is I have always told people that one person can make a difference. We recall individuals who have stood out, suffered persecution and succeeded.  Every change in society I have spoken about comes from the spark, the passion, the anger of an individual who inspires others to form a movement.  So I should have a mindset that I can achieve what I want to achieve.

The thing is I have been inspired to do this now because my social media comments and posts about politics re lit a spark inside me. Following Jeremy Corbyn these few years to eventually see the election results and the belief expressed by many he will be Prime Minister, well it shows you what an individual can do and can inspire.   I don’t think any of us have seen such a coming together of individuals, a unity of spirit, a desire to achieve.  If nothing else this political rollercoaster has already changed lives, people doing things they never dreamt they would, finding talents they never knew they had, showing a power that was kept from us for so long.

As a sociology student I will be looking at language and the power it holds. When you speak to people about society there is a consensus that “nothing will change” or “well we can’t do anything”. Like most things in society it is the innocuous that holds the most power.  I think the election campaign has shown how those statements are now defunct, powerless, and that frightens the powerful.  I for one won’t be saying them or leaving them unchallenged. I am making a major change and I am hoping that I won’t be the only one.  After all, society changes and we as part of that society we can direct that change.  If you doubt me, just watch Love thy neighbour or the Benny Hill Show on YouTube and you can see I’m right.

 

‘A matter of life or death

IMG_3725I said that this election was a matter of life and death to someone the other day. I was accused of being over dramatic.

I thought for a moment am I? Am I making everything more important that it really is?

Then I thought of the NHS. There already are signs of privatisation. Posters inviting you to pay £30 to see a GP and letting us know who they are now managed by. The underfunding which is being used to say we can’t cope with the budget of the NHS. Demoralising staff with derisory pay rises and leaving EU citizens who support our medical services unsure if they will be able to stay.  I thought of the ten minute appointments I have at my GP, the lack of mental health care, cutting back on diabetic test strips because government subsidy has been removed.

I then thought of ESA and PIP payments.  I thought of all those people who have died after being declared fit for work.  I thought of the mental anguish of those who have to go through assessments. Like me.

I thought of the terror attacks we have seen in the past few weeks. I thought about the cause of these attacks. The complete mess that has been the military action in the Middle East and the illegality of such action. I thought of the young Muslim men and women who feel alienated from our society. I thought of Saudi Arabia and selling them arms whilst preventing publication of a report on their links to terror. I thought of the cuts to essential services such as the police and fire-brigade.

I thought of the concept of using your house to pay for social care which basically results in those who want to give something to their children thinking a better option for them is to die rather than have the social care.

I thought of the cutting of winter fuel allowance and the deaths from hypothermia this would result in.

The free school meals which for some are the best meal they get.

I thought of the rising homeless population and the lack of good cheap housing to keep people safe.

I thought of those scared by childhood abuse by those in the files that were lost.

I thought of the death of the Duke of Westminster and all the steps he had legally  taken to avoid his son and heir paying billions in inheritance tax. Enough to nearly clear the NHS deficit.

I thought of Trident failing tests but this being hidden and the weapon which  cannot be used as a first strike as it is a deterrent. The millions that would die in a nuclear exchange which no one would win. That reminded me of the instant “yes” from the Prime Minister and the cheer she got for that and it made my blood run cold.

So yeah, basically I am not being over dramatic.

That is  why I am going to #votelabour on Thursday. If you are registered to vote please use your vote as well. Every one will count in this election and there has never been such an important one before.