3 - CopyThey may have been produced as ten-minute fillers to be screened between the support film and the main feature back when a night at the flicks wasn’t restricted to a solitary movie preceded by a hundred annoying ads, but the likes of Rank’s ‘Look at Life’ series now serve as a portal to a lost world arguably more fascinating than the films they propped-up. Running from 1959 to 1969, the ‘Look at Life’ shorts were shot on top notch 35mm film in crystal-clear Eastmancolor and show a Britain we’re more accustomed to seeing through a murky monochrome lens; as a result, they make the era come alive and are a unique archive of everyday life in the UK at the time. Like the rival series, ‘Pathé Pictorial’, there’s a hangover from the old cinema newsreels in that each short is accompanied by an RP voice-over and a jaunty, jolly soundtrack in the Light Programme fashion; but this merely adds to the period charm. By the late 60s, audiences becoming used to the grittier documentary techniques of television no doubt found them rather antiquated in style, though the visual record they left behind is increasingly invaluable.

From the dawn of talking pictures to the beginning of the 1970s (when the small screen had more or less completely taken over the format), documentary shorts of this ilk were a staple diet of cinema-going, though many of the ‘instructional’ variety eventually found an unlikely home on TV as ‘Trade Test Colour Films’ during the early years of colour television, when they were broadcast on BBC2 in the barren daytime hours. Unsurprisingly, as an established cinematic sub-genre, the documentary short wasn’t entirely in the hands of Rank and Pathé; several other studios specialised in producing them. British Transport Films was another company that provided endless behind-the-scenes profiles of industries and trades a well as focusing on the day-to-day experiences of Brits. One such British Transport short is 1962’s ‘All That Mighty Heart’, the title lifted from the celebrated poem by Wordsworth, ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’. This 1802 ode to London at the crack of dawn is recited at the film’s opening as we see the sun slowly rising over the city and follow the morning rituals of those whose professions necessitate an early start.

The London the film portrays is one that wouldn’t be out of place in a Ladybird book; indeed, the colourful clarity of the capital on a summer’s day uncannily echoes the vivid illustrations to be found in such pages. Bright red Routemaster buses are in abundance, as are the Times crossword-studying gents commuting on the Tube and proper Bobbies in the Sgt Dixon mould; even the fact that the first act of the geezer whose alarm clock signifies his day begins at 6:45am is to reach for a fag and cough his guts up is as much a distant sign of the times as his missus collecting the milk bottles from the doorstep. I myself recently re-cut many of the film’s scenes for a video of my own, accompanying its day-in-the-life narrative with theme tunes and snippets from mainstays of BBC Radio that had been the aural wallpaper for a generation by this time. The likes of ‘Housewives’ Choice’, ‘Music While You Work’, ‘Listen with Mother’, ‘Mrs Dale’s Diary’. ‘The Archers’ and ‘In Town Tonight’ all feature, along with snatches of the Third Programme and Network Three before the day draws to a close with the forecast for coastal waters. I guess nobody who appeared in the film could ever have imagined a day without such signposts, yet even though a small handful of those mainstays cling on into the present day, most are museum pieces in the 21st century, distancing now even further from then.

But we don’t simply visit the usual tourist haunts and famous streets in ‘All That Mighty Heart’; we also observe sporting venues like Lord’s and Wimbledon as well as London Zoo. We also see the suburbs as a pretty young housewife’s progress from her newly-built estate to a newly-built shopping precinct is tracked. She waves off handsome hubby to work from the doorstep as the two of them resemble one of those impossibly-innocent kissing couples on the sleeve of a Sinatra Capitol LP. Then she’s shown beginning the washing before dolling herself up to catch the bus and excitedly anticipating the consumerist ceremony sneeringly described by The Rolling Stones in ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ – ‘So she buys her instant cake/and she burns her frozen steak’ – doing so in the sparkling supermarket that constitutes a vital element of the Modernist master-plan of the suburban shopping precinct, one which looks like it was seamlessly transplanted directly from the corporation architect’s drawing-board.

The sight will be familiar to anyone who can recall ‘Mary, Mungo and Midge’, the turn-of-the-70s pre-school children’s show that depicted life from a child’s perspective in one of the high-rises of that brave new world; everything is so spotlessly immaculate, from the materials that comprise the houses to the manicured lawns and verges surrounding them. There isn’t a sprinkling of litter or ugly graffiti to be seen. This optimistic portrayal of the ‘homes for heroes’ ideal that characterised the first quarter-century of redevelopment after WWII is never better illustrated than in a film from the dawn of the 60s, a time before corrupt councillors were bribed by bent builders to cut corners and erect their shoddy Brutalist tributes to Le Corbusier prior to their multiple faults being exposed to unfortunate tenants via rising damp and mould, or them simply collapsing of their own accord. Within less than two decades, most were bulldozed from the landscape and the great post-war dream of a Utopian Jerusalem in concrete was erased from the history books as an embarrassing episode we don’t talk about in front of the children. How unimaginable all that is in ‘All That Mighty Heart’ – a long way from the few surviving estates degenerating into the crumbling sinks we avoid today.

It goes without saying that it’s an idealised version of Britain, one that consciously overlooks the grinding poverty and social injustices that many members of the country’s population were experiencing at the time it was produced; but it’s not a film intended to highlight such issues, merely to present the aspirational lifestyle that the incoming age of social mobility was to make within the reach of thousands before the window sealed-up again at the end of the 20th century. In its own way, it apes the similarly idealised images of the American Dream that characterised Eisenhower’s USA of the 50s; those images also obscured numerous uncomfortable truths, but proved enduring as a selling point to outsiders looking-in, and as many of the British cinematic shorts of the 60s were exported to the colonies, it was important to uphold a positive image of the mother country.

In my own edit, I inserted clips from a contemporary public information film that encourages a nascent Neighbourhood Watch approach, as a shifty character in a shabby suit is spotted on one of those shiny new estates whilst he tries a few doors of houses with hubby at work and his wife at the shopping precinct. A vigilant housewife dials 999 and a chain of events is set in motion that concludes with the opportunistic thief being apprehended by a police patrol car before he’s even exited the estate. This in itself is as much an image of a vanished Britain as anything in the original film and offers curious comfort that if crime should be noted and reported it will actually be dealt with. Besides, is the vision of Britain as seen in the likes of ‘All That Mighty Heart’ any less idealised than the vision of Britain as espoused by someone like Sadiq Khan, which likes to portray the nation as a kind of permanent multicultural Pride parade? Both visions contain grains of truth, but neither can be said to accurately reflect the attitude of the country as a whole; therefore, we can look back at ‘Look at Life’, ‘Pathé Pictorial’ or ‘All That Mighty Heart’ and genuinely mourn what we’ve lost, because we have lost something, even if it was merely an ideal.

© The Editor

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When the dawn is delayed to the point whereby doubts begin to circulate that it will ever actually arrive, the tendency to turn to quotations from those who lived through – and commented upon – the unique traumas of their own respective eras often proves irresistible as a means of seeking solace. In an age that is currently facilitating the repetition of history’s worst mistakes by wilfully erasing evidence of them, to disregard the wise words of those whose reflections can shine a new (and simultaneously old) light on where we are now is as foolhardy as it is sinister. Take Friedrich Nietzsche, unfairly tarnished with a posthumous Nazi lionisation that would have appalled him. He may have greeted the New Year with the pessimistic – if prescient – observation, ‘Yesterday, the first day of the year, I looked into the future and trembled. Life is dreadful and hazardous’, but he also issued statements that retain the power to speak to modern ears battered by the cynical newspeak of collectivist propaganda: ‘State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies; and this lie slips from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people”.’

As an assault on a long-corrupted symbol of democracy provoked a level of outrage in contrast with the hypocritical dismissal of the damage done to Washington by Antifa and other assorted anarchists on Inauguration Day four years ago, the latest victor’s wheels are set in motion for vengeance as a rich man’s feud feeds the poor man’s ignorance. The increasingly unhinged Nancy Pelosi failed to eject Trump from the White House with the first impeachment farce, so she has now helped initiate – in the best Nicola Sturgeon/Remoaner tradition – ‘Impeachment 2: This Time it’s Even More Personal’. Sharing a somewhat overcrowded bed with big business and big tech, the Democrats have also applauded the decision by their unelected paymasters to bar the (soon-to-be) ex-President from social media, and the frenzied campaign to eradicate all traces of the loser now even echoes the way in which past pop cultural figures to undergo revisionist demonisation have been edited out of history; apparently, plans are afoot to remove a brief cameo by the Donald in one of the ‘Home Alone’ movies. Personally, I couldn’t care less if the whole film was junked, but that’s just the opinion of a cinema-lover.

Anyway, amidst the undignified grave-dancing, further wise words of Nietzsche spring to mind: ‘He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.’ The attempt to quash an alternative to Twitter in the shape of Parler – which has unsurprisingly seen a migration by the more fanatical Trump supporters to its libertarian platform – shows how pushing something underground just creates ghettos that ferment disaffection which can then be cited as justification for another bout of cancel culture. Yesterday, Twitter even demonstrated its Harry & Meghan-like absence of self-awareness by criticising the Ugandan Government for issuing an order to its citizens to desist from using social media and messaging apps in the approach to the country’s imminent election. ‘We strongly condemn internet shutdowns,’ declared the statement. ‘They are hugely harmful, violate basic human rights, and the principles of the #OpenInternet’ – unless you offer an alternative to Twitter or happen to be the democratically-elected President of the most powerful nation on Earth, of course; then internet shutdowns are fine.

With Joe Biden already announcing his Identity Politics agenda to prioritise small business-owners on the colour of their skin – what a healing, unifying force this administration will be – a Facebook ‘friend’ of mine (whose pronouncements I keep in my newsfeed solely for the unintentional entertainment value) upheld the persecuted victim narrative so beloved of the lunatic fringe that now dominates the Left with a fresh statement. Or perhaps she was simply responding to another strand of the Project Fear narrative, one propagated by those whose one-time authority has been so damaged by their own arrogance, avarice and hubris that this is what they now resort to in order to reclaim some of the power they once wielded over the people. They can no longer command our respect, so they have to terrify us into obedience – whether equating the Right with fascism led by ‘Literally Hitler’ or generating the belief that the coronavirus is ‘Literally Bubonic Plague’. Anyway, my FB acquaintance expressed solidarity with our American cousins and was ‘scared for my friends, for POC and LGBTQ folks’ – seemingly only scared for those POC & LGBTQ folks who are beholden to an ideology that controls Congress, the Presidency, the mainstream media, social media, academia, Hollywood, publishing, the Arts, sport, and every imaginable institution. Trust me, my dear – the view’s not great from whichever bridge you’re on; but you’ve got some quite considerable clout on your side.

Things could be worse, mind, like back in the UK. With 12 official reasons for now stepping outdoors – a socially-distanced countryside walk with a cuppa and a friend apparently not one of them – the nation’s favourite soothsayer Chris Whitty is here to bring us comfort and joy. He may look like a 1950s ‘Eagle’ comic prediction of how human beings will evolve in the future, but the No.1 medical Mekon has assured us we can all get back to normal…in a few years. Look forward to it. Meanwhile, as Boris cycles beyond the five-mile limit, his Government has sneaked-in a loophole to its eviction armistice when it hoped nobody was looking. The ban on bailiffs turfing tenants out of their homes that was introduced last March may have been moderately extended, but little attention was given to the caveat that entitles landlords to press ahead with evictions of those whose rent hasn’t been paid courtesy of pandemic unemployment.

As a renter who has often had peace and quiet routinely disturbed by inconsiderate arseholes, I was sympathetic to the reasonable rule that enabled landlords to evict tenants in ‘exceptional circumstances’ such as antisocial behaviour; but the rent arrears of a maximum nine months that also made eviction legit regardless of the renters’ behaviour had been modified during the first lockdown to protect tenants who, through no fault of their own, had been made redundant thanks to the Government closing down their place of employment. However, that modification has suddenly been altered so that the protection for tenants whose arrears since last March had not previously been added to the standard nine months has vanished. If a tenant hasn’t been able to pay rent for more than six months, they are now entitled to be added to the expanding roll-call of Britain’s homeless.

With the latest stats showing 127,240 children are trapped in temporary lodgings and 1,440 households with children are marooned in bed & breakfast accommodation, there have been calls for councils to requisition the country’s considerable vacant housing stock via Compulsory Purchase Orders. I suspect the majority of those children aren’t receiving much in the way of online home schooling at the moment; but it’s not as though they’ll grow up to become Prime Minister, is it? The housing crisis was a boil that desperately needed lancing long before anyone had heard of Covid-19, but the economic and social ramifications of a pandemic are not the responsibility of those whose safety net has been abruptly whipped away by a Government that cannot keep a promise.

‘There are no facts,’ said Nietzsche, ‘only interpretations.’ Interpretations of facts are all around us today, and if facts aren’t available, so be it; we’ll just print opinion and pass it off as fact. It’s so difficult to know who to believe and who to trust that it’s inevitable people opt for whichever account fits their existing belief system. And the disseminators of fact know this only too well.

© The Editor


So, as one Utopian experiment dies before our eyes – i.e. the United States of America – following the first unedifying debate between two corrupt cadavers (and all those hoping Trump cops it are as much a part of that slow death as the man himself), another kind of Utopia gradually vanishes whilst nobody’s looking. This one is part of an ongoing process to erase a uniquely 20th century concept of Utopia from the landscape, and the latest chapter will be underway once the bulldozers belatedly move in to begin a demolition that has been on the cards for the best part of a decade – that of the perennially-controversial eyesore known as the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. Even if this particular precinct isn’t personally known to the reader, it represents a specific shopping experience familiar to anyone born and raised in any British city during the first half-century of the post-war era.

The Elephant and Castle seems to have specialised in retail outlets for a hundred years or more. Before the Second World War, it was a highly-regarded destination for shoppers, nicknamed ‘the Piccadilly of South London’; it boasted several cinemas, a branch of Burtons, and also had its very own illustrious department store, something which – much like malls in more recent times – no neighbourhood claiming to be a leading shopping epicentre could be complete without. However, as was the case with great swathes of the capital, the Blitz laid waste to the locality and Elephant and Castle was earmarked for redevelopment; along with new housing, the planners intended to provide grandiose leisure facilities which were inevitably dominated by that ubiquitous addition to the post-war urban landscape, the newfangled shopping centre complex.

London wasn’t unique when it came to these concoctions, but it being London, everything had to be on a far larger scale than anywhere else. Belonging to a generation of architects inspired by the futuristic – if impractical – cityscapes of Le Corbusier, the designers of Elephant and Castle’s contribution to the concrete jungles of the New Elizabethan Age weren’t short on ambition, even if predictable budgetary restraints somewhat diluted the drawing-board sketches. Opened for business in 1965, the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre shared similar hopes for housing a dozen old streets of shops under one roof as Birmingham’s equally optimistic Bull Ring Centre around the same time. Both suffered from a scaling down of their original vision. Pre-opening hype at the Elephant and Castle may well have boasted of 120 shop units on three levels, but by the time it opened, only 29 were filled; the Bull Ring faced the same problems, with the high rentals there dissuading the old market traders from relocating indoors.

Even a Brutalist enthusiast – and they do exist – would be hard-pushed to make an aesthetic case for the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. It’s a tatty sow’s ear of a building that no amount of tinkering over the years has managed to transform into a silk purse. It has no real architectural shape or form, with the various tacked-on ‘improvements’ having enhanced its irredeemable ugliness whilst failing to improve upon what photographs show was far-from impressive even at the time of its initial opening. As with the simultaneous decline and fall of the neighbouring Heygate Estate – another product of well-meaning but poorly-executed post-war town planning – the Shopping Centre gradually acquired an unsavoury, rather grubby reputation that deterred the big chain-store names from investing in it. However, the one unintended benefit of the precinct being shunned by high-street giants was that it enabled independent traders to plug the gaps, creating something of a community ambience, especially for the area’s notable Latin American population. So, in a wholly unexpected way, the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre eventually became that which it was originally intended as – a community hub for the community that live in the area.

The motivation behind so much of the 1960s housing and retail stock that is disappearing from view with remarkable rapidity was undeniably laudable; if WWII air-raids could be said to have had any positive impact on Britain’s cities, they at least forced councils and elected representatives to address urban environmental issues that had required urgent attention for decades. Not only was there a concerted attempt to improve the nation’s homes, high-streets and road network, but it was a project in which the lives of everybody were included. As with the political consensus that lingered until the arrival of Thatcherism, this hangover from the One Nation approach required to repel Hitler meant the great housing schemes of the era were built to provide homes for anybody in need of one, regardless of social demographic league tables. That so much of this ambitious and brave concept failed to deliver really is something of a tragedy.

Cut corners, cheap materials, shoddy workmanship, poor designs, diminishing budgets and behind-the-scenes corruption all played their part in the collapse of this admirable Utopian operation, as did the almost manic verve with which perfectly sound streets, houses and civic buildings were bulldozed not because they were bomb-damaged or decrepit but simply because they were old and didn’t fit the master-plan. A blend of old and new complementing each other would have been the best solution, but local councils and politicians became drunk on redevelopment and saddled any Brutalist building with the same undesirable label as those that were the worst, most unloved examples of the school – which is why so many of them have gone in the past couple of decades.

The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre closed its doors for good at the end of September; the whole area is to be redeveloped yet again, with the ominous spectre of ‘gentrification’ looming over the locals. Many of the traders that served to give the kiss of life to the Shopping Centre have not been offered units in the emporium scheduled to replace it, but I’m guessing the usual suspects will move in to make its replacement just like every other mall anywhere on the planet. Southwark Council have promised 35% of the dwellings accompanying this new retail hub will consist of social housing, but one can’t help but think non-dom Chinamen, Arabs and Oligarchs are probably already top of this particular housing list. At least the 1960s redevelopments, however much they got it wrong, were designed with ‘ordinary people’ in mind. Today, the plebs have to be content with whatever scraps are leftover from the rich pickings overseas investors at the head of the queue get their hands on.

Many similar heroic failures have bitten the dust this century – the old Bull Ring met the wrecking-ball almost 20 years ago whilst Portsmouth’s equally-ambitious Tricorn Centre (described by Prince Charles as ‘a mildewed lump of elephant droppings’) was demolished in 2004. Love them or loathe them, such buildings embodied a vision sorely lacking today. They may have become – like the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre – distinctly shabby within a very short space of time; but they had character, something that 21st century redevelopment does its damndest to smoothly iron out.

© The Editor


There are times when that most basic human necessity – to have a roof over one’s head – becomes a crisis that demands action. The years following the devastation of housing stock during WWII air raids was one such time, even if many of the dwellings destroyed by the Luftwaffe were poor, insanitary slum residences that had already been condemned. Those homes of similar quality to survive the Blitz staggered on through the 1950s and into the 60s, however unfit for human habitation they might have been; unsurprisingly, most were situated in high-density urban areas and were home to people on low (or no) incomes – the kind of dilapidated hovels often captured on campaigning documentaries of the era, the kind infested by bugs, vermin and rising damp, boasting inadequate facilities, outdoor privies and tin baths in front of the fire.

Whilst the big money went on designing New Towns, the rest of the urgent housing needs were solved by ‘Large Panel System Building’, the revolutionary production line process whereby the components for (primarily) tower blocks were cast off-site and then assembled on-site like Meccano. It was a fast and – more importantly – cheap method of re-housing that those re-housed from Victorian slums understandably regarded as luxurious, suddenly finding themselves in shiny new flats with all mod cons. This was the last gasp of the great – and, on paper, laudable – social housing project spanning the first quarter-century after the War, and it took a disaster to curtail it.

In May 1968, Ronan Point, a 22-storey tower block in Newham, East London hit the headlines when a gas explosion provoked the collapse of one side of the building. Because the block had been open for just a couple of months, only a tiny handful of its apartments were occupied and the death toll was restricted to four people. But the shocking image of the damage done I would imagine sent a collective shiver down the spine of those living in identical flats comparable to the impact the Grenfell inferno had on those whose streets in the sky had also been redecorated in flammable cladding. Ironically, the planning regulations that eventually came into force as a result of Ronan Point have been stated by some as saving Grenfell Tower (opened in 1974) from collapse when it was ablaze. While Ronan Point may have effectively ended the era of the tower block as a solution to a housing crisis, many of those erected prior to 1968 – and those built immediately afterwards, which had been given the go-ahead beforehand – were also riddled with defects reflecting the speediness of their construction and the poor quality materials used.

As a child, I had an auntie who lived on a huge housing estate comprising interconnected low-level blocks of around half-a-dozen storeys; virtually isolated on an island surrounded by busy roads, the estate was nicknamed ‘Alcatraz’ and was a sprawling, aesthetically ugly concrete jungle of a home. It had only been built around the same time as Ronan Point, yet even in the early 70s I remember it seemed to be falling apart, plagued with all the problems that came with the LPS process. My auntie’s flat had the permanent unmistakable odour of damp flowing through it that was as pungent as the stench of piss in the lifts that carried visitors up to her floor. The whole rotten estate was demolished in the early 80s, after standing for no more than a decade. But the failure of such schemes, driven by ambition and destroyed by corner (and cost) cutting, seems to have led us to where we are now. Similar estates that survived were refashioned as a dumping ground for ‘problem families’ and antisocial tenants that nobody wanted living next-door. Social housing became a dirty word.

The news that the Government is to shake-up planning rules and regulations in order to fast-track the desperately-needed delivery of new houses has received a mixed response. Boris Johnson has attempted to alleviate the worries of those who cannot afford to own their own homes at a time when a post-lockdown ‘mini-boom’ has pushed house prices back up to their usual astronomical levels; he stated social housing would constitute a large part of his reforms. The lockdown has exposed not only the fears of homelessness amongst many renters whose landlords have not exactly been sympathetic to their furloughed tenants, but has also highlighted the cramped conditions families have had to endure in order to ‘stay alert’. The fact that the old ‘No Irish, no dogs, no blacks’ requirement is now rightly consigned to history doesn’t alter the fact that many contemporary renters on Housing Benefit already have enough to worry about, still confronted as they are by the ‘No DSS’ bar, which is just as antiquated a form of discrimination, especially considering the DSS hasn’t existed since 2001.

Of course, not all planning regulations were created to thwart and frustrate noble property developers; we’ve all seen the way some homeowners and landlords attempt to skirt around current rules, squeezing extensions into every available space, erecting endless dormers and converting garages into dwellings. Many are concerned any relaxation will be exploited by less benign builders and will push even more into miserable surroundings. A friend of mine rented a recently-built house on a shiny new estate around 20 years back and I remember being struck by the low ceilings and claustrophobic rooms; the small scale of the interior was as though it had been designed to house a family of Munchkins. That experience confirmed to me that the dimensions of new homes were undoubtedly smaller in the same way photographic evidence makes it clear how Mars Bars have shrunk over the years.

The Royal Institute of British Architects has expressed concerns that the reforms could lead to shoddy slum properties, whilst housing charity Shelter is worried social housing will be a casualty of what Labour has called a ‘property developer’s charter’; the proposed changes imply decisions over where to build will be taken out of local council hands and give more power to central government; and it goes without saying that central government will be less sensitive to local issues, risking provoking ‘Nimby’ protests, particularly when it comes to greenbelt land. However, the Local Government Association claims the housing crisis in this country is not due to the planning system but to the fact that nine out of ten approved planning applications given the green light end up not being built. What all this makes clear is that something needs to be done, but can we trust this Government to do it right?

The concerted effort to clear the streets of (and house) homeless rough-sleepers during the lockdown shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to instigate, but it equally shouldn’t take the eventual submission of Covid-19 before it becomes enshrined as official policy that no one should have to sleep in a shop doorway. At the same time, the place we know as home should also be a step up from a kennel. If the new planning regulations lead to a long-overdue building programme reminiscent of the ones that spanned the 50s to the 70s, great; but it is to be hoped the same mistakes made then can be avoided. Having somewhere to live needs to be recognised as a universal human right, but the quality of that living space matters too; the ministerial trumpeting that often accompanies ‘the creation of thousands of new jobs’ can come across as meaningless box-ticking if the nature of the work is deemed secondary to the simple fact the job has been created. We don’t need a housing version of Government coronavirus policy, whereby people are being kept alive whilst simultaneously being denied living.

© The Editor


At the point in the nineteenth century when Britain completed its transformation from a largely agricultural to a predominantly industrial economy, another transformation was all-but complete as a consequence of the changes. Every industry eventually had its own accompanying metropolis, boasting recognisably Victorian town centres resplendent with civic buildings, statues and squares, adhering to a familiar formula that also stretched to housing, encompassing both suburb and slum. The speed with which industry facilitated the urbanisation of the landscape gave the impression such locations were prototypes for the mid-twentieth century ‘New Towns’, as though they had sprung-up overnight, going direct from an architect’s drawing board to land that had previously been little more than mere fields.

The truth was, however, that most British cities had grown organically, at first filling in the empty spaces dividing networks of ancient villages and then swallowing the villages whole, absorbing them into the bigger picture. Although the areas of some cities today retain their village roots solely in terms of the rivalries between different neighbourhoods – sometimes even varying in their interpretation of the locality’s accent – there are others that defiantly cling to a townie’s ideal of village life, complete with the conveniences genuine village living lacks and missing all the inconveniences that come with the country.

A friend of mine once lived in such a ‘village’ on the outskirts of a certain town famed for its production of footwear. Her account of the so-called community seems like an accurate barometer of those who want the best of both worlds. The majority of homes were hidden from view behind high hedges and fences; everyone resident there travelled to and from their castles via the internal combustion engine, so anybody passing through on foot would be immediately suspected of being up to no good. Children playing on the street were notable by their absence on account of so many being dispatched to private schools, and the high price of housing meant anyone born and raised there couldn’t afford to retain their roots in the vicinity, anyway.

Communication between dwellers of these miniature citadels would be limited to sharing complaints about planning applications to build a genuine village necessity such as a shop, i.e. something that threatened to despoil the pseudo-rural facsimile; otherwise, nothing beyond a communal gripe could unite the disparate residents. Once the commute from the workplace was done for the day, inhabitants would retreat behind doors that caused a regular headache for the postman on account of lacking something as common as a number. This ‘commuter community’ was essentially a collection of isolated properties populated by people for whom the substance of the environment in which their home was situated would be restricted to its superficial surface.

All to a man were city expats that had fed into the urban notion of countryside, one that the actual countryside isn’t exactly conducive to. Natives often comment on how new arrivals to rural neighbourhoods tend to moan about sonic disruption from cockerels at the crack of dawn or church bells indulging in Sunday morning pealing; they whinge to farmers about the aroma of manure and view traditional country practices vital to the agricultural calendar as disruptive to the bucolic idyll derived from TV shows wherein smug, moneyed middle-class couples convert decrepit barns into homes possessing all the mod cons their past address possessed, basically transplanting their London life to prettier surroundings with no attempt to adapt to those surroundings at all.

When her house was on the market, it seemed at one stage that my friend’s home would be purchased by a pikey-ish Irish builder bearing more than a passing resemblance to the late lamented actor Brian Glover, a man not known for playing urbane sophisticates. I think the prospect of the upset such a gruff and ‘uncouth’ character – along with his brood of children and grandchildren – would cause her snooty neighbours appealed to her mischievous side, though the exchange unfortunately fell through due to the builder’s eagerness to do a cash-in-hand deal because he didn’t have a bank account.

Fear of the rougher element they imagined they’d left behind in the city bringing down the tone of their new neighbourhood is extended to the locals on occasion by these nouveau-riche villagers. One such local is stable-owner Linda Watson, whose exasperation with the attitude of those who have colonised her village in Cambridgeshire led to her publicly declaring they were ‘up their own arses’ following council rejection of her plans to build temporary accommodation for her stable workers thanks to village opposition. In response, she has tapped into their deepest fears by offering to sell her land to travellers, provoking a further storm of protest in the process.

The plot in question has an estimated value of £350,000 and Linda Watson says she’s already been flooded with calls since she made an announcement which sounds more of a cry for help. ‘I have had it up to here and I want to leave and move abroad,’ she says. ‘I can’t do this any longer. I would be a bastard to offer this land to a family that wants to use the land for stables because the neighbours make keeping horses here a nightmare.’ She does add a conciliatory note, however, by saying ‘I would welcome any villager to come and see me and talk to me and know that I’m not an ogre. I’m just at my wit’s end and I have had no support from the village.’

Relocating to the rural is a luxury of the wealthy, but the relocation is on their own terms; they often bring little to what’s already there, especially if it doesn’t square with their idea of what the rural represents. But in their attempt to remodel the rural in their own image, they’re ironically killing what made it such an alternative to the urban in the first place.

© The Editor


The temporary suspension of collective responsibility within a Cabinet by a serving Prime Minister is not a decision taken lightly by the man/woman in charge; more often than not, the ramifications of releasing the shackles of the party line can give the individual Ministers an appetite for expressing personal opinions that they remain reluctant to relinquish thereafter. At the time of the 1975 EEC Referendum, Harold Wilson may have got the eventual result he wanted; but it’s arguable the left/right divide within Labour that was given such a public platform during the campaign sowed the seeds for the split that did so much damage to the party in the 80s.

Similarly, David Cameron giving free rein to the Brexiteers within his own Cabinet last year continues to threaten unity at the highest level; not only did the result of the EU Referendum cost Dave his job, but it seems to have started a trend amongst Ministers to publicly disagree with one another on a regular basis, something the shaky outcome of the General Election seems to have exacerbated. Theresa May’s weak authority and inability to keep a lid on Cabinet conferences has played its part in the publicised bickering between prominent members of that Cabinet; Brexit remains the most divisive issue, but at the moment one feels as though if one person sat around the table at No.10 didn’t care much for the digestive biscuits provided, the nation would know about it within hours.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is the current target surrounding many of the leaks, accused by one unnamed colleague of trying to ‘f*** up Brexit’ and by another of claiming ‘even a woman can drive a train’ when public sector pay was under discussion. Of course, many of those feeding these stories from Downing Street to the press are rather eager to make the PM’s residence their address for the next four or five years, and the headlines reflect the struggle to topple Mrs May that is undeniably underway. She might hope threatening them with ‘it’s me or Corbyn’ will dampen the jostling for succession over the summer recess; but the hard slog of running a minority administration with a Cabinet of power-hungry backstabbers has the potential to break even a deluded martinet like Theresa May come the autumn.

Another divisive issue that has been around longer than Brexit and may well outlast it is that of HS2. The latest news of the proposed route for the white elephant express has added a layer of irony to a housing crisis in which not enough new or affordable homes are being built. It emerged yesterday that the planned eastern route of the line – from Leeds to Birmingham – will run east of Sheffield and not be served by any new stations in South Yorkshire; using Sheffield’s main city centre station means the route will plough through a newly-built housing estate in nearby Mexborough. The official Government statement claims only 16 of the 216 homes will make way for the line, but sceptical residents don’t accept this; they also question the compensation payments they’ll be entitled to that the Government initially said would enable them to purchase another home of equivalent value in the area.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling bigged-up the scheme yet again in the Commons yesterday and attempted to dismiss its numerous critics by reading from the usual ‘economic benefits’ script that accompanies any project in which people stand to lose both homes and businesses; but when one recalls Grayling’s abysmal performances in his previous Ministerial posts, any reassurances from him are hardly likely to fill those in HS2’s firing line with confidence. The South Yorkshire section of the route was unveiled a year ago, but confirmation of it yesterday prompted Rotherham’s Labour MP Sarah Champion to tweet ‘South Yorkshire will now get all of the disruption of HS2 without the benefit.’

As one resident of the new Mexborough estate that will be partially demolished to make way for the line said, ‘Bear in mind this is the construction of a viaduct that’s going to be 20ft in the sky coming within 10ft of your property, and they say, “it’s okay, your property isn’t one that has to be knocked down”.’ The construction of London’s Westway flyover in the late 60s caused similar damage as it cut a brutal swathe through North Kensington, whereas an entire centuries-old village was obliterated by the building of the Scammonden Dam and Reservoir that comprised the construction of the M62 motorway during the same period. Any project of this nature tends to dramatically alter the landscape and affect those that inhabit it, but such disruption in recent decades has largely been down to accommodating the motorcar; the railways were last the source of such opposition and upset in the nineteenth century.

HS2 was a contentious subject in Government circles long before Theresa May seized power and will remain so for her successor, whoever that may be. The route will pass through upwards of 70 Parliamentary constituencies and MPs have been inundated with demands from constituents to vote against the scheme, many of them Tories. The official Government line on HS2 is currently holding steady, but the PM’s failure to prevent leaks and to gag her most outspoken Ministers at the moment suggests if any issue that divides the public is just as likely to divide the Cabinet, chances are we’ll find out about it pretty quickly. When her position is somewhat perilous to say the least, Theresa May can ill-afford to allow the current state of play to continue; but it would appear she’s already lost the battle.

© The Editor


Around twenty years ago, a friend of mine who was a student at the time we met graduated from university; her degree enabled her to enter the profession she wanted to and within three or four years of doing so she bought a house. The timescale of this progression is inconceivable now, yet it happened to her when this very century was still in nappies (i.e. not that long ago). She was from an unremarkable working-class background – indeed, her family home was on the fringes of an estate you wouldn’t want to walk through on a dark night – and her parents were hardly ‘wealthy’ by today’s terms; they certainly didn’t play a part in her rise from student to homeowner; it was all down to her own endeavours. It struck me when I thought about it that her story is one we probably won’t be told again for a long time. It reads like a blast from a past that is now firmly out of reach.

Sobering statistics aired last week spell out how the climate has changed in such a short space of time. In London, over two-thirds of average earners’ income is now spent on rent. By the time the original scheduled date of the imminent General Election comes around (2020), it’s estimated that first-time buyers will need to be earning the best part of £60,000 a year in order to buy their own home; the current average annual UK wage is £27,271 – though David Cameron can set £25,000 aside to erect a shed in his back garden for the purpose of writing his memoirs; I’m pretty sure an estate agent could market that as a ‘micro bijou residence ideal for a small family’.

Another factor worthy of mentioning concerns the domicile status of many homeowners in this country. In the centre of the capital, 28% of buyers purchasing property don’t reside there, and almost 10% of this country’s entire housing stock is currently in the hands of foreign investors – those who view houses not as an essential roof over a homeless head, but as bargaining chips on the gaming tables of the international capitalist casino. Unlike many other countries around the world, there are no rules in place here to limit home ownership to tax-paying residents of this country. When so much of UKIP and Tory energies have been devoted to scapegoating foreign workers ‘coming over here and taking our jobs’ in recent years, it’s odd that rich overseas homeowners taking our houses without even coming over here have evaded attention for so long.

Amongst all the issues being bandied about as crucial to the Election – Brexit, the NHS, education etc. – for me personally, housing is the most pressing of them all; whilst much has been made of the fact nurses are using food banks, few are pointing out it’s probably because the majority of their income is going on rent. Yes, the Tories made a big announcement on housing over the weekend, but the Government has recently changed public investment in housing from social rent (falling much lower than the market level) to so-called ‘affordable rent’ and ownership schemes. It also intends to put pressure on local councils to sell upwards of a third of their empty homes to draw Housing Association tenants into the Right to Buy project. Currently, for every five council homes sold under Right to Buy, one solitary replacement council house is being built.

At the same time, local councils spent over £840 million on temporary accommodation for the homeless last year alone, which amounts to a 46% increase in just five years. Add the removal of Housing Benefit for unemployed 18-21 year-olds and the cap on the same benefit for those in sheltered housing and it’s plain to see how highly this issue really ranks on the list of priorities penned by the powers-that-be.

Despite a few vague promises, housing hasn’t been at the forefront of the electioneering so far. I suspect the fear of losing votes from homeowners paranoid that their investments will diminish in value should house prices drop has played its part in this criminal neglect by the leading parties, though that simply isn’t good enough. Maybe if the UK was on the same level as, say, Bangladesh, our housing crisis would be regarded as an improvement on past statistics; but as far as the world’s fifth richest economy is concerned, there’s no excuse. Compare then and now – then being the first twenty-five years after the end of the Second World War, when this country embarked upon the most radical programme of public building since the Roman occupation.

Whilst the creation of New Towns, the erection of sprawling council estates and the demolition of slum housing condemned before the war (many of which survived into the 50s and 60s) was a necessary response to the damage done by the Luftwaffe, this key policy of Attlee’s reforming administration nevertheless became a long-term project carried on by Tory Governments led by Churchill, Eden, Macmillan and Home before finally drawing to a close under Harold Wilson. In the space of a quarter-of-a century, a housing crisis was dealt with as consensus politics weren’t affected by a change of colour at the top. The common good was recognised by all. Yes, some of it may have been shoddy and some of it may have left an aesthetic blot on the nation’s landscape, but the motivation behind it was laudable. The housing crisis of the twenty-first century may be down to massively different circumstances, but the need to resolve it is no less urgent, even if few in public office dare to admit it to the electorate.

I know I’ve written about this topic on numerous past occasions, but I find it baffling how housing isn’t at the forefront of the party manifestoes, even if the fact it isn’t doesn’t really surprise me. Yes, it’s being mentioned now that the individual party policies are being unveiled as media events day-by-day, but it’s not exactly dominated conversation in the campaign to date. Other than ensuring British citizens – or subjects, if you prefer – have enough food in their bellies, I can’t think of anything else more important than the right of each and every one of us to have a roof over our heads. Or is it just me?

© The Editor


With this country’s housing currently in the kind of crisis it hasn’t reached since the aftermath of the Blitz, the lack of urgency and action on the part of government often beggars belief. One would imagine ensuring everyone has a roof over their head should be at the top of any administration’s agenda, but what is actually being done? A chronic absence of affordable homes; a pitifully low amount of new houses being built; purpose-built social housing virtually abolished; soaring rents also pricing people out of that market; mean-minded schemes such as depriving unemployed 18-21 year-olds of Housing Benefit – all paint a portrait of remarkable ineptitude and uncaring indifference on the part of our elected representatives.

And into this troubled arena returns the ominous, unwelcome spectre of the kind of landlord who gives landlords a bad name – not quite a throwback to either infamous property tycoon gangster Nicholas van Hoogstraten or the notorious slum tyrant of 50s Notting Hill, Peter Rachman; but certainly one bearing all the old ‘No Irish/No Dogs/No Blacks’ prejudices prevalent prior to the Rent Act of 1965.

Millionaire Fergus Wilson, often referred to as ‘Britain’s biggest landlord’ (having owned over a thousand properties at one point), has hit the headlines due to his attitudes towards certain types of potential tenants via a leaked list of his letting criteria supplied to the letting agents Evolution. This illuminating document reveals he and his company do not want tenants with children under 18, no single mums or single fathers, no tenants on Housing Benefits, no low-income workers and no single adults. That does narrow it down quite a bit; few with little choice but to seek rented accommodation don’t fall into any of those categories, after all. But Mr Wilson obviously has standards to maintain. He won’t accept victims of domestic abuse as tenants either; ‘battered wives’ are apparently more trouble than they’re worth.

As biased and bigoted as that list reveals Fergus Wilson to be, it is his antiquated racism that has made him a target for online abuse. According to this list, one of his other specifications regarding tenants is that he won’t let to – in his own words – ‘coloured people’ because of ‘the curry smell at the end of the tenancy’. Firstly, the assumption that what has long been the country’s No.1 dish of choice is only consumed by ‘coloured people’ is remarkably ill-informed; secondly, to attribute that particular dish as a main cause of damage to his properties when tenants move out suggests his judgement is severely impaired by his prejudices.

A friend of mine who rented out his former home when he couldn’t sell it experienced the unpleasant reality of trouble tenants, who left the property a tip when they did a runner, though they were neither ‘coloured’ nor used curry to reinforce their contempt for the tenancy agreement.

Fergus Wilson has reported the abuse he’s received to Kent Police, but has also been airing his opinions in the Sun, which make him sound like an even bigger idiot than the leaked list did. ‘It is a problem with certain types of coloured people – those who consume curry,’ he says. ‘It sticks to the carpet. You have to get some chemical thing that takes the smell out. In extreme cases you have to replace the carpet.’ He goes on to deny that which he has been accused of by saying: ‘My stance is that it is neither racist nor discrimination to refuse to take people from any ethnic background on the basis that there is a heightened risk of injury to the house.’

His denials are then contradicted by further statements such as: ‘To be honest, we’re getting overloaded with coloured people’ and ‘In a predominantly white English area, almost all landlords will not let to Indian or Pakistani tenants because of the smell of curry.’ He clearly has a problem with curry, that famed foodstuff favoured by those bloody ‘coloured people’. If only they stuck to fish and chips, how much easier Fergus Wilson’s life would be.

Evolution, recipients of Mr Wilson’s specifications, has distanced itself from his comments and has made it clear they do not endorse his attitudes. Other organisations dedicating to helping the homeless or representing the renting sector from both sides have followed suit. The online attacks he’s been subjected to since his criteria was made public are of an ilk that many who are nowhere near as bigoted, though have a habit of expressing unfashionable opinions, have suffered from recently; however, to hold up Fergus Wilson as some heroic beacon of anti-PC free speech misses the point.

As a landlord – and an extremely wealthy one – Mr Wilson is in a position where some of society’s most vulnerable citizens are forced to approach him for assistance. For him to discriminate on the grounds of social or racial status, rather than exclude the worst kind of tenants due to their lack of respect for the property, is lamentable at a time when so many are in such dire need, whether or not they have an appetite for curry. Desperation for a roof over one’s head doesn’t distinguish on any grounds. The tenancy agreement between landlord and tenant is a contract of mutual understanding; if both adhere to the terms, there’s no reason why the relationship cannot be a harmonious one.

Having lived in rented accommodation for over twenty years, I’ve experienced both bad landlords and good ones; I may have kept pets when I wasn’t supposed to, but I’ve always paid my rent on time and I’ve always left the properties as I found them when the time has come to move on. I even left a fridge freezer and a mattress behind at my last address, neither of which was there when I arrived, so I hope my successor made the most of them. Maybe it’s time Fergus Wilson retired to his inevitable yacht in Monaco and left his business in the hands of those who recognise that when so many in this country are so desperate for somewhere to live, landlords are uniquely qualified to do what government is so spectacularly failing to.

© The Editor


Many of us – me included – would equate the word ‘normal’ with the word ‘boring’, but there is an accolade for which normality is rewarded in terms of a town or city. Following one of those endless statistical surveys that often seem to be undertaken by men without girlfriends, Didcot in Oxfordshire has been named ‘the most normal town in England’. Didcot has few claims to fame, which one suspects aids its qualification for this dubious title. Radiohead didn’t form in Didcot, but formed in nearby Abingdon (former Parliamentary constituency of Colditz survivor and terrorist victim, Airey Neave). It says everything about a town’s cultural landscape that one of the world’s biggest bands didn’t emanate from it, but formed ‘nearby’.

So, what put Didcot on the map? Well, not its glamorous old power station, which closed after 43 years of service in 2013. Okay, so what, then? Well, perhaps it makes sense to name the rest of the contenders for this award. To the strains of the ‘Pick of the Pops’ theme, here’s the top five: At No.5, it’s East Leake in Nottinghamshire; No.4 is Southwick, West Sussex; up to No.3, Worcester’s very own Bath Road area; a non-mover at No.2 for Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire; and straight in at No.1 goes Didcot – not ‘arf!

Chances are, unless you were either born in or reside in these locations, you’ve never heard of them; and I guess that’s the point. Didcot fits the bill more than any other town in England because it apparently embodies all the contemporary statistics of the nation’s averages – age, income, house prices, property ownership, marital status, ethnicity, employment, and (of course) Euro-scepticism. I suppose if an Ealing comedy about a dull suburban settlement was made today, Didcot would be the ideal location.

David Bowie once reflected on his time growing up in Bromley, the archetypal cultural wasteland of a Greater London suburb, by holding it responsible for his desperate desire to make his mark; despite Bowie’s discernible despair over the absence of excitement in his formative playground, his comments suggest it was the perfect place for him to be, in that it gave him a reason to escape. His parents obviously regarded it as a step-up from his birthplace of Brixton, and for them it was.

The suburbs meant something different for those who had fought the war, of course; for them, they represented progress and social-climbing, symbolic of how far they’d come – the ‘Shangri-La’ Ray Davies wrote of. A yearning for the quiet life was understandable after 1945 and all the elements that constituted such an existence for many with an eye on simple pleasures could be found in suburban living. I guess cleaning one’s car on a Sunday morning, followed by the ritual mowing of the lawn, was preferable to the beaches of Dunkirk or Normandy, though the children who didn’t have that experience to measure their own lives by could find their parents’ pebble-dashed Nirvana a stifling and repressive environment lacking the exotic allure of Hollywood or rock ‘n’ roll.

If the appeal of the suburbs for the wartime generation can therefore be explained, one wonders what their appeal remains for the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of that generation. Perhaps the ‘Broken Britain’ narrative of the Conservative Party in recent years, coupled with the horror stories of urban living as pedalled by the party’s Fleet Street representatives, has played its part in the rebirth of the suburbs as the preferred destination for those who can actually afford to purchase property there. The suburbs are seen as a safe place to raise children, and raising children is of course the patriotic duty of every Englishman and woman, lest the economy crashes for lack of future consumers.

A town such as Didcot appears to represent this ideal, and being awarded the title of ‘the most normal town in England’ has been greeted with euphoria by people whose job it is to promote the place. Steve Connel, the Mayor of Didcot, has referred to the conclusions of the survey as ‘tremendous’. In response to the findings, he said: ‘We have a very diverse group in Didcot…people who work hard, get on with their lives, and do everything they can to advance the community, and if the spirit represented in Didcot is considered normal across Britain, then I think we’re in tremendous shape.’ It sounds as if Nick Clegg’s ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ has its synchronised heartbeat in Didcot.

The suburbs tend to spawn some of our greatest creative mavericks and artistic innovators because the unique dullness of the suburbs provides rebels with something to kick against and get away from ASAP. It’s no great coincidence that another generation from the same location Bowie broke out of underwent the same sensations a decade-and-a bit later, including Siouxsie Sioux, Billy Idol and Poly Styrene. Much earlier, HG Wells had such contempt for his own suburban upbringing that he inflicted the ultimate revenge upon Woking by making it the site where the Martian invaders land in ‘The War of the Worlds’ and do their first damage to the planet.

Nevertheless, if it’s a quiet and uneventful life you crave and if you have the cash to fund it, why not head for Didcot? As long as friendly bombs are still falling on Slough alone, you should be alright.

© The Editor


poorWhen Iain Duncan Smith walked out of the Cabinet last year, his resignation letter seemed to confirm the suspicions many of us had long held regarding the old-school-tie cabal of Cameron and Osborne and the contempt with which they viewed outsiders – i.e. the majority of people in this country. But let us not attribute an abundance of heroic honesty to IDS; after all, he knew the EU Referendum was imminent and was already positioning himself towards his role in the campaign. Moreover, his post as Benefits Tsar in the Coalition had seen him inflict appallingly punitive punishments on those in society least capable of standing up to the regime he represented.

After justifiably carrying the can for a relentlessly visceral assault on the sick and the poor, IDS realised the shit that was poised to rain down on him following Osborne’s latest proposals to crush the same demographic and headed for the exit door before he could receive the blame for it. However, within a few months, Dave had fallen on his sword, Gideon had been banished to the backbenches, and Theresa May had moved into No.10, promising a Government that would cater for everybody with a compassion sorely absent from the administration of her predecessor.

The man who inherited the old IDS role in May’s team was Damian Green, which was something of an unenviable task considering how tarnished the job of Work and Pensions Secretary had become in the wake of the whole Atos affair. But despite an apparently promising start in which he appeared willing to address some of the worst crimes committed in the name of Austerity re the disabled, Green has reverted to Tory type by burying bad news when nobody was looking.

With Parliamentary business last week dominated by the ongoing Whitehall Farce between the Commons and the Lords on the subject of the Brexit Bill, Green sneaked through one of Gideon’s discredited proposals late Friday afternoon while the House wasn’t sitting; the proposal in question was the move to axe Housing Benefit for unemployed 18-21 year-olds, something initially unveiled in Osborne’s 2015 Budget and subsequently shelved due to vociferous opposition. How ingenious of the current Work and Pensions Secretary to announce this not in a grandstand press conference, but at a moment when he knew media attention was focused elsewhere in Westminster. Although the plan will be debated by MPs, the nature of the way in which the news was placed back on the agenda speaks volumes.

An estimated 11,000 under-22 year-olds will be affected by the move if it becomes official Government policy, no longer eligible for assistance with their rent should they require it. For all the Prime Minister’s hollow words about ‘a country that works for everyone’, this is a throwback to the worst elitist elements of the brief all-Conservative Cameron Government, whose appetite for reserving the sharpest edges of its scythe for those residing on the bottom rung of society’s ladder was no longer restricted by the Lib Dems. Not only does it have the potential to increase rather than reduce the plague of homelessness among the young, but it makes a mockery of any promised Government initiatives to tackle the problem.

As a pre-emptive strike, the DWP claims there will be exemptions to the new rules proposed – such as youngsters who cannot live in the family home due to the threat of domestic abuse, those with children, or those working at Minimum Wage level for at least 16 hours – but housing and homeless charities like Crisis and Shelter have condemned the move and labelled the exemptions inadequate, as has the National Landlords Association. Shadow Housing Minister John Healey says those targeted are ‘young people (who) are old enough to fight for their country, but in Theresa May’s Britain not old enough to get the same help with housing costs as everyone else.’

Yet again, it seems the coordinated demonisation of those who don’t slot into a favoured demographic such as the so-called ‘Jams’ is afoot, with a revival of that old chestnut, ‘preventing a life on benefits’ being tossed back into the ring as justification for the policy. It merely reinforces a lazy stereotype that fails to acknowledge the reality of needing a little leg-up in that tricky transitional phase between leaving home and making it on your own if you can’t raise a loan from the Bank of Mum and Dad. Few can afford to buy a house now, but this move even rules out renting.

Another exemption promised concerns any 18-21 year-old lucky enough to have been working six months prior to claiming Housing Benefit. Considering even the most soul-destroying of what are laughably called ‘careers’ – call-centre work, for example – are inundated with hundreds of applications from degree-heavy hopefuls when one poxy position becomes available, the likelihood of a youngster having found a job before applying for Housing Benefit is extremely limited, which is (of course) the point.

‘Vulnerable people will continue to be protected’ is the DWP’s response to criticism, but the phrase ‘will continue to be protected’ is troubling; it implies the DWP has already been protecting the vulnerable, which is debatable; and what does it define as protection – providing a sleeping-blanket for shop doorways during the winter months? And is not a jobless and potentially homeless teenager confronted by the consumer society and all its unattainable riches vulnerable? If so, this latest change to the benefits system will offer precious little protection to that particular class of the vulnerable.

Once more we are witness to the unnecessary punishment of individuals, each with their own unique set of circumstances, who are not in a position to fight their corner. The pavement and the food-bank – is that the legacy of the twenty-first century? Discarding so many members of society at such a young age is a short-sighted recipe for future disaster; today’s books may be balanced, but there seems to be little thought being given to tomorrow’s.

© The Editor